When Roger Bostic died Friday of a heart attack at age 70, a huge piece of Centreville history went with him.
"Everybody in Centreville knew him," said his wife of 42 years, Helen. "All you had to say was 'Hunter Hardware, Roger Bostic.'"
John C. Hunter and sons Jack and Herb owned the store from November 1951 to the late 1980s, when Bostic bought it. But he actually began working in it at age 12 when it was called Centreville Hardware.
When the Hunters took over, said Herb Hunter, "Roger was a kid in high school. We kidded him that, when we got the store, he came with it. I knew him 45 years, and he's forgotten more about the hardware business than I'll ever know."
In the early days, said Hunter, customers were buying kerosene lamps and load binders — tools that bound wood together for stacking. And as time passed, Hunter's children worked in the hardware store for Bostic, as did Bostic's daughter, Jackie — and a lifetime of memories was created.
"ROGER WAS like a kid brother to me," said Hunter, 81. "Day to day, when my kids were small, Jackie was just a child, and our friends who've gone on were still alive, we had a lot of fun together."
Back when Hunter Hardware was perched on the hill at the corner of Old Centreville Road and Route 29, Bostic, Hunter and a dozen or so others would meet there every Saturday morning, like clockwork. They gathered faithfully, from the mid-1970s into the 1980s, to discuss local gossip and the news of the day.
"We'd get together in the feed-storage room and discuss politics and solve the world's problems," said Hunter. "And every now and then, one of our county Supervisors — Marie Travesky, Elaine McConnell or Meade Stull — would join in, too."
"You had to go to Hunter Hardware on Saturday morning," said Centreville's Tom Hatcher, 87. "We'd have doughnuts and coffee and pull tricks on each other. For example, someone would put a funnel in his belt, press a penny on his forehead and try to drop the penny into the funnel. One day, when Roger was doing it, by the time he got the penny into the funnel, someone had gotten some water and poured it into the funnel and down his pants. But it was all in good fun."
And if the store got busy then, the buddies would all lend a hand. Said Hatcher: "Kenyon Davis and I used to help Roger put together the plows, wheelbarrows and lawnmowers."
Davis knew Bostic for 60-some years. "Roger joined the Centreville Volunteer Fire Department [Station 17] as a junior member in 1952," he said. "And in the '60s, when I was chief, he was one of my assistant chiefs. He was a lifetime member of the fire department, with about 54 years of service."
THE TWO also golfed together regularly, most recently at a course in Front Royal. "We liked to rib each other," said Davis. "We also used to play chess, ping pong and shoot pool together. As a friend, he was one of the best. I'd go in the store, every few days; and if I'd miss a couple days, he'd call to see if there was something wrong with me. He was one, good guy. I'm going to miss him, that's for sure."
Hunter's fondest memories of Bostic are from Christmastime in the hardware store's early days. "There weren't any stores around for toys then; you either went to Manassas or Arlington," recalled Hunter. "So we put a wooden Santa Claus up on the roof, stocked the store with toys and had a good time. The kids would come from Centreville Elementary — the lone elementary school in Centreville — for Toyland, and they'd wander around and see all the new toys. And Roger, John and Bill [two other employees] would ride around the store on pogo sticks to see who could stay on the longest."
Hunter was also Bostic's back-up in the store when he had to answer a fire call. Said Hunter: "He'd say, 'See you later; hold down the fort 'til I get back,' and out he'd go."
Hatcher also knew Bostic for 45 years, initially through the hardware store. "He was one of the most accommodating persons," said Hatcher. "He was extremely generous and would do anything for anyone. I'd call the store, and he'd answer, 'This is Roger; how can I help you?' He's done so much for the community."
Hunter Hardware eventually moved to the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center, and Bostic worked there seven days a week. "Most anything people needed done or fixed, he'd do it or fix it," said Hatcher. "They'd bring him their old, broken window panes for new glass, and he'd put handles on hoes and axes and repair garden tools. He cut keys and sold everything from [barbecue] grills to garden plants and vegetables. And after the hurricane several years ago, he repaired everybody's screens."
Hatcher said Bostic's death caught everyone by surprise. "I had just seen him the week before," he said. "We're really going to miss the old boy."
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said Bostic "represented a link to the past, back to the days when Hunter Hardware was the store in Centreville. And over the years, he maintained that small-town image. People kept going back to Hunter Hardware because of Roger."
SULLY DISTRICT Planning Commissioner Ron Koch agreed. "Roger's a fixture in Centreville, and such a nice man — always helpful," he said. "It's just a shame; my heart goes out to his family."
Nine times out of 10, said Koch, "You can go to these big hardware stores, and they don't have what you're looking for and can't give you advice about it. Hunter Hardware is a fraction of their size, but it almost always has what you need and people there can tell you how to use it or install it. Centreville has grown and changed over the years, but Hunter Hardware stayed the same, with friendly service and a helpful attitude."
And that was, in great part, because of Bostic. "He loved hardware because he was around people he knew," said his wife Helen. "And he loved doing for people. He'd take the last penny out of his pocket to help someone and never think twice about it."
He and Helen met in the early 1960s when the original Hunter Hardware was off Route 50 in Chantilly. "I worked in the drugstore, and he worked in the hardware store across the street," she explained. They've lived in the same house in Centreville, near Cabell's Mill, for 40 years — since 1966 — and together raised their daughter, who married, became Jackie Osborne and had a son, Aaron, 9, the Bostics' only grandchild.
"He worshipped Roger, and Roger worshipped him," said Helen. "In his Easter card to Roger, he called him 'Pop the Great.' Roger loved to take him golfing and fishing, and he went to Aaron's baseball games."
Bostic played baseball, himself, in his younger days and taught Aaron how to bat. And, said Helen, "At the last game he saw, Aaron hit the ball and was able to score, and Roger stood up and yelled, 'That's my grandson!'"
"Aaron was his pride and joy," said Osborne. "And he was a good dad, too. All my memories of him are special. We went to hardware shows together, to the beach, golf driving-ranges, batting cages and the Prince William County Fair. He taught me to stand up for what I think is right, be honest and help other people. He also told me to be of good character, work hard and be humble."
She said chatting with customers in the store made her father's day. And being an honorable person himself, he trusted others. "If someone didn't have enough money to pay for something, he'd say, 'Just go ahead and take it and catch me later.'" Added Aaron: "He was always nice to people, even when they didn't have good intentions."
"I WORKED every day with him for 17 years, and I'm thankful for that," said Osborne. "But it's hard [being without him]. He was always dependable and made sure everything went right for us. And he was one of my best friends."
Sadly, though, Bostic had a family history of heart problems, and it eventually caught up with him. "He was so tired, but just wouldn't admit to it," said Helen. But he was taking medicine and was under a doctor's care, and things were looking good. The day before he died, she said, results of his blood work came back fine.
Last Friday morning, June 16, he considered going to work but, after breakfast, went back to bed. "He turned over and got an awful look on his face, and my daughter told me to call 911," said Helen. She did, but no one could save him. "[Paramedics] tried to revive him at home and nothing worked. They pronounced him dead at Fair Oaks Hospital."
"He was just a good person," said sister-in-law Norma Wimer of Beaumont, Texas. "It's a tragic loss to the family and the community." Added Helen: Everybody's in grief; it was such a shock." Still, she's comforted knowing they had a happy life together and Roger spent most of it doing something that gave him pleasure.
As of June 15, except for a brief foray into real estate and a few years in the Army, he'd been in the hardware business for 52 years. Four years ago, after retiring from her job with Fairfax County Circuit Court, Helen joined him and Jackie at Hunter Hardware.
And though the hours were long, Bostic relished being there among his friends and neighbors. "He loved every minute of it," said his wife. "Roger loved joking around, and he was happiest talking with people."
"That store was his life," she continued. "And down deep in my heart, I figured, if he ever closed that store, it would be the end of him. I hate to give him up, but there's nothing you can do when it's your turn to go. So maybe it's God's blessing that it happened the way it did."
Bostic was a Mason and belonged to Acacia Lodge No. 16 in Clifton and Scottish Rite in Alexandria. He was also a 40-year member of the Centreville Ruritan Club. Besides his immediate family, he's also survived by nine of his 13 siblings.
FUNERAL SERVICES are Thursday at noon at Price Funeral Home, 9609 Center St. in Manassas. Burial with military honors is at Culpeper National Cemetery, where his brothers Orville Jr. and Gene are buried, as well as John C. and Jack Hunter. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association or the American Heart Association's Mid-Atlantic Affiliate in Glen Allen, Va.