DANVILLE - When William Parnell Townley returns to the Danville/Madison area of Boone County, he always arrives home in Florida rejuvenated by the experience.
"There is just something about the people," he said. "There is a kindness about them that you just can't find anywhere else, at least anywhere that I've been. I grew up in Turtle Creek and Danville is my hometown."
Parnell, 79, attended Danville Grade School and later Scott High School. His sense of humor is apparent.
"I was one of two students held back in the fourth grade for a reason and I always say there is an elementary school, a middle school and a high school and I tell everyone now that it took me nine years to get out of an elementary school."
Parnell left West Virginia in 1963 for Florida and has made the trek back to Boone County at least once a year since then.
"I married a girl from Ridgeview," he said. "I lost her 17 years ago and we were married over 40 years."
Carolyn Sue Wills lost a battle with cancer. Parnell can still recall in detail the moment they met in 1959 and how they tied the knot.
"She had two sisters and one of them still lives in the same house, her name is Pattie McCallister," he said. "I was working in the Danville Supermarket when she came in and I first saw her."
Parnell asked a friend he worked with at the market who the girls was.
"I was sacking groceries and I made sure that I sacked her mother's groceries," he said. "Her aunt happened to know me and I stopped by her house and her mother let her go for a ride in my car and we started dating."
Barely out of high school, Parnell had secured employment in Florida and asked Carolyn's mother if she could visit him there where he was living with his mother. Carolyn was 16 at the time.
"I had to convince her that she could trust me and I took her to Florida on Feb. 26, her 16th birthday with about four inches of snow on and we left here at 5 a.m. and the car broke down in North Carolina," he said. "We drove all night and when we got to Silver Springs, Florida, it was the first time she had ever seen palm trees. It was gorgeous and she thought she had entered earthly heaven. Right after getting there, Elvis Presley was making the movie, 'Follow That Dream' and she got to see Elvis and she decided that she didn't need to come back to West Virginia."
Two weeks later, Parnell was supposed to put his soon-to-be bride on a bus to return home, but there was one major problem; she refused to go.
"My mom told her she could stay as long as she wanted but she was concerned about her mother," he said. "Her mother called me and asked why she wasn't on the bus and I handed the phone to Carolyn and she told her mother that she wasn't coming home."
The girl's mother told Parnell that if he didn't buy a ticket she was going to get the state attorney general on his tail.
Parnell told Carolyn that they had two options, they could get married or she could return home.
The couple traveled to Folkston Georgia to get married after Carolyn scribbled the age of "18" on the marriage application. In those days, the process of providing proper identification was far more relaxed than it is today.
It was 1961 and the couple had to submit to a blood test and had to wait on the results before they could get married in Folkston. An employee of the city of Folkston told the young couple that they could drive to the neighboring town in Brantley County and purchase a license that day with proof of their blood test.
"They told us that they'd sell us the license and there was a minister up the street who would marry us," he said. "I told the minister that I only had $10 to give him. I think he was being nice to me and he told me that if I'd go back to the court house, they'd marry us there. We went back to the courthouse and her mother was angry but she really liked me and we got along great afterwards. Looking back, I think she would have liked to have seen a wedding for her daughter and I understand that."
By 1963, the young man's father, JO "Jake" Townley and his mother Helen had started a small business in Florida and Parnell returned to Ocklawaha Silver Springs to work for his father.
Townley Industrial Plastics became Townley Engineering & Manufacturing Co., Inc. The company manufactures parts for all types of mineral processing mining companies and power plants including Polyurethane and casting steel and rubber hoses used by dredging companies.
"It started really slow and I started working for my dad as his first employee," he said. "He was very successful and the company thrived and grew rather quickly."
While retired today and not comfortable discussing the contributions, Parnell arranged for a $10,000 contribution to the West Virginia Coal Festival, which they have done for the past three years and when the new Boone Memorial Hospital was unveiled, the chapel was named in his late wife's honor. The company's $100,000 contribution to the hospital made them one of the largest donors.
According to the book, "Inspiration for 50 Years: Townley Engineering & Manufacturing Co., Inc." published in 2013, the company continues to support ministries around the world and gives back to communities in a variety of ways.
Parnell said that despite not acquiring a college education, he found a way to grow and advance in his career. He put a toe into the world of politics in 1988, when he ran for County Commission in Marion County, Florida - a county boasting 350,000 citizens.
He spent three four-year terms on the commission.
"We were in a position where we had to build a lot of public facilities buildings," he said. "I was a commissioner for four years, then took a step back for four years and ran again and was elected again. In all of that time, we were experiencing tremendous growth."
Parnell said he took his role very seriously and is proud of what he was able to accomplish.
"I was proud to have came from where I came from, without a college education to accomplish what we did at that time," he said. "I didn't enjoy politics but I enjoyed the public service."
Parnell's name appears on eight public service buildings within the county.
"I had the ability to communicate with lawyers, public servants, construction workers and people in general," he said. "I realize that gift came from where I grew up. If I could do things again, I would get some military experience because I realize the benefit of going through life with that experience and I'd get the full benefit of a college education. I believe the good Lord gave me the opportunity to see and do what I've done and I know he would say that I should not say that because I would have missed some of what I've experienced so I also keep that in mind as I reflect on my life. Ultimately, I am gracious and very thankful for the life I've lived."
Wearing many hats, Parnell was the vice president of the company and became an expert in polyurethane. He learned how to navigate the molding process, how to make the molds and how to utilize them. He also studied the chemical side of the process. He also served as a plant supervisor and was responsible for arranging the schedule for the company airplane. He managed various product-related movement within the company.
Parnell retired 15 years ago and married his wife Beverly in 2006. Today, he collects classic cars and speaks glowingly about his 1957 Chevy, the pride of his fleet.
Not one to wear his success on his sleeve, Parnell travels in a 2000 Lincoln Town Car with nearly 200,000 miles on the odometer. He says that it is comfortable to travel in and he isn't concerned with making an impression on people based on what he uses as a daily driver.
"I'm the first of six children and I started with my dad as the oldest so I guess I get out first," he said. "I had a lot of responsibility and authority in the company and I've given that up to my brother, my son and my sister."
Jake Townsley died in 1997, but his son remembers him well.
"He had a big personality and he was very driven to succeed," Parnell said. "What he started continues today and we're very, very proud of that."
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter