By Thomas Sellers Jr.
This summer the staple near the corner of Navy Road and Church Street will be celebrating 55 years in business.
The vision of Clarence Roland that began with a loan, his work ethic and family support is still going strong at 4998 Navy Road under the name of Roland’s Tire and Automotive.
For years his sons Terry and Eric learned the business and helped their father operate under the motto “Service before self.” The backbone of the business over the years has been the matriarch of the family Carole.
March 2011, Carole lost her husband and the city of Millington said goodbye to a business icon in Clarence. But the family has rallied to keep the legacy of business going strong.
“You here people talk about they come from humble backgrounds,” Terry begins his father’s story. “My parents were really poor. When I say poor, they picked cotton. They chopped cotton. It was really tough. It was so tough bologna was a delicacy for them.
“I think he quit school before high school because he didn’t have clothes to wear,” he continued. “He was too embarrassed.”
Despite dropping out, Clarence was not going to shy away from hard work.
“He started pushing an ice cream wagon around Millington and out on the Navy Base for Turner Dairy,” Terry recalled. “He just worked hard. Remember he was a tall man. When he was about 12 or 13 years old, he was about 6’1 or 6’2. He may be weighed 100 pounds.
“He would push it up and down Navy Road. Mr. James Raspberry owned Jetway Shopping Center over here,” he continued. “He had a grocery store. My Daddy would stop over there every day and get a bologna sandwich for lunch and set under the tree.”
Raspberry admired the work ethic of the young Clarence and took him under his guidance.
“Mr. Raspberry would come out there and he nicknamed him Snake because he’s so tall and skinny,” Terry said. “He said, ‘Hey Snake you’re a good worker. Why don’t you go push that cart back to Turner Dairy. Tell that gentleman to pay you and thank you for letting you work there all this time. You come to work for me.’”
Around 1953 Clarence work for Raspberry learning the business world. Over the next decade the elder Roland matured and his desire to have his own grew.
“In 1965 the service station here became available,” Terry said. “Daddy checked on it and $500 in ’65 was like $50,000 now. He went back to Mr. Raspberry and said, ‘Mr. Raspberry can I borrow $500?’ And Rass said, ‘Snake you don’t need to do that. You go into business and you’ll be broke in 6 months.’ Daddy didn’t let that deter him. He went to People’s State Bank and talked to Mr. John Douglas.”
Clarence’s reputation as a hard worker was about to literally pay off.
“Mr. Douglas told him, ‘Clarence I’ve known you all your life,’” Terry said. “‘I never knew any kid that acted more grown up and more responsible than you. I’m going to take a chance on you.’ So he loan him the $500 and it comes time for Daddy to open.
“He thought, ‘I paid the $500 but I ain’t got any money to open,’” he added. “He went to my grandmother and borrowed 5 rolls of quarters, 5 rolls of dimes, 2 rolls of nickels and 20 rolls of pennies. And he opened up.”
The birth of Roland’s started that June day in 1965. Roland’s has seen expansion, technological changes and various employees. But the motto started by Clarence remained the driving force of Roland’s success to reach 55 years.
“Before Mr. Raspberry died, they were sitting in the tire store and Daddy told him, ‘I’m glad I didn’t listen to you,” Terry said. “‘You said I wouldn’t last 6 months.’”
“Him growing up in this area and coming from real humbly backgrounds to end up having a good name,” he continued, “that’s a fairy tale life. It’s hard for things like that to happen these days with the price of everything.”
It was Terry’s and Eric’s turn to learn business. Their teacher was the man they admired and loved. Clarence brought his family along for the ride over the next few decades.
“He got in there and bought the property about 10 years later,” Terry recalled. “He expanded. Then he bought the building next door where the tire store is. He put the tire store in 1980. Then in ’81 and ’82 we went into the swimming pool business. Then we added Ryder Trucks. Anything that could make a buck, Daddy wasn’t scared to try it. And there was one thing he instilled into my brother Eric and me, the customer is always right. And he always taught service above self.”
Making sure thing ran smoothly in the background was the woman known to Millington as Ms. Carole.
“The key for success for Roland’s is Mama Roland,” Terry declared. “Daddy could get the business in there. But Mama watched the money and took care of the money. Because of that and his get up and go, her diligence, they just made a great team.”
Terry said his parent’s relationship home and at the business was an illustration of true love. That love rippled through the community whenever anyone paid a visit to Roland’s.
“We’re all family in this town,” Terry said. “You’ll hear me tell everybody I love you. The reason I tell people that is because if the good Lord takes me home tonight, you’ll know how I felt about you. It’s been that way because I grew up here.”
Owning a business in Millington gave the Rolands a chance to display gratitude to military personnel on a regular basis. Nearby Millington Central High School’s vocational program produced many mechanics for Roland’s over the years.
And each day Clarence opened the doors to his businesses he wanted to be a living example to his sons that you esteemed others higher than yourself.
“There are several examples but I’m going to bring one of them up,” Terry said. “Back before we had a convenient store and we just had a service station there back on that corner where that tax service place is at in that shopping center there used to be a convenient store there.”
During that holiday season, Clarence was presented a chance to give.
“It was one Christmas morning he had to come and check something at the service station,” Terry said. “Mama needed something so we stopped there. And there was a family there whose house burned down on Christmas Eve. They had some little kids there. And I know Daddy had to think back to when he was a child and had very little. My Dad asked the man what happened. He told him our house and everything burned down.
“I saw my Dad pull out 5 $100 bills,” he concluded. “He gave one to each parent and gave the kids one. He didn’t expect anything in return. Stuff like that people coming and couldn’t afford to get their tire fixed. The elderly people, Navy people that were running short, Daddy had a box were he let people charge. And that box is probably still full. But he remembered how hard it was when he was growing up. So he always gave back.”
For more information on Roland’s and the upcoming 55th anniversary deals, call 872-6005.
By Thomas Sellers Jr.