Charles Francis Meulemans was born on May 15, 1908 in Heverlee, Brabant Wallen, Belgium to John Batist Meulemans (1883-1955) and Maria Joissart Meulemans (1885-1973). John moved the family to America and they arrived on March 2, 1920. John, Maria, Charlie, and Charlie’s sister, Jeanettte (1910-1989), settled in Detroit, Michigan. In the late 1920s, Charlie began working as a building contractor in Detroit.
During World War II, Charlie joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Belgium. His fluent Flemish was useful with the locals. He could negotiate with the locals for better food and drinks. His unit members were particularly appreciative of his abilities.
When the Army swept through Belgium near the end of the war Charlie found his sweetheart, Charlotte, in his hometown. Charlotte Behets Meulemans was born April 26, 1916 in Heverlee, Belgium to Alexander Joseph Behets (1888-1955) and Louise Jossart Meulemans (1893-1974). They initially made plans to marry after the war was over.
Victory in Europe (VE Day) occurred on May 8, 1945. The war in the Pacific was still in full swing and it looked like Charlie’s unit would be sent to fight the Japanese. So Charlie and Charlotte moved their wedding day to August 2, 1945 in Belgium.
On August 6 an American B-29 dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and two days later dropped another one on Nagasaki, Japan. Within a few days the Japanese surrendered and the war was over and Charlie brought his new bride back to Detroit. Charlotte arrived in the States on August 13, 1946. Their three daughters, Marie, Miriam, and Charline were born there.
In 1952, he decided to go into the hardware business and moved to Almont and opened Almont Hardware (present location of the Yarbrough Insurance Group LLC). Charlie, Charlotte, and the girls lived in a nice apartment above the store.
The apartment was one of the locations of the switches to turn on the fire siren. At night, fire calls were routed to the Meulemans, Charlie or Charlotte took the information about the fire and switched on the siren, which could be heard several miles from downtown.
Having been in the construction business, Charlie was an expert in building materials. As the business grew and the store expanded, he became an expert in what the farmers needed as well. Mrs. Meulemans paid close attention to the other needs of young families starting up after the war. Hence, Almont Hardware became more like a general store carrying a little of this and a little of that. Both my mother, Jane Hoyt Wade, and father-in-law, Robert Harold Walton, said exactly the same thing: “If Charlie doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.”
Men would come and explain a problem to Charlie and he would go to a bin and pull out just the right tool or fixture to solve the problem. Women would come in and tell Charlotte what they wanted or needed for a birthday or Christmas, so she could direct their husbands to just the right gift.
After 22 years, in 1974, the Meulemans decided to retire and sold the store. They moved to Virginia where two of their daughters lived.
Charlie passed away on July 3, 1995 at the age of 87 and Charlotte on December 6, 2010, just short of her 94th birthday. They are buried in the Culpeper National Cemetery in Culpeper, Virginia.
Charlie and Charlotte helped make Almont a great place to live in the middle of the 20th Century.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.