His name is Sidney Stroupe, but most people don’t know that.
“Ninety-five percent of the people in Wythe County don’t know my real name; they call me Buttermilk,” he said.
He remembers the day he got the moniker. It was his first day on the school bus on the first day of first grade. A big kid looked at him and said, “Your name’s Buttermilk.”
But his name is not what’s special about Buttermilk; it’s his generosity. He likes to give things away: his time, dollar bills and his hats, especially his hats. Pulls them straight off his head and hands them to friends and strangers.
Not just any hats, but hats embroidered with scripture verses and other words that help him profess his Christian faith.
“I wear a hat 24/7 except when I go to bed,” he said. “People stop and ask for my hat. I take it off and give it to them. All I wear is hats for Christ with different verses or Amazing Grace or different logos on them. My daughter, she orders them for me off of somewhere. I say, ‘Connie, I lost my hat.’”
“It’s hard to find a place where we can afford them,” said Buttermilk’s daughter, Connie Rosenbaum. “We try to find them reasonable, like at gospel sings. We can find them for $10 there. They can go up to $18. He’s going to give them away, so I like to find them as cheap as you can.”
Buttermilk remembers one time he visited a buddy who was gravely ill in the hospital in Roanoke. That day, Buttermilk was wearing his Amazing Grace hat, one of his favorites.
“He didn’t know he was in the world for two weeks and he died twice,” he said. “He was in bed with tubes in his mouth when he motioned for me. I leaned down, and he said, ‘I want that.’ I said, ‘what do you want?’ He pointed to my hat. I just laid it right there where his hand was at.”
In an email to the Wytheville Enterprise, Rosenbaum said her Dad has winter hats and summer hats, most in shades of black or blue.
“Dad truly loves these hats,” she said. “I find myself looking everywhere I shop for something to add to his collection. I’m not sure collection is the right word to use since collections are usually not handled or worn. His are used every day.”
Right now, he figures he has about five or six hats. They never build up too much in number because he’s always giving them away.
Buttermilk, 72, retired from the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in 2003. Since then, he spends a lot of his time doing odd jobs for friends and handing out dollar bills to youngsters he meets along the way.
“I like to be nice and talk to people,” he said. “I like to see the kids smile. And I like to go out and help people, older people and widows. They holler at me all the time. I don’t charge them.”
And all the while, he wears his hats. For Buttermilk, they are a way to witness to people about the love of Jesus Christ.
“When I accepted Jesus in my life, I completely changed,” he said, adding that he strongly felt God’s love when his father died in 1998. That was his turning point.
“It hurt so bad,” he said. “I went to church before that, but I got closer to the Lord then.”
Buttermilk has known sadness in his life, but happiness, too. In 1977, his brother died of kidney cancer. One year later, his brother’s wife was murdered.
“We had married sisters, so me and my wife raised my brother’s six children,” he said. That’s in addition to Buttermilk’s three children with his wife, Bobby Jean Dunford Stroupe, who died two years ago Friday. His brother’s daughter, Tina, is blind and still lives with Buttermilk.
“My life has not been a bed of roses, but I still stand for Him,” Buttermilk said, adding that just like everybody else, he doesn’t know when the Lord will call him home.
“We don’t know, and like my neighbor says, we don’t want to know,” he said.
But he does know one thing.
“I told my daughter, when I die, I don’t want no pots of flowers. I just want my hats to lay on my casket for what I stood for.”
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email email@example.com