FORT MILL -- Two weeks before Christmas about a quarter-century ago, the town had no Christmas parade.
Mayor Harry Hallman enlisted Councilman Charlie Powers to muster one.
Fort Mill folks won't be surprised by the ending to that story. Charlie Powers did it, and he's been doing it ever since.
"It's been a great honor, and I think I'll continue doing it," said Powers, who in January will step down after six years as town councilman and 24 more as mayor. Danny Funderburk, a younger man with fresh ideas, will be sworn in as mayor.
Powers, 68, became a town councilman in the days when elected officials went out in the middle of the night to repair leaky town pipes because contractors were an unnecessary expense. For years, he's been at the scene of every major fire, shooting and other disaster in the town, just in case he was needed.
"I was always 'Charlie,'" he said, "and I never played 'the mayor.'"
Recently, he organized a move out of his office, no small feat in view of the memorabilia he has collected over the decades: Gov. David Beasley's 1996 Order of the Palmetto award, the Fort Mill Chamber of Commerce 1981 Citizen of the Year honor, Fort Mill 1982 Lion of the Year, a replica of the highway sign that declares the Charles E. Powers Interchange off of I-77.
There are signed photographs from state dignitaries and one of him presenting a framed Fest-i-Fun picture to President Bill Clinton.
There's a PTL Bible dating to before Jim Bakker built his now-defunct empire in Fort Mill. Then, there are Powers' American flag and American eagle collectibles.
There is a memory and a story behind each one of them.
Fortunately, Powers will be assisted in the move by his sidekick and grandson, Austin, 8, who said he plans to some day become mayor of Fort Mill.
Austin rides with his "Paw Paw" in the Christmas parade each year and joins him regularly for local news klatches in Main Street's barbershop and Don Lomax's antique and garden shop.
"He does a lot of stuff with me," Austin said, including going fishing.
"We're going to do more things together now," Powers quickly added.
A love affair
Born in Great Falls to working-class parents, Powers formed a love-at-first-sight relationship with Fort Mill.
He was 4 or 5 years old when his father took a job as an electrician at Celanese and the family moved to Rock Hill. A Rock Hill High Bearcat, he found himself "slippin' around" in Fort Mill as a teenager.
"I came over to see the Fort Mill girls," he admits.
He met Peggy Gibson, a Fort Mill girl, at Rock Hill's Dutch Mill teen hamburger drive-in hangout. They were 17.
They got married following a whirlwind romance, and Powers took a job in the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing dye house.
Two years later, he began rising through the ranks in machinery maintenance for Everlock, with whom he remained for 31 years until it closed its doors. He's been with PPM, a power plant maintenance contractor at Bowater, ever since.
In the interim, the Powerses had two children, now grown. Four grandchildren have come along.
The young Powers became active with the Fort Mill Jaycees, one of the town's most energetic civic organizations in those days.
"To me, service to the community is a big, big thing," he said.
That led to a successful run for town council.
"If we had a project, I would appoint Charlie because I could depend on him to complete it," said Hallman, who was mayor at that time.
Hallman, 77, "kinda made up my mind when I was mowing the yard one day" when he decided not to seek re-election. He asked Powers, then in his second council term, to run in his stead. Hallman pledged to support him.
Billy Barron, another former Jaycee, now 71, also recalls Powers' industry.
"The thing that impressed me about Charlie was, he was not only a hard worker but a happy worker doing things that would benefit the club and people in general," Barron said.
Longtime friend Bob Hill, 84, remembers a story Powers told Rotarians about a developer with plans for Fort Mill in the early years.
"The developer was planning a cul-de-sac, and Charlie said he didn't want to tell him he didn't know what a cul-de-sac was, so he asked the town manager, and he didn't know, either," Hill recalled with a chuckle. "We were a very small town at that time."
Memories and the future
Of all the stories behind the autographed photos that adorn Powers mayoral office wall, the one about President Clinton still amazes the mayor the most. Clinton had come to North Carolina to see Arkansas play basketball and was staying with friends in the Springs family in Fort Mill.
Powers had spent two weeks being paged by the Secret Service making arrangements. He had a Fest-i-Fun poster carefully framed for the president. Clinton's staff told Powers to give the poster to them because the president couldn't carry it onto the plane.
When the mayor finally got to meet Clinton on the Springfield home lawn, he told Clinton about the poster.
"Clinton said, 'Wouldn't you rather have a picture presenting it to me?'" Powers recalled. "He said, 'Get your staff to get it.' That was me. I ran to the car to get it, and the White House staff took the picture."
Being mayor is "something I'll miss for awhile," he said. "Austin put it in perspective for me. He said, 'We'll have more time to do things together.'"
Powers will turn the gavel over to Funderburk at the swearing-in during the first council meeting in January.
"Then I'll sort of ease out," he said. "I'll not look over their shoulder, but I'll be available if anybody needs me."
Fort Mill residents also might expect to run into Powers at Fort Mill High games.
He's been a Yellow Jacket fan since his teen years and vows he'll always be a Yellow Jacket.