By Lynn Colburn
Shelley Singleton, marketing director at CNB Bank & Trust, has been looking around for the perfect person to follow Mayor Andy Ezard, who threw out the first pitch at last year’s CNB Jacksonville Night. She said she kept coming back to Helen Henry Glisson, a 95-year-old Jacksonville native who has been a Cardinals fan all her life. Singleton said she approached Dan Henry, assistant vice president at CNB and also Glisson’s son, and asked if he thought his mother would be interested. Singleton said he was surprised, but “his eyes immediately teared up and he said she would be thrilled.”
The official announcement was made on March 23 that Glisson would throw the first pitch at CNB Jacksonville Night at the St. Louis Cardinals game against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, May 20, if 1,000 tickets are sold. After the announcement at the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours event at Cedarhurst Assisted Living and Memory Care in Jacksonville, where Glisson lives, Glisson gave her son, Dan, a big hug and you could see the excitement in Glisson’s face as her eyes twinkled.
Once the announcement was made and congratulations were given, Glisson, sporting a special Cardinals shirt identifying her as “Helen 95” and stepping lively in shoes with Cardinals glittering on the top, kindly took me back to her room to show me some of the Cardinals memorabilia she has collected over the years. I didn’t even need to step into her room to guess which one it was, because outside the room was a St. Louis Cardinals rug. I soon found out the rug is her pitcher’s mound for her a “first pitch training” and the two Beanie Babies lying on it serve as the practice baseballs. Glisson said from the mat at the door, she has reached the sliding doors to her patio in the back of her apartment during her practices.
Her room screams “St. Louis Cardinals fan” wherever you look, a Cardinals clock to keep time, two unopened Budweisers from the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals World Series Championship on top of her refrigerator and her table top has an image of Busch Stadium embedded in the wood. Many other Cardinals items adorn her apartment walls and shelves.
Brett Henry, one of Gilsson’s grandsons, remembers, “If you were visiting, you always knew when the Cards were playing. The volume would be up loud and Grandma would be watching and cheering her boys on. If you visited after she got back from the Cardinals Cruise, she had so many stories. She would get out the pictures she had of everybody and tell you about everyone she talked to. She would tell you about all the hugs she got and who she made sure to hug a little longer. Mike Matheny was one of those she made sure get a long hug from.”
Glisson has taken five St. Louis Cardinals Cruises in the last five years. She shared photographs from these with me. She knew every Cardinals player in the photos by name without hesitation. There was a photo of Glisson with Cardinals’ starting pitcher Carlos Martinez and one with pitcher Lance Lynn. The rest included such famous names as Mike Claiborne, Dan McLaughlin, Kerry Robinson, Mike Matheny, Luke Weaver and, of course, Fredbird.
The other important decorations in the rooms that stand out are photos and items from Glisson’s large family. There is a large photo from Glisson’s 94th birthday with Glisson’s six children, 21 grandchildren and 54 great-grandchildren. She also had artwork of a family tree with each of the family members’ thumbprints. She says she keeps active keeping up with so many family members.
When asked what 6-year-old great-grandson Parker Henry thinks about “big grandma” throwing out the first pitch at a Cardinals game, he says, “I feel awesome for her. I can’t believe she is going on the field.”
Although Glisson knows many of the Cardinals pitchers, I’m sure she would be most interested in Parker Henry’s advice; he is currently playing all different of positions on his team. His advice is, “Throw as hard as she can, so she can get it alllll the way down to the catcher.” He suggests, “She can practice throwing stuff like rubber baseballs with people she lives with at Cedarhurst.”
With such a big Cardinals fan, are any other family members routing for other teams? There are some Cubs fans in the family. Her oldest son moved and started a family in Chicago. While he is still a Cardinals fan, most of his family grew up being Cubs fans.
Henry says, “As long as no one wears a Cubs hat or shirt around her they were fine, but she would speak up if she saw one! Nothing heated though, usually just mentioning it’s the wrong team and they should get around to changing their shirt.”
Singleton says that Glisson’s family alone have bought about 100 tickets to help fill the stands and see her in action. Come and join her family and friends and cheer on Helen Glisson on May 20. You can buy tickets by going to www.cnvil.com or stop by the branch at 1341 Lincoln Ave., south of Morton. Tickets are $35 each. Proceeds benefit Jacksonville Area Baseball and Pony Colt league – serving boys and girls in the Jacksonville and surrounding communities. If you have questions, contact CNB Jacksonville branch at 217-243-6654.