Charlie Dukes

“Born on the banks of the Bon Secour River.” in 1939, Charlie Dukes has spent practically all his life in Baldwin County, Alabama. Charlie lived with his family in his grandfather’s home on County Rd. 10, and was raised with his 2 brothers and 2 other boys whose family also lived in the house, until 1945 when the Dukes family moved to Foley. He attended 1st grade in Foley for half a year. The family returned to Bon Secour for the last half year to live in a river-side cottage owned by his great grandfather, Tom Steele, and attended school at the rural Bon Secour school. The family moved back to Foley in 1946 where he graduated from high school in 1957. Charlie had several part time jobs with Foley businesses working at the local funeral home, processing strawberries at the local plant, and earned top wages of $25 a week as a shoe repair specialist at Wilson’s Shoe Store. The shoe store closed, and Charlie and his 2 brothers worked on various farms until they decided to go into the land clearing business, all work done by hand, until he bought his first case of dynamite at the age of 14 which was purchased from Lawrenz Hardware, owned by David Lawrenz’s father.

Charlie’s father worked for Frederick Dredging in Bon Secour. Charlie landed a summer job working on the dredging barge that dug the last section of canal through Stone Quarry and the basin on the south west side of what is now Josephine Harbor and the mouth of the Stone Quarry canal entrance. He was also assigned to dredging jobs at Alabama Point and at Dauphin Island, where he lived on a crew boat that is still in service in the Ft. Morgan area. He also worked on the Pensacola Bay Bridge dredging crew that helped build the first bridge from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze. After summer assignments, Charlie enrolled at Troy State, where he earned a teaching degree in 1961. He took his first teaching job in Frisco City, making the grand sum of $3,640 a year. The next school year he moved to Bay Minette for a great increase to $4,000 a year, teaching social studies, and later, business courses, including business law and accounting. His fondest memories include breaking up fights, and meeting his wife to be, Donna Sue Dickson. They met on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend who knew Donna from her teaching job in Foley. They dated for 3 years, and married in l964. Donna took a teaching job in Bay Minette. Charlie continued his teaching career and part time jobs as a sales rep. for a business college in Mobile, and a twice-a-day assignment as a school bus driver. And with the “spare” time that Charlie had, he attended University of South Alabama, where he earned a masters degree in counseling and guidance. That degree put him on track for a promotion to an administrative position in the Baldwin County School system, but that “promise” was reversed, and the job went to a local politician’s spouse. Charlie also taught evenings and weekends at the local junior college, now Faulkner State, where he enjoyed teaching business courses including economics and typing. He eventually achieved the skill set of 13 words a minute and took the position with his students of “do as I say, not as I do!” During this time, Charlie started to build a part time career in real estate sales, and found time to take a summer job as Recreation Director at the Scout Cabin, the local Bay Minette recreation center, and later included an administrative role with a government funded job placement program for out-of-work students. During this period, the Dukes and a couple of friends developed a camp ground off of I-10 west of Mobile, which was later sold.

His teaching career took a sharp turn in 1972, when a neighbor who worked for Baldwin County Savings & Loan offered Charlie an opportunity to join the S&L for a significant salary increase, and the beginning of a very successful 14 year career in commercial lending. He was promoted to manager of commercial lending at the Robertsdale home office, and quickly learned that new government regulations that gave S&L’s equal footing with state regulated banks put BCS&L on the fast track to commercial loans, fueled in 1979 by the devastation rendered to the gulf coast by Hurricane Frederick. Developers swarmed the Gulf Shores beaches to take advantage of the real estate boon that would result in “condo-mania”, and a major need for loans to fund the construction. Condominium construction funding was relatively new to the market, and the money flowed, in some cases to the wrong developers. Graft and corruption soon followed and the FBI moved in to investigate allegations that developers were offering “favors” to lenders, and vice versa. Charlie decided that he should steer clear of the backlash, and accepted a position with a local developer who had the contract to build the sewer system from Ft. Morgan to what is now Glen Lakes. They hired an oil rig drilling company and employed directional drilling technology to position the pipe line under the Intracoastal Canal. The venture ultimately failed as the city of Gulf Shores decided to build their own waste treatment plant, and run their own fresh water lines to serve the population out to Ft. Morgan after the venture had already dug a major well to serve the community. Charlie planned to return to teaching, but was offered a sales position with SS Steele, a residential developer in Mobile. That successful career led to an opportunity with a joint venture with Bill Dobbins in Bay Minette. They and opened their first model home in Spanish Fort on Highway 31. During the growth of this venture, Charlie suffered some major medical setbacks, and had to take a leave of absence from his sales management duties. During this time, Charlie discovered that the partnership had taken a negative direction, ultimately ending in litigation with favorable results for Charlie.

The Dukes purchased the lot on County Road 95 in 1985, and they built their “weekend” home in 1992. They started making weekends longer, and commuted to their jobs over an extended period of time until Charlie decided to retire. But, even during the “wind down” years, he was involved in development of Fairhope Funeral Home, now Wolfe Funeral Home, and built a successful residential development company that is now owned and managed by their 2 sons, Chip, born in 1967, who manages the Mississippi-based operation, and Hayne, born in 1972, who manages the Spanish Fort business. They had a partnership at a Montgomery location, that has since been sold. Charlie says that he has “officially” stepped out of the real estate business, but loves to “give advice” to his sons! He and Donna enjoy their life style, living on the Dock of the Bay, and offers these words of wisdom from the veteran of a successful career,”Don’t ever give up, keep working hard!” Amen, from the last house at the end of the road!


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