Friday, May 1, 2015

Fulfilling a Career Dream

The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill, was a law that provided benefits for returning World War II veterans.  The benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation.  It was available to every veteran who had been on active duty during the war years for at least ninety days and had not been dishonorably discharged; combat was not required.  By the end of the program in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the G.I. Bill education benefits in order to attend colleges or universities, and an additional 6.6 million used these benefits for some kind of training program.   Brownley Stewart and two of his brothers were able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill.

Brownley Stewart probably always wanted to be a carpenter.  There are stories of him collecting any and every scrap of wood he could find and turning it into something useful for his mother.

After returning from the war Brownley initially worked at the Veterans Administration hospital in Chillicothe, Ohio.  But he wanted to return to his home in West Virginia and fulfill his passion for woodworking.  He took advantage of the G.I. Bill to train as a carpenter.  He was assigned to apprentice under Mr. Henry Parrish who provided him with the business as well as the technical skills needed in the field of carpentry.  (They remained friends until Mr. Parrish passed away.)

The first home Brownley built was for his brother Kendall on his brother's new farm.  Kendall intended to move his mother into the new house, but she wanted to remain in the home she built with her husband.  Brownley and his new wife lived with his brother until he could build his own new house just across the road. 

As an independent licensed contractor Brownley established several long-term relationships with local contractors  and suppliers, especially the Boggs and Buchannons.  He had many regular clients in Keyser and on Patterson Creek Road who always requested him for their home remodeling and repairs.  Several homes he built from the foundation up are still being lived in today.

Brownley did have a partner for a few years during his home building days.  But he enjoyed working independently and as his own boss.  He could do his own electrical and plumbing and have it code inspected.

Even when Brownley went on vacation to visit his mother-in-law he took his tool box to work on any home projects she might have lined up for him.

Brownley's biggest project was the Potomac Valley Hotel in Keyser.  He started building the motel for Mr. John Rokisky in the 1960s; they started with twenty units, a dining room, banquet hall and kitchen.  Then they added on another forty-four units and a golf course in the 1970s.  He then stayed on as the property manager for the motel and the golf course.  (Note:  Mr. Rokisky was a former professional football player.  Occasionally he would encourage Brownley to play hooky for the day and they would go to a Baltimore Orioles game.)

Occasionally Brownley would get the building bug and take time out from the motel to build a new home, like the one he build for two of his cousins in Moorefield.  He continued to do handyman jobs whenever requested.  He truly loved building and woodworking.

Brownley finally retired 1990 at the age of eighty.  His first retirement project was to build a huge workshop for himself.  Then he continued to build small useful items that he took to those he thought could use them.  And if you happen to drive some of the roads in Keyser or Burlington and you see little black cat silhouettes, you are looking at Brownley's handiwork.  He even did special projects like a doll cradle for a little girl's Christmas.  (My most prized pieces of furniture are the mahogany step-stool and dressing table he built for my new house.)  

Note:  Brownley Stewart's maternal grandfather was a carpenter.  And his son just built his first house!

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