They wrote, and rewrote, the book on Apex

Brothers recount fond memories

Staff WriterNovember 28, 2010 

— Before Apex became a suburb and touted itself as the "peak of good living," it was a tiny community whose motto of "pluck, perseverance and paint" highlighted efforts to rebuild after devastating fires in its early years.

This long-ago part of Apex's past is celebrated in a new book, "Pluck, Perseverance and Paint," written by a pair of brothers who carry fond memories of the town they grew up in.

On Saturday, a steady stream of visitors came to The Rusty Bucket store downtown to get their copies of the book signed by authors Toby and Warren Holleman and to reminisce about the past.

"We grew up in a very stable and safe community," said Toby Holleman, 58. "We had a very blessed opportunity. It's our affection for the people of this town and the way it was that made us want to write this."

The new edition of the book, which details the history of Apex up to 1941, was a long time in the making.

The first edition was published in 1973 as part of a paper Toby wrote for college credit at Harvard University. His father, Carl, the longtime town attorney and a local historian, had encouraged Toby to write a history of Apex for the town's centennial celebration that year.

Toby said he was happy to do it because it got him out of working for his dad's law office for the summer. His decision to not become a lawyer later opened up a spot at his father's law firm for a young attorney named Paul Stam, who is about to become the No. 2 man in the state House next year.

With the research help of his younger brother, Warren, then a high school student, Toby finished writing the book in two months, and 500 copies were published.

Both brothers left town in the 1970s back when it had only around 1,000 residents. Toby became an associate conference minister for the United Church of Christ in Pennsylvania, while Warren, 55, is now an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

After prodding from their mother, Ruth, who still lives in Apex, the brothers decided three years ago to rewrite and expand the book. Warren said he considered the new edition to be a sign of respect for their late father's love of history.

The brothers included oral histories and more about the African-American community, which used to account for a large percentage of the town's population. One of the new things that Warren learned that fascinated him was the prevalence of whiskey in Apex, especially during Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s.

"We grew up in the Baptist Church thinking drinking was done only by a few people," Warren said.

"But about 60 percent of the people in the 1920s drank liquor as part of their daily routine."

Many of the people who came to the book signing Saturday had grown up with the brothers or were adults when they were children.

Warren regaled Dot Goodwin with stories from the book about her father-in-law, Oscar Goodwin, who was one of the town's few doctors and who had a milking cow just a block from downtown Apex. Dot Goodwin was the church choir director where the brothers sang growing up.

"I'm hearing stories I've never heard before," said Goodwin, 84, who still lives in Apex. "I have to buy it."

Things have changed greatly in Apex since the Holleman brothers left town in the 1970s. Apex now has more than 30,000 residents and all the trappings of a prosperous suburb. But the brothers are accepting of how things are now.

"There are amenities here now we couldn't dream of when we were growing up," said Toby Holleman. "The goal is to adapt."

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service