Story by Leigh Pritchett
Photography by Michael Callahan
Aug. 11, 2014, was a run-of-the-mill Monday for probably most people in St. Clair County.
But that was not the case for Bill Seales.
The man lovingly known as “Peanut Bill” had been summoned to the City Council meeting that was to take place that morning.
After the opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, Seales was called to the front of the Council chambers, where Mayor Joe Funderburg read a proclamation to “hereby honor a most gallant, courageous son.”
The proclamation calls Seales “a glowing example of determination” and “a model of courage for many Pell Citians.” It notes that he “has demonstrated a strength and desire to overcome many physical restrictions that did not prohibit his willingness and determination to be an independent, productive citizen. … (He) is, and shall always be a respected part of the Pell City family.”
The proclamation further declares Aug. 11, 2014, as “Bill Seales Day” in Pell City.
As Funderburg finished reading the proclamation, thunderous applause and a shout of “We love you, Bill!” erupted, quickly giving way to a standing ovation.
Then, Funderburg presented Seales with a golden key to the city.
Seales flashed his familiar, broad smile and there was another standing ovation.
Though speechless for a moment, Seales graciously responded, “Thank you. Thank you all.”
Cameras from two Birmingham television stations caught the action as an entourage of relatives, friends and well-wishers gathered around Seales outside the Council chambers. Tina Ailor, who is manager of Food Outlet and Seales’ special friend, held his hand.
“We were very honored that Pell City went to this length to recognize him,” said Alice Kennedy, Seales’ cousin.
Through the years, the citizens “were very excited to see Bill” whenever he was selling peanuts “and he was always welcomed with open arms,” Kennedy said.
Seales, who is 66, peddled peanuts around Pell City for nearly 50 years. He started at 17 years of age.
He became part of Pell City’s fabric as he logged thousands of miles on foot or on his three-wheeled cycle, selling his signature items about town. He also had a peanut stand, first at Food World until it permanently closed and then at Food Outlet.
When TV news anchor Mike Royer issued an open forum for anyone to speak, Kathy Phillips of Southside came from the back of the gathering and said she could be silent no longer.
She wiped tears from her eyes as she clipped on a microphone.
Phillips, a cousin, said she and Seales lived in the same house when she was a child.
“Bill has always been an inspiration to me and my family,” Phillips said. “He is one of my lifelong heroes.”
Daily, Seales would go five miles from where they lived on Florida Road into town, walk all around Pell City selling his peanuts and then return home. “That’s how he supported himself,” Phillips said.
Each day, he would bring Phillips a box of Cracker Jacks.
Seales’ independent spirit gave him determination to support himself and his wife, Karen (now deceased). Generously, he has given to his family, the community and the city, Phillips said.
The way Seales has lived is proof that anyone can do anything if the individual tries hard enough, regardless of the adversity he faces, Phillips said.
Shortly after Seales’ birth, a medical situation left him with physical challenges.
Yet, Seales resolved as a child not to allow the challenges to hold him back.
In an article in the February & March 2014 issue of Discover magazine, Seales says he decided early in life to work and support himself.
“I’m going to go forward, if it kills me,” Seales is quoted as saying. “I’ve always wanted to work. The Bible says, ‘Work.’ It never hurt me! … If I hadn’t been peddling peanuts and going and doing, I’d be dead. If you don’t get busy doing something, you won’t make it.”
Seales’ aunt, Geneva Bannister of Pell City, said she could not talk about him without crying. “I love him more than anybody else in the world.”
Funderburg described Seales as “one of the most popular citizens in Pell City” and “an example of courage to a lot of people.”
Because of Seales’ exemplary life, there had been much public support for him to be formally recognized, Funderburg explained. “I felt like (recognition) was something that was overdue.”
When the Council meeting adjourned that morning, the accolades did not end, however.
That afternoon, there was quite a shindig at Golden Living Center in Pell City, which is Seales’ current residence.
The music of Elvis, Bobby Darrin and Chubby Checker created such an upbeat atmosphere that Seales and Gerry Stallworth, the center’s director of rehabilitation, danced together.
After Jamie Lancaster, executive director of Golden Living Center, announced the honor the city had bestowed on Seales, the residents and staff members who filled the dining area applauded heartily.
When Seales got a glimpse of the peanut-shaped cake that awaited him and the bowls of peanuts surrounding it, his big, broad smile flashed once more.