Local business leader passes away at 76

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Clarence 'Frog' Wilson, former owner of Caulk Hardware, died last week

By John Overby

Everybody called him “Frog.”

Clarence Wilson, who passed away last Wednesday at the age of 76, was well-known in Taylor County as the longtime owner of the Caulk Hardware Store in Campbellsville, but most likely, if you knew Clarence, you knew him as “Frog.”

“The first time I heard his name was Clarence, I had no idea who they were talking about,” said Mark Johnson, president of Citizens Bank in Campbellsville and long-time friend of Wilson’s. 

Wilson was born in Taylor County on March 14, 1942, son of the late Lucy Kathryn Thomas Wilson and Clarence Edwin Wilson Sr.

As a teenager, he began working for Leland and Willard Caulk, and on July 1, 1986,the Caulks sold their hardware store to Wilson.

Johnson first met Wilson at Caulk Hardware, shortly after moving to Taylor County in 1990.

The two became fast friends.

“Frog was one of the first folks I met in Campbellsville,” Johnson said. “He took me under wing. He was a wonderful friend, and I counted him as one of my best friends in town. We got along pretty famously.”

Campbellsville mayor Brenda Allen said she knew Wilson for “probably 50 years.” What she remembers most about him was that he knew everybody and everybody loved him.

“He was such a fine person,” she said. “He was always a friendly person and always had time to talk.”

Looking back on all of his memories in Caulk Hardware, Johnson remembered the store as not only a “great hangout” but a place where you could find items that were not readily available anywhere else.

“They always had the special items,” he said. “They specialized in odds and ends that were hard to find.”

Or, as Allen put it, “if they didn’t have it at Caulk Hardware, they didn’t make it.”

“You bought everything you needed at Caulk Hardware,” she added. “It was just like we had our only little Walmart right there, and we didn’t even know it. It was a friendly, family-owned place that people could go and everybody knew everybody. That’s where you would go for anything you needed.”

Johnson remembered on one occasion seeing a knife he really liked in the display case of Case knives at Caulk Hardware. Wilson gifted it to Johnson for Christmas “out of the blue.”

“I still have it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Johnson said. “It’s one of my fondest memories, that he thought of me that much. I thought that was really special.”
In late 2001, the back wall of the hardware store collapsed after a demolition company was tearing down the walls next to Caulk Hardware.

Johnson recalled seeing Wilson running out of the store as it was collapsing.

“We ran over there and saw they were dusty and coughing,” Johnson said of Wilson and one of his employees. “No one got hurt. They were just walking out of the building shell-shocked. Once we found out no one was hurt, it was kind of humorous to see them like that.”

After years as a fixture on Main Street, Caulk Hardware was forced to move to a new location on Meader Street shortly after that incident.

“He definitely was an institution on Main Street,” Allen said. “Once they left, there wasn’t as much business down there. Everybody — farmers, carpenters, ordinary people — if you wanted to find something, you could find it at Caulk Hardware.”

Wilson owned Caulk Hardware until it closed last April after 87 years in business.

In addition to owning the store and being the local Honda motorcycle dealer, Wilson was heavily involved in the community: serving on the board of the Lake Cumberland Area Development District, being a member of the Downtown Business Association, and being honored as Small Business Person of the Year by the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce, among other local interests. He also coached girls’ softballand was a lifelong member of Campbellsville Baptist Church.

“Frog was heavily involved in this community,” Johnson said. “He did a lot of coaching youth sports teams, and you could always count on Caulk Hardware being a sponsor, always a supporter of local ball teams … Caulk Hardware was always involved and into everything.”

“I just think he was one of those people that everybody loved, they trusted him, he cared about the community,” Allen added. “As long as he was able, he wanted to be there for the community.”

In his immediate family, Wilson is survived by his wife of 56 years, Ruth Ann; his son, Dr. George Edwin Wilson and his partner, Jacob Bonynge of Winter Park, Florida; and by his daughter, Kathy Ann Wilson of Campbellsville.

Wilson’s funeral was this past Sunday at Parrott & Ramsey Funeral Home. He was buried in the Campbellsville Memorial Gardens.

“I counted Frog as a best friend, and I think it’s a very big loss for us all,” Johnson said. “He really was the nicest fella.”