For at least the last five decades, one local dry cleaning business and its owner have remained dedicated to caring for the Lincolnton High School football team’s jerseys.
However, in November, owner Fred Jarrett, Sr. called it quits, opting for his second retirement from the family business, Jarrett’s Cleaners.
The 88-year-old Bonview Avenue resident initially started washing jerseys for the school’s varsity and junior varsity teams during the days of the Wolves’ legendary football coach, Von Ray Harris (1958-1987) — the namesake for the team’s stadium. Harris passed away in 2011.
“It started with Coach Harris and then went through Coach (Richard) Smith and then me,” current Lincolnton football Coach Scott Cloninger said.
“It’s always been a pleasure (with Jarrett) throughout the years.”
Over the seasons, Jarrett washed between 80 and 85 uniform pants and jerseys every week, never once losing or damaging a piece of clothing — also making sure to return all items neatly folded, Cloninger said.
And despite sickness and additional obstacles that plague people during the years, Jarrett always found time to get the job done correctly and on time.
“He never missed a time,” Cloninger said. “He always found a way to get our uniforms (washed and to us).”
The seasoned high school football coach laughed as he reflected on his and the aging businessman’s annual verbal contract.
“Mr. Jarrett would always come up to me and say, ‘If I’m here next year, we’ll do it again,’” Cloninger said, “and later he would say, ‘If you’re here and I’m here next year, we’ll do it again.”
Jarrett approached the coach and longtime friend at the end of the 2013 season, following the Wolves’ loss in the playoffs, and announced he was hanging up the job that had become second nature to him.
Jarrett’s connection to the local team can be traced back further than the 1950s, when Harris first asked him to clean the team jerseys.
Not only did Jarrett attend Lincolnton High School but he also participated in the Wolves’ earliest gridiron days, playing tackle for the team, he said, despite his small size.
He even met his wife Martha, 87, after a Wolves game in the 1940s.
With great detail, not skipping a beat in her recollection of the past, she revealed how the team came to her hometown of Hickory to play.
Following the matchup, all the players and area high school girls met at the local drug store to “flirt” and hangout.
“I had never before heard of Lincolnton,” she said with a chuckle.
While the two remained friends after Jarrett was drafted into World War II as part of the United States Navy, they corresponded for two years, until he returned home.
Jarrett noted he was drafted in November 1943, just one month after his 18th birthday.
While he had already graduated from high school earlier that year, he returned to school in the fall after the state added 12th grade, he said.
His decision to enroll for another year stemmed from his desire to don a football jersey one last season. However, due to the draft, he never completed the grade.
During his time overseas, Jarrett received burn injuries from a boat explosion, he said.
After the war ended, he returned to the area and married in 1946.
He later opted to attend college, but after only three weeks into his first semester at Lenoir-Rhyne College, he had to move to Lincolnton and help his father run Jarrett’s Cleaners, he said.
His father started the business more than 20 years earlier.
Originally located across the street from its current location on South Academy Street, near downtown Lincolnton, the facility moved locations after the family decided during the 1950s to purchase a white, two-story house just yards away — tearing it down and re-building the business with more space and additional services, including laundry and a storage vault for fur coats during the winter.
Martha Jarrett said the couple once lived in the white home, which also served as an overnight lodging location, or boarding house, for individuals traveling to and from the city’s nearby train station.
Jarrett said he took over the business after his father died during the 1980s.
In the years that followed, he received help from both his longest working employee — a man named Ryan McClain — and his wife, who manned the front of the facility part-time for a couple of years. Additional workers accompanied the business over the decades.
“I had good help, or I couldn’t have done it,” Jarrett said.
He first retirement from the cleaners occurred in 1990, but to still fill his time, he said, he continued to provide for the Wolves and a handful of “commercial customers.”
“I said, ‘It’s time to quit; I’ve done it all my life,’” Jarrett said.
Over the years, customers dwindled until he decided it was time, again, to retire.
He has since received a proposal from the owner of Rising Sun Pottery, located next door to the cleaners, to rent the facility and expand the artsy shop.
Jarrett has no regrets about moving on from the business.
“It hadn’t bothered me,” he said.
However, Cloninger knows the role will be hard to fill.
“It’ll be very difficult to replace (Jarrett) with his quality of work,” he said. “He’s a good friend and a loyal person to the Lincolnton High School Athletic Department. He’s been a true help.”