The community of St. Paul lost one of its leading citizens when Phyllis Haire passed away Saturday at age 76.
For more than 40 years, Haire owned and operated Ahart’s Grocery, the only place to get gasoline in the small town. She also served for nearly 30 years on the Town Council, drove a school bus and probably knew everything and everybody in the small community.
Huntsville Schools Interim Superintendent Audra Kimball grew up in St. Paul. She spent 12 years as a teacher there before moving into the principal’s office.
“I loved her. Miss Phyllis was just an icon in our community,” Kimball said Monday, following a Huntsville School Board meeting.
“I have memories of being in high school and just knowing that if you needed something you could go to Miss Phyllis’ and get it, whether you had money or not and your parents could settle up later. She was an amazing lady.”
Haire was born in St. Paul, but later moved with her family to Washington state and California, which is where she grew up. Haire married on the West Coast, but after a divorce, she returned to St. Paul in 1979.
She took over Ahart’s from a cousin who reportedly wanted out of the business. The business is just steps from Highway 23, or Fifth Street as its known locally.
St. Paul Mayor Nina Selz in her column “St. Paul News” this week wrote about Haire.
“It is hard to imagine her gone, for she touched so many lives and knew so many of us, generation after generation,” Selz wrote.
“Some grandparents sitting in the bleachers cheering on their grandchildren were themselves driven to school by Phyllis, as were their children (and their children).”
Selz and Kimball both said they did not know if Ahart’s would remain open without Haire.
Haire will be best remembered for Ahart’s, which catered not only to locals but to thousands over the years traveling highways 16 and 23, also known as The Pig Trail. Ahart’s is one of the last old-time country stores still in operation, selling cold drinks or ice cream and candy and other items to its visitors.
“One can only wonder about the vast number of soda pops and candy bars that were bought there,” Selz wrote.
“We would see Phyllis get in that big yellow school bus in the early morning and go on her route. We would see her in the daytime unloading groceries, talking to the people who came in, and writing tabs for those that needed them.”
Haire had three sons: Ronnie, Jeff and Layne. She had seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Daughter-in-law Charlotte Haire recently posted on Facebook that “Phyllis has touched a lot of lives in our area.
“She loves her kids and grandchildren immensely. She has been a positive influence for all these years, and I know that her absence has left a hole in the St. Paul community.”
Charlotte Haire, who is married to Jeff, added, “She has the softest heart of anyone I know, and is often taken advantage of, but she speaks kindly of people most always. She raised my wonderful husband to become the man that he is, and I have been fortunate to have her for my mother-in-law and as a grandma to our kids.”
Visitation was from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at Brashears Funeral Home and Crematory in Huntsville. Funeral will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Memorials may be made to Brashears Cemetery, Jo Wheeler, 207 Highway 295, Wesley, AR 72773; or Paws and Claws Pet Shelter, P.O. Box 364, Huntsville, AR 72740.