By RUTH MORGAN
For the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum
L. L. “Moon” Mullins owned Starkville Funeral Home. Mullins used three Cadillac ambulances and a flower van in his funeral services as shown in the photo. Peggy Mullins Buckley (Mrs. Donald) provided the photos and story for this article.
The Mullins moved to Starkville in 1932 from Louisville where he was in the Service Station business. Mr. Mullins decided to go into the funeral home business. One of the locations for the Starkville Funeral Home was located on Main Street where Charlie Yoste has his office at present. Another location was on Lampkin Street, where Mark Williamson’s Law Office is located. The funeral home was downstairs and the Mullins lived upstairs. Moon had a home in West Point and Brooksville. He sold burial insurance as well. Insurance was quite different. Moon would go out in the afternoon and collect for the insurance. He would collect 25 to 50 cents on the insurance policy.
During the time he was in the funeral business, family and friends stayed with the body at the funeral home during the night and until the body was buried. It was commonly called “sitting with the dead.” It was done out of love and with the knowledge that it was the last thing they could do for their loved one. This tradition ended in the late sixties. Moon loved this business and was delighted to see it grow. He had a great staff of workers and was very proud to have three Cadillac Ambulances, all paid for.
Moon was very interested in the State Guard. He, along with Mr. A. L. Goodman and Mr. Henry Bryan were instrumental in having the State Guard get the status of Mississippi National Guard Association. Moon was very active in this unit. In the midst of his growing funeral home business, this National Guard Unit was called into World War II.
Moon left his funeral business with his brother, Selma “Preacher” Mullins and his son Roland. Roland was in college at this time. One of the interesting stories told about this time concerns a young boy who had run away from home when he was twelve years old. He came to Starkville and met Roland. The youngster told Roland he had to have somewhere to sleep so Roland let him sleep at the funeral home and work. He worked several places but he stayed in Starkville and became a successful businessman.
When Moon was called into the war, he did everything he could to get promoted and be shipped overseas. He volunteered for everything he could and moved his wife and children quite often. The sons, Sonny and Glenn, often related stories of the situations they had moving from school to school because they moved about seven times.
The job that Moon considered the most important was moving two hundred German prisoners from New York down South. One of the prisoners painted an oil portrait of Moon and one of his wife, Margie. They were good oil paintings. Moon liked the portraits and used them later in his new home.
When Moon got out of the service, he had all but lost his funeral home business. He sold one of the homes to Henry Beattie and his wife. He then opened an Army Surplus Store on Main Street with Bob Collier. It was located where Archer Chesser had his cleaning business. He left that business to open Mullins and Sons. Mullins was quite popular. People often talked about the pants he sold. Moon advertised that you could buy three pair of pants for $10. A suit, shirt, tie, socks and shoes were less than $50. Archie Edmonds was one of his most faithful employees. Gilbert Forsman, Russ Rogers and Robert Bock worked for Moon as well. Mullins and Sons was growing, but still new. Guess what? The National Guard Unit was called to go into the Korean Conflict.
Margie, his wife and their son Glenn, stayed in Starkville minding the store because Glenn had two more years of high school. Moon and his son, Sonny, went with the National Guard. When Moon returned, Glenn and his friend, Don Johnson, joined the United States Navy and Glenn was sent to Japan. After the war, veterans returned to the college in large numbers. All the Mullins family worked at Mullins and Sons during their college days. Margie opened up a Ladies Store next to Mullins. Sonny opened a Men’s Store on Main Street. Glenn worked at Mullins and Sons until it burned around 1979 and then went to work in the banking business for Security State Bank and later for Bancorp South.
Moon had a great interest in the development of Starkville, prior to the Korean Conflict, Moon and his family lived in the red brick house across the street from the side of the First Methodist Church. He built a garage apartment to the house. There were few apartments in the city at the time. Peggy and Wilmot Thomson, newly married, were the first to live there.
Moon decided to purchase some land toward Longview in 1949. There had been a major fire in most of the forest from town to Longview. When he told his friends he had purchased this property, they all laughed and told him what a mistake he had made. Their feelings were that the land was so poor that if a rabbit decided to cross it, the rabbit would have to carry his lunch across the land, or he would starve to death. Moon loved the land and had some wonderful years planting trees, growing cattle, dealing in timber, and selling some of the property. Moon and both sons built houses on the property.
Longview was a growing community. The Longview School was still open. Highway 12 had just been completed and traffic was growing. Moon was active in the community and instrumental in the development of Starkville. He worked with the American Legion and 4–H. He helped the Legion secure a new meetinghouse. He was active in Rotary and served as President and offered programs on trees and conservation. Rotarians would know what the program was about if he was in charge. He loved to play Santa and did often. He led the singing for a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church. It was on the radio. Mr. Ben Hilbun was the teacher. He worked with the Chamber of Commerce. He helped purchase land for the Industrial Park. He worked with the Starkville Downtown Association and served as president. He helped to purchase land for some downtown parking lots. He was active in city affairs. He won the T. E. Veitch Award. He applied to the legislature and won a percent of the sales tax downtown to help in the growth of the city. He ran for supervisor and lost. He worked for the June parade and activities for Dairy Month. Yes, June was considered Dairy Month in Mississippi. He helped to develop the Agricultural Center on Highway 15 and worked to support its activities. He was an avid rider and rode his horse in parades whenever he could. He served as an officer in most of the clubs to which he belonged.
Moon got interested in pine trees and what good they did for the environment. After years of cattle raising, he sold the cows and began to raise pine trees. He helped to begin a Tree Planting Week. During this week, he would visit all the schools in the area, and every child got a pine tree to take home and plant. In 1979, he was the Southeast Tree Farmer of the Year. He was the first runner up to the National tree Farmer of the Year award, which was sponsored by the Mississippi Forest Association. He would drive around the city and county looking at the trees. If he heard they were going to cut a tree down, he would measure it and leave a note saying how important it was. They usually cut it anyway!! Moon was a part of the Beaver Cooperative in Sturgis. Baker Andrews and others were partners in the business. They wanted to provide a market to trappers for the beavers. Later, they began to sell coats, vests and fur hats. Moon left the business after three years. They did make beautiful fur pieces and were complimented often on the fur process.
Through the last years of Moon’s life, he was active with the Mississippi Forest Association and Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation. He added more members to the organization than any one had ever done. Moon was a gardener and loved the large garden he kept. He enjoyed sharing his fruits and vegetables with his friends.
Moon started a catfish farm on his property. He was willing to show anyone how to get started. He loved feeding the fish. He often called people to come on out and watch the process. Moon and Margie were married 61 years.
Ed Williams remembers...
Mr. Mullins was the quintessential promoter of forestry and good forest management. In 1972 Mullins was among the founding members of the Oktibbeha County Forest Farmer’s Association and served as its first president from 1972-1974. The county forestry association concept was ahead of its time. The County Forestry Association model was later adopted by the Mississippi Forestry Association twenty years later and has blossomed into a full fledged private landowner educational and promotional organization within MFA. Mr. Mullins along with other key members was able to assist the group in establishing a pulpwood buying station at Longview along the Greenville & Columbus railway. Through his and other County Forest Farmer leaders, private forest landowners formed a marketing cooperative, which netted them an additional $1 per cord for pulpwood, about a 15 percent increase.
Mr. Mullins recognized that to achieve true appreciation for our forest resources, young people needed to be informed of the benefits of trees to our natural resources and economy. He became the chief advocate of establishing a “Tree Planting Week” observance in February to coincide with Arbor Day Celebrations in our state. This program was first promoted throughout Oktibbeha County and Starkville Schools. Joining with the Oktibbeha County Soil and Water Conservation District that purchased tree seedlings and Oktibbeha County Extension that put together an educational speakers group of volunteers from Extension, the Conservation District, Mississippi Forestry Association, and the Forest Farmer’s Association, trees were given to students and educational programs were carried out in grades kindergarten through third grade. Trees purchased by the Conservation District were also distributed to the public on Arbor Day from the Oktibbeha County Extension Office.
Mr. Mullins lobbied for the Tree Planting Week designation, which was adopted in the statewide in 1975. A tribute to the enthusiasm and persistence of Mr. Mullins efforts. He was recognized by local, state and national forest landowner organizations. He definitely made a difference in the development of our timber resources in Mississippi.
I will always remember Mr. Mullins for his winning smile, his whole-hearted enthusiasm and his unselfish promotion of private forestland management.
Dero Jones remembers...
I remember working at the funeral home. I helped clean up as well as transport the dead bodies. Many times the homes in the county would be far off the road, and we would have to carry the body in a basket a long way back to the road so it was hard work. There was not a lot to eat back then, so most bodies were not as obese as they are today. My experience as a youngster working in the funeral home is memorable.
Tony Thompson, District Conservationist (retired), Starkville NRCS Field Office remembers...
If I ever knew a “man with a mission”, it was L.L.”Moon” Mullins of Starkville. Mr. “Moon”, as he was known by his friends, actually had many successful missions which he completed in the most commendable fashion – military officer, businessman, community leader, husband and father. These missions were, for the most part, written in history when I got to know Mr. “Moon” in 1983. That’s when I arrived in Starkville for my new job as District Conservationist and Liaison to Mississippi State University. I had only been on the job a few days when Mr. “Moon” stopped by the Soil Conservation Service office to get acquainted and talk shop. It didn’t take long to confirm what I had already heard. Mr. “Moon” had a mission he approached with a passion: grow Mississippi’s forestry resource by planting and managing trees.
I remember my first visit to the Mullins Tree Farm. Mr. “Moon “invited my family out to fish in his lake one afternoon. He had poles already rigged up for the kids and cut-up wieners for bait. After throwing out a bucket of catfish feed, he had the kids toss out their lines and soon we had had enough fat catfish to make several meals. The kids had a ball! As we visited and looked at the immaculately managed pine forest surrounding the lake, it was very evident “Mr. Moon” practiced what he preached. I would make many more trips to the farm to check the trees and learn silvaculture management from the master practitioner.
Mr. “Moon” served many years actively and faithfully as a commissioner for the Oktibbeha County Soil and Water Conservation District. It was in this role that his passion for growing trees began to really bloom. He knew the county soils were well suited to trees, especially loblolly pine, and saw the potential to increase family incomes through the sale of pulpwood and sawtimber from well managed forests. In 1970, he conceived the idea of celebrating an event he called “Tree Planting Week” and convinced the local conservation district board to sponsor it. The district commissioners purchased tree seedlings and with the help of volunteers distributed them to all city and county school children, grades K thru 3. Trees were also given to home owners to plant for shade and beautification. The event was a huge success and inspired “Mr. Moon” to carry his idea to higher levels. First, in 1975,he convinced the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts leadership to declare “Tree Planting Week” a statewide observance, culminating on national Arbor Day, the second Friday in February. But, not to stop there, he next carried his idea to the National Association of Conservation Districts, where in 1977, “Tree Planting Week” was adopted for the 7 state Southeastern area of the U.S.
Today, “Tree Planting Week” continues to be an annual celebration. Over the past 30 years, millions of trees have been planted and hundreds of thousands of school children taught the importance of trees to our environment and economy. The support this educational effort has brought to our state’s forest industry and protection of soil and water resources is immeasurable and can be attributed to the leadership and visionary mission of Mr. “Moon”.
There is an old adage that states “Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray”. Mr. “Moon” will be remembered by many for his participation in such a mission during the ‘seventies that involved an attempt to manage one of forestland’s major pests, the formidable, dam building, tree eating critter, the BEAVER. Mr. “Moon “, being the champion he was for protecting trees, saw the beaver as a significant threat to the forest industry and joined in with other forestland owners across the state to develop an effective control strategy. The beaver tail bounty being paid by the state was not working and the group came up with a new idea: form a “Beaver Cooperative” to trap, buy, and process beaver pelts. As a principal investor, “Mr. Moon” took on this mission with the same determination and enthusiasm he is well known for. The Co-op got off to a great start and showed promises of being a success until the price of beaver pelts plummeted and left it in shambles. I can still remember the times Mr. “Moon” and another principal investor friend, Dr. W. B. Andrew s (MSU agronomist credited with development of Anhydrous Ammonium), would meet at the SCS office to discuss the beaver and their ideas on how to bring about its demise. They had some very interesting ideas, but in the end, we all know the beaver won this round!
I am thankful to have known Mr. L.L. “Moon” Mullins as a friend and mentor. He was a great conservationist whose leadership efforts to develop Mississippi’s forest resource live on. He was an even greater AMERICAN.