A little more waving could do us all some good

By Jennifer Cohron
Posted 7/20/18

Who needs some happy this week? I know I do.

We might all feel better about the state of the world if we passed someone like Joseph Charles on our way to work each day.

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A little more waving could do us all some good


Who needs some happy this week? I know I do. 

We might all feel better about the state of the world if we passed someone like Joseph Charles on our way to work each day.

When Charles died in 2002, The New York Times hailed him as “a symbol of street corner friendliness.”

In Berkley, California, his nickname was “the Waving Man.”

His contribution to the world was simple: He stepped out his door at 7:45 each morning and waved at everyone who passed by until 9:30.

According to the Times obit, he waved to 4,500 people a day.

Charles kept up this morning ritual from 1962 to 1992 and wore out 20 pairs of yellow gloves before calling it quits at age 82.

“We all love him. This man’s been an institution for 30 years,” Oakland Tribune columnist Martin Snapp told the Associated Press in October 1992. “Fifty years from now, who’s going to remember me or you? But I guarantee they’re going to remember the Waving Man, and with affection.”

Locals could count on Charles to be standing on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oregon Street no matter what the weather was doing. He greeted everyone with a wave, a smile and a “Have a good day!” or a “Keep smiling!”

Of course, many people smiled and waved back at him. Some drove out of their way in order to start off their day by interacting with him.

All reports confirm that this local tradition began when Charles and one of his neighbors waved to each other while doing yard work on a fall day in 1962. The next day, they waved at each other again.

On the third day, the neighbor said that he was moving, so Charles decided to share the love with the people driving by his house. 

“At first, people thought I was crazy. They called me a Communist and said I would cause a wreck,” Charles said.

He soon became a local celebrity and was eventually a national one when his story was picked up by the likes of CBS icon Charles Kuralt.

Around the time of his retirement, Charles told CBS News, “I get up thinking about waving. But now I don’t want to get up. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.’’

On his last day, he waved 45 minutes longer than usual. 

According to his Times obit, he eventually started waving again from his window.

As Snapp suggested, Charles is still remembered fondly nearly two decades after his death.

In March, on what would have been his 108th birthday, family and fans put on his trademark yellow gloves and waved in his honor.

Also that day, the tennis courts located across the street from his house were rededicated in his memory.

“It was just a joy to see that people were getting so much out of him,” his granddaughter, Sherrill Charles, told one media outlet. “It became more sentimental as time went on, and I like to see that people still want to keep his legacy going.”

Cordova has its own waving man. Johnnie “Little Bill” Sanford has lived on First Street for as long as I can remember. It’s part of his daily ritual to sit on his front porch and wave at everyone going to and from downtown.

His house was in the path of deadly tornado of April 27, 2011.

His sister told me in July 2011 that after living with her for two months, “He threatened to come back and live under a rock bluff. He just loves Cordova.”

And it meant something to Cordova to have him back. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I do remember some of us in the office talking about how many times that particular article was viewed online. It put our hard news in that day’s edition to shame.

This week I found articles about other waving men around the country. The one thing they all have in common is that they are beloved members of their communities.

I don’t know what it is about a wave that has such an affect on people. 

A friendly face is always welcome but even more so to those who are lonely or discouraged.  Maybe a wave is just the cherry on top, a simple way to say, “I see you. It’s going to be all right.” 

Who couldn’t use more of that in their life? 

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.