WING WALKER DAREDEVIL
My great-uncle Theodore Jeffers McCall, was an accomplished man. He did have a daring side though..
Barnstormer turned manager
Plant City fondly recalls adventurer Theo McCall
This is a story taken from the local paper in Plant City Florida.
PLANT CITY – The thrill of barnstorming was just a wing tip away for the late Theo McCall.
The young man, who later would manage Plant CIty for nearly 27 years, was looking for adventure.He had attended local schools, worked as a plumber with an uncle in Miami and in the Plant City Fire Department. But, hey, when you’re 24, that’s just a little too tame.So in 1929, McCall sold his roadster and decided to gn barnstorming with his pilot friend, Clarence McArthur.The two bought a World War I “Jenny” and instantly attracted a paying crowd at the Coronet runway. Located in a bumpy cow pasture off Coronet Road southeast of the city, the little airstrip preceded the present airport west of town.Like other barnstormer who traveled rural areas to give dramatic presentations, McCall and his friend sought to bring some excitement to their patrons.McCall would don helmet and goggles and, with the eyes of hundreds of men, women and children upon him, would Inch his way along the wings to a parachute packed on the underbelly of the plane.Slipping his arms into the parachute’s slings, he would pull a slip knot and, amid gasps and screams from those below, drift earthward.His descent was marked, not by smoke, but by a trail of plain cooking flour flowing steadily from a paper hag. Once, when McCall jumped at a Moultrie, Ga., airstrip, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. He was covered with flour when his feet touched the ground.A woman rushed up to him and exclaimed, “My God, son, are you hurt?” He wasn’t. And he figured each jump was well worth the $25 he received. McCall later would say that collecting that amount. even during hard times, was like gathering golden eggs in a basket.Pilot MacArthur didn’t do too badly, either. He got about $2.50 a person for those brave enough to take a joy ride in the plane.
PLANT CITY’S T.]. MCCALL WAS A MAN OF MANY TALENTS By Plant City Photo Archives & History Center FOCUS Magazine June 2010
Previously we wrote about Mike E. Sansone, after whom one of the City’s recreational parks is named, who was a WWI and WWIl veteran, and who dedicated himself to programs for the community through his work with the American Legion, and to the community’s youth through service with the Boy Scouts of America.
This story is about another impressive man, Theodore Jeffers McCall, who served as Plant City’s City Manager for nearly 27 years, from January 1941 to December 1967.
Born in Ocilla, Georgia, (in Irwin County, about 20 miles northeast of Tifton), October 20, 1905, Theodore Jeffers McCall is the son of Clifford Riley McCall and Maud Jeffers McCall. Clifford was a blacksmith, and in 1913 moved his family to Plant City and established what was to be the last blacksmith shop in Plant City; it was located on Pennsylvania Avenue between Baker and Reynolds Streets.
According to the Bruton and Bailey book on the history of Plant City, Clifford Riley McCall would ride his bicycle to the Methodist Church on Reynolds Street with daughter Mamie on the crossbar and his small son seated behind. They rode from the Sanders farm on Alexander Street, where they lived, east on Haines Street to the church.
Theodore McCall attended local schools, graduating from Plant City High School about 1923. Some of his friends knew him as “Theo”, some called him “Mac”, while others simply knew him as “TJ.” After high school, young Theo left Plant City to work in Texas and also worked as a plumber with his uncle in Miami. Returning to Plant City in 1926 he signed on with the Fire Department as a “fire laddie”, a colloquial reference to the brave young volunteer firemen from the early years.
With the economic collapse of late 1929, McCall and MacArthur decided to end their barnstorming, and Theo McCall returned to Plant City. He joined the Police Department as a motorcycle policeman. He reconnected to many old friends, including school mate Odessa Geer, older sister to Quintilla Geer. Quintilla Geer married classmate James Bruton in 1932, and Odessa Geer and Theo McCall were married in 1933.
McCall’s professional career with the city continued to consume him. He was appointed superintendent of the streets department and later superintendent of the combined sanitation department and jail. In 1939 he was appointed Chief of Police. During this time he was also an active member of the Olin Wright Masonic Lodge, then located on Evers Street at Mahoney,just behind the City Hall, and he was also a member of the Egypt Temple (Shriners). He and Odessa had two sons – James Clifford McCall born in late 1934, and Charles Raymond McCall born in 1937.
The City of Plant City at that time did not have City Manager-Commission form of government, and a city commissioner functioned as city manager with no additional compensation. In 1939 Alvin Hinson held this position and McCall was appointed to serve as Hinson’s assistant. By January 1941 this changed and the city commission appointed Theodore Jeffers McCall to the full-time post of City Manager. The city budget was approximately $150,000, and the population was just under 5,000.
At that time the City Hall was at the corner of Collins and Mahoney and housed almost all of the municipal services – including police and fire departments, and housed a court room on the second floor. There was a separate “lockup” and a small water department. Theo McCall was dedicated to his work for the city and its people; he knew the workings of every department and thought nothing of working side-by-side with other city employees – whether in a ditch or at a desk. He was a hands-on guy. You would see him everywhere, with his signature straw hat, and usually a coat and tie. His schedule was full and city staff and city residents knew they could call him at any time – and they did.
McCall worked for nearly 27 years as City Manager, retiring in December 1967. During that time the city grew from a population of about 5,090 to 17,000, it doubled in square miles, constructed more than 60 miles of paved streets and miles of sidewalks. The city saw growth with numerous buildings and businesses, with the formation of the Industrial Expansion Committee of 100, organized to bring in light industry; they also solicited the Hillsborough Aviation Authority for land for an industrial park, and they began construction of the .$1.6 million industrial waste-treatment plant. McCall also drew the floor plans for the new City Hall at Wheeler and Mahoney, and the floor plans for the two new recreation centers, which are now the Planteen and the MLK Rec Center.
In 1954 the Jaycees presented McCall with their Good Government Award, only the second they had presented. He has received recognition for his years of service from the International City Managers Association and the Florida City Managers Association. The Suncoast Girl Scout Council honored McCall for his assistance in securing their permanent location at Mike Sansone Park.
In November 1967, at the announcement of his retirement plans, the Plant City Courier editorial said this of Mac McCall:
“McCall stood by ready to help. He is that kind of man – kind, considerate, helpful, fair, and just. Above all he toiled, worked, and planned for the good of Plant City. “
On June 2, 1971, the city commission dedicated a park in the middle of the downtown business district to “Mr. Plant City”. McCall Park was expanded, made over and rededicated in 1998. It is the center of much of the downtown activities in Plant City. Theodore Jeffers McCall left this life on June 20, 1980, and is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in his beloved Plant City. Odessa Geer McCall, June 8, 1906 – April 15, 1990, rests adjacent to Theodore.
Sources: Quintilla Geer Bruton and David E. Bailey, Jr., Plant City; Its Origin and History, Hunter Publishing Company, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 1984. The Tampa Tribune, Panky Glamsch, 1961, Panky Snow,
12/26/1994, The Tampa Times, 10/2511966, The Courier, 10/27/1966, Plant City Photo Archives “Oral History Project” 2009, Edith McCall Fountain, and Plant City Photo Archives & History Center photographic collections.