LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Wilson County Fair is expected to bring 500,000 visitors to Lebanon later this year, and thousands of those attendees will walk through a little country store to meet a family who touches the lives of many.
A.C. Wharton Sr. was a sharecropper in Tucker Crossroads. Through his hard work he created opportunities for his children that he could only dream about.
Nestled in a corner of Fiddler’s Grove Historic Village you’ll find Wharton Market.
“Now that I’m back and retired, the store gets all my attention,” said daughter Ruth Wharton.
Ruth spent most of her professional life in California, but now she manages the one room grocery store that her parents AC and Mary Wharton bought in 1960.
“My dad always wanted to be in business, but he started out as a sharecropper,” she recalled.
Some of the original store fixtures are still inside and son A.C. Wharton Jr. said he learned many of his family’s values working there.
“Long hours and hard work, honesty,” he recalled. “Daddy didn’t count the candy bars before he left. He made it clear if you steal, you steal from yourself. He taught us how to dress, how to clean up every day and make a good impression.
Daddy used to say whatever you do, you’ve got to be able to meet the public.”
A.C. Jr. said his dad also showed his children the value of helping others.
“If you came in and said your crop didn’t come in or you got laid off, you got credit,” he explained. “You’d come in, get your meat, your bread, your eggs, your sugar, or whatever and that was just a way of life for them,” he said.
The now adult children said their father also believed it was important to earn their way in life.
“If we wanted something, instead of giving us the money to buy it, he found us job. He found me a job working at the pharmacy,” son Kenneth Wharton said.
Kenneth admits his job at the pharmacy may have saved him from the farm. To ensure he and his siblings had other opportunities, their parents insisted they go to college.
“No negotiation like people do today…do you want to go to go? No, no, you are going to college. You’re gonna get out and help the next one coming along,” Ruth recalled.
Their parents strategy worked and all five of children graduated Tennessee State University and Kenneth went on to become a doctor.
Ruth and her two sisters became top professionals in education, while A.C. Jr. finished law school at Ole Miss. In 2002, voters elected him as Shelby County’s first black mayor.
In 2009, he was elected mayor of Memphis, but he said his family’s journey all began in Lebanon.
“Each time I come back I have to pinch myself to make sure that it’s real,” he said. “That I am who I am.”
The A.C. Wharton Family scholarship at Cumberland University is awarded each year to a Wilson County student studying business who needs financial support.Click here for more of Anne Holt’s Tennessee stories.