Will 'Radio' Haugabrook turned scrap metal into cash

Will “Radio” Haugabrook, 84, got his nickname for often having a transistor radio glued to his ear during his playing days.

Will “Radio” Haugabrook, 84, got his nickname for often having a transistor radio glued to his ear during his playing days.

TAMPA — Will Haugabrook had corralled together the elements of a self-sufficient lifestyle, with a workload he could adjust like a dimmer switch into retirement. In the mornings, he checked his favorite body shops, industrial supply shops and mobile home parks, looking for warped fenders, corrugated sheet metal and washing machines that hadn't worked in years.

Mr. Haugabrook noisily loaded the eyesores into his pickup and drove to an Ybor City scrapyard. Employees knew the black man in the cowboy hat who liked country music.

If he wasn't working or watching a baseball game, he was tending to his garden. Mr. Haugabrook grew turnips, tomatoes and mustard greens behind his home off Hillsborough Avenue.

Then a storm pushed a dead tree onto his roof.

Though Mr. Haugabrook had insurance, he sold the home and used the money to put his daughter through college. He had also bought a home for his aging parents but rented an apartment for himself.

Mr. Haugabrook, who lived the maxim, "One man's junk is another man's cash," died Sept. 2 in Florida Hospital of Tampa, of prostate cancer. He was 84.

"I never heard him complain about anything," said Rita Haugabrook, 40, his daughter. "If there was a problem, he would find a way to fix it, not worry about it too long."

For several years, Mr. Haugabrook played second base for the Umatilla Dodgers and the Orlando All Stars in the Florida State Negro Baseball League. Teammates called him "Radio" because he was often found with a transistor radio glued to his ear.

He told his family he had started for every team on which he played. He tried out for the Philadelphia Phillies but did not make the team.

Will Haugabrook was born in Montezuma, Ga., in 1929 and moved to Coleman in Sumter County in 1940. In high school, he played baseball and was valedictorian.

He served in the Army's military police during the Korean War, stationed mostly in Europe. After the war, he played baseball and worked for Lykes Bros., the family-run hot dogs and meat giant. Mr. Haugabrook stayed with Lykes for 13 years, becoming the company's first African-American foreman in Florida, his family said.

Marriages to Lillie Mae Munn and Matlene Benjamin produced four children but ended in divorce. Mr. Haugabrook worked for himself for decades, driving a red Ford Ranger to body shops and appliance outlets.

"They called him and said, 'I've got freezers,' old equipment to be moved out," said Bettye Scott, 65, a longtime girlfriend. "They could depend on him to be wherever they told him. He would be there until the job was finished."

He dismantled the appliances himself, saving or selling any useful parts. He liked watching baseball to relax, and could take in a Rays game with a six-pack of Old Milwaukee.

"He'd drink that and then he'd say, 'Nope, I'm not driving,' " Scott said. He had cowboy hats in every shade of brown, black, charcoal or white, accumulating nearly 100 over the years.

Musical tastes ranged from Johnny Cash to Bobby (Don't Worry, Be Happy) McFerrin, to Jim Stafford's I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes, to Who Let the Dogs Out? by the Baha Men.

Mr. Haugabrook preached a simple gospel of hard won truths: Always put a little money aside for the unexpected. Don't get in a fight when you can walk away.

Above all, he stressed reading. Mr. Haugabrook prized a magazine anthology he had picked up somewhere, LIFE 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE.

"You can always learn something," Mr. Haugabrook told Scott, holding a copy of the Life anthology in his hands. "Something like this, you don't just pass by like it was junk."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Will 'Radio' Haugabrook

Born: July 21, 1929

Died: Sept. 2, 2013

Survivors: daughter, Rita Haugabrook; sons, Michael and Timothy Haugabrook; sisters, Elsie Drumb and Catherine Small; and eight grandchildren.

Will 'Radio' Haugabrook turned scrap metal into cash 09/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 10:49pm]

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