PROFILE: Man of the city
Published 2:24 pm Thursday, March 24, 2016
By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer
Journey to Helena
When the name Zodie McCall is mentioned within the Helena city limits, most residents think of a kind-hearted, genuine man who loves his job and loves the city of Helena.
McCall grew up in a family where he had 18 siblings and graduated from Wenonah High School. After graduating, he lived in Bessemer before coming to Helena to work a number of different jobs.
“I was living in Bessemer and I met a girl down here and we got together,” McCall said. She was a very religious type person and we prayed that God would clean our hearts and make us a different person.”
McCall is a man who believes in the Lord, and he is one who is grateful for everything the Lord has provided for him in his life. Helena has been a big part of that.
“In 1948, I strayed away a few times, but I got back on track with the Lord and I’ve been there ever since,” said McCall. “I never drank, I never smoked, I never did any of that.”
Today, the 79-year-old McCall is retired but still very active in the Helena community.
McCall has a job with the city where he can be seen riding around on his golf cart three days a week picking up trash and helping in whatever way possible to keep the city clean.
“I’m on a golf cart picking up trash and waving at people. That’s a gift the good Lord gave me and I wouldn’t take anything for it,” said McCall. “I do that three times a week. I have my house going up for sale for commercial, but I’m still going to live in Helena because I believe Helena saved my life.”
McCall currently lives in Helena with his wife, Amelia McCall, and they consider church and family to be a big part of their lives.
McCall has a long history with the city of Helena that dates back to 1972 when he began working as an auxiliary police officer.
When McCall began working as an auxiliary police officer in 1972, he also made history.
McCall was the first black police officer hired in the Helena Police Department and McCall said his time there was great. He was treated fairly and with respect for the eight or nine years he was on the force.
“When you’re full of Jesus Christ, you don’t think about nothing like that,” said McCall. “It was great, I was treated nice and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
McCall discussed how he was hired on with the HPD and even showed off a plaque he received for guarding the late Gov. George Wallace when he visited the city of Helena one time.
Former Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale, mayor of Helena from 1968 to 2012, was a big reason McCall was given the opportunity to work with the Helena Police Department.
“Mr. Penhale talked it over and he said ‘Zodie, you seem like a real nice person,’ and he said I want to put you on the police department,” said McCall. “Back then, I was hired through the grandfather clause so it wasn’t that you had to go to school or nothing like that so that’s how I was hired. I drove a car and patrolled the highway and everything but back then it was different than it is now.”
McCall said in time working with the department he only wrote one traffic ticket.
“The girl cussed me out but I didn’t get mad with her,” McCall said of the traffic ticket. “People would usually respect me and I would respect them. I didn’t let that badge or that gun make me think that I was more than anybody else.”
When he finished his time serving with the Helena Police Department, McCall moved on to become an owner of a convenience store in Helena for a couple of years where he would do a little bit of everything at the store but McCall enjoyed it because he liked meeting and interacting with people.
“I liked it. Meeting people is my hobby and it’s what I like,” said McCall.
A servant’s heart
After his time owning a convenience store, McCall once again moved on to two separate professions where he could be around people.
McCall went on to serve 29 years on the Shelby County Board of Education as a school bus driver followed by working at the local Winn Dixie.
While working at Winn Dixie, McCall said he would always treat people with respect and always had something to give to the kids who came in the store.
“When I worked at Winn Dixie, children used to come by there and I used to always give them a quarter or two or a dollar to buy something, and I still will do that now,” said McCall. “It’s all about how you treat people. One boy one time told his mom ‘Hey that’s the money man!’”
It was one day working at Winn Dixie that Penhale approached McCall to ask him if he wanted to work for the city again.
“Mr. Penhale came by one day and said ‘Zodie do you want to work for me again?’ said McCall. “I looked at him and just thinking about my age I said ‘What?’ He said ‘All I want you to do is work three days a week, keep the town clean for me and I’ll pay you good money,’ and so I accepted and that’s what I’m doing now.”
For the past seven years or so, McCall has continued to keep the city of Helena clean while always waving and keeping a smile on his face.
When asked how long he wants to continue working for the city, McCall responded by saying “as long as the good Lord lets me.”
McCall and his wife continue to reside in Helena and McCall said some of his hobbies include watching Nascar, baseball, football and working around the house.
McCall also spoke about memories of his grandson, Montez Billings, who was a standout receiver at Pelham High School and then went on to play wide receiver for the Auburn football team.
“The town and the people are great, God knows I wouldn’t take nothing for them and that’s how I feel about it,” said McCall. “I don’t meet any strangers and I love to wave at people and do it all the time. I call the ladies sweethearts and I call the men my brothers.”