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By Mike Steely
It’s a surprise!
That’s what the secret invitation successfully noted, bringing the Fountain City neighborhood together Friday night to salute and celebrate Alvin Frye on his 90th birthday. Frye is the well known operator of the Exxon Station at 5306 North Broadway, a civic leader, and a Navy Veteran.
The party was a genuine surprise, which amazed even the hundred or so folks present who thought that someone must have told Mr. Frye.
“The response has been really great,” said Cynthia Reeves, of U. S. Bank, who coordinated the event. “The hardest part has been keeping it a secret.”
The party was held in the Fountain City Lions Club building, which presented a unique challenge to the organizers as Frye, longtime member of the Club, is often the person contacted for booking parties and events there.
With the gathering of well-wishers growing, Mrs. Reeves had a plan. A few minutes later she called the Lion’s Club, telling Frye that she couldn’t open the building. The lights were switched off and soon Mr. Frye came inside to a rousing “Happy Birthday” song.
“She told me she couldn’t get the door open!” he exclaimed. Mrs. Reeves said he had helped her so many times in the past that she knew he’d come to assist her.
Frye, a veteran of World War II and stateside during Korea, is a Fountain City and Knox County leader and has been married to his wife, Mildred, for 65 years. They have two children, Tommy and Lisa, three grandsons, one granddaughter, and one great-grandson. Mildred and several family members were on hand and obviously kept the surprise a secret.
Mildred said that when Alvin graduated from high school, he and some friends went to Nashville to enlist in the Navy. The teens expected to return home before being deployed, but were sent directly to San Diego for training.
“He’s very proud of having served in the military. It means a lot to him,” his wife said.
In fact, the first present given to him Friday night was a Navy cap with WWII and Korea embroidered on it.
Frye has not always run the Exxon in the heart of Fountain City. In fact, he operated another service station further down on Broadway until the interstate bypass took the Dutch Valley property and he moved to the current location across from Fountain City Lake. Many people recognize the station for its sign “No Hot Dogs, No Lottery, No Beer.”
He has been honored as Knox County “Man of the Year” and his name is at the Central High School football field. Knox County has recognized him with an “Alvin Frye Day” in 2001 and he is a member of the Fountain City Business and Professional Association.
More than 55 years in business has brought Alvin Frye nationwide attention as people who stopped by wrote stories about him. His local supporters and friends include politicians, businesses, teachers, and many, many customers.
“He’s always been a hard working man, we’ve had three generations there. I’ve always looked up to him,” his grandson Tommy Frye, Jr. said.
“He’s worked hard every day,” Sheriff J. J. Jones said, echoing what many of those present said. Sheriff Jones asked him what was the lowest price per gallon of gas he ever sold and a smiling Mr. Frye said “19.9 cents.”
“I work seven days a week and haven’t had a vacation in 15 years. I haven’t taken a day off in three years,” the 90-year-old man declared.
“You’re the man!” someone yelled across the crowd of well wishers.
“He’s an icon, the salt of the earth,” said Congressman John Duncan, Jr., adding “He was a good friend of my dad and a good friend of mine.”
Everyone had a story about Alvin Frye. A few only know him from buying gas at his station while others have known him most of his life. In fact, two of the men present at the party had served in the Navy with him and shared stories.
“I’ve never seen Alvin smile so much,” an old friend said.
Everyone wanted their photo taken with him. The well-wishers included business people, laborers, Central High School teams and coaches, elected officials, family and neighbors.
Supporters and sponsors of the surprise birthday party included Central High School, Chick-fil-A of Fountain City, Fountain City Exxon, Fountain City Lion’s Club, Fountain City Wrecker Service, Gaylon Wilson Insurance, Joe Whaley, Kroger of Fountain City, Litton’s Market and Restaurant, Mynatt Funeral Home, Rowland Electronics and U. S. Bank of Fountain City.
Happy 90th Birthday, Mr. Frye!