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A warehouse for memories

By Ed Brock

There are two pairs of water skis in the shed behind Lucy Yonce's Jonesboro house, one red and one blue.

"Those were the ones I learned on," said Rick Yonce, Lucy Yonce's son, pointing to one pair.

Rick Yonce's father Bennie Lee Yonce made the skis. He made a lot of things in that work shed, and he even built the shed itself from the wood of an old house that stood on the Burnside Street lot the couple bought in 1957.

"He was a builder. He worked with wood since he was a child," Lucy Yonce said.

Bennie Yonce, a former mayor of Jonesboro, died in December 2002 at the age of 87. The old shed is part of the legacy that Lucy and Rick Yonce have of their husband and father, along with the many houses he built and the tools of the trade he left behind.

"It might not stand too many more years, but it's still standing now," said 81-year-old Lucy Yonce.

Inside the pale green shed, along with the water skis, are a Skilsaw Bennie Yonce bought during World War II, antique cross cut saws that were once used to cut down trees, an ancient drill press that may still work and more.

"He did a lot of work out there," Lucy Yonce said. "He never liked to throw anything away."

The shed and the items within made a big impression on current Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day.

"It's just like stepping back in time," Day said. "It's like being in the Smithsonian (Museum in Washington, D.C.) It's a piece of the past."

Day said that she knew Bennie Yonce mostly as the mayor of the city and knew he was good with his hands.

"As soon as I walked in there I said you must preserve that," Day said.

Bennie and Lucy Yonce were originally from Edgefield, S.C. and moved to Clayton County in 1954. Just prior to that they had been living in Franklin, N.C. where Bennie Yonce had built a 12-room hotel. They had to sell the hotel because the delay in the construction of a highway nearby killed business, but it recovered under new owners and is still in business today.

As a private builder Bennie Yonce erected homes all around Clayton and Fayette counties.

"He said if he built a good house he'd never have to advertise. Word of mouth would be good enough," Lucy Yonce said. "That probably sounds strange in today's society."

Piled up next to the old tools and dusty boards in the shed are piles of memories. Her husband liked to share his craft with his family, Lucy Yonce said.

"One of our grandchildren always ran out there and had to be in the middle of what ?Pa Pa' was doing," Lucy Yonce said.

Rick Yonce, who is on the Jonesboro city council, is currently living in a small apartment behind his parents' house while he looks after his mother. He helped build that apartment as he also helped his father with other building projects during summer breaks.

"He'd been around wood in some shape or fashion all his life," Rick Yonce said of his father.

Bennie Yonce worked as an estimator for a lumber company when he was a young man, Rick Yonce said. He would look at a certain stand of trees and determine approximately how many board feet they could get out of it.

The care with which his father did his work is hard to find today, Rick Yonce said.

"Nowadays when a carpenter needs a new saw blade they chuck the old one and go by a new one," Yonce said. "Dad would sit out here at night and sharpen his own blades."

Water skis, cabinets from old console televisions, entire sheds and houses, nothing was beyond Bennie Yonce, his family and friends say.

"If we needed anything he just came out here and made it," Rick Yonce said.