The 114th Kingdom of Callaway Supper president is a grape-grower, a wrestling champ, an army veteran and, of course, a lifelong Callawegian.
Bill Books, of Fulton, will take over the presidency from 2018 president Richard Custard. His main duty will be finding next year’s Guest of Honor, a Callawegian who’s left the fold and found success elsewhere.
“I was, number one, quite surprised and number two, definitely honored to have been selected,” Books said. “Being from the community, being born and raised here, all my heritage and family has been here — then being gone for 30 years with college and the military — I’d always planned to come back to Fulton.”
Books said he’s attended and enjoyed past suppers, and has even served on its committee. He loves Fulton’s small-town feel.
Ron Atkinson, chair of the presidential nominating committee, said Books was a worthy choice.
“He has Callaway County roots as deep as anyone,” Atkinson said. “And we wouldn’t be able to enjoy an event like this without the sacrifices the armed services make.”
In addition to raising cattle and growing 34 tons of Vignoles and Catawba grapes per year on the family farm, Books is a maintenance coordinator for the Callaway Nuclear Plant and chairs Ameren Military Veteran Employees.
Born in Fulton to Lurin and Elizabeth Books, he attended Hardin School, a one-room schoolhouse, for first grade. He graduated in the Class of 1975 from Fulton High School, the same year he won the state wrestling championship. In 2004, he was inducted into the FHS Wall of Fame.
His wrestling prowess and membership in ROTC won him scholarships to Georgia Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. He later earned a master of science in engineering systems management from Murray State and a master of science in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Books was commissioned to the U.S. Army Infantry as a second lieutenant. He landed in flight school at Ft. Rucker, Alabama, following basic training.
He got his wings in 1981 and went on to have a 24-year military career. Books served in many positions (battalion commander, logistician, aviation maintenance) and assignments (Ft. Bragg, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 82nd Airborne Division, among many others).
Books also flew several types of aircraft, including the Black Hawk Helicopter. That isn’t necessarily his favorite to fly, however.
“My favorite aircraft is one that works,” he said.
He was deployed in or supported units involved with Desert Storm, Operation Just Cause, Restore Democracy, Gothic Serpent, Endure Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. His final assignment was working as the director for Special Operation Forces Support Activity, which provides logistical services and equipment modifications for deployed special operations.
“It was always great for me to come home to Fulton for Christmas or vacation and be able to see all the family at one time,” he said.
Books ultimately retired as a lieutenant colonel. He’s a member of Fulton’s VFW Post 2657.
However, the smartest decision Books ever made, he said, was marrying his high school sweetheart, Liz, more than 33 years ago. He and Liz met at Fulton High School when she was a freshman and he was a junior. It was country boy meets city girl, he said.
“I think our first date was, I had a load of hogs and I took her to the sale barn,” Books said. “I don’t know if that impressed her or not.”
He recalls hustling her out the door so the hogs didn’t get heat stroke.
It takes a special person to be a military wife, Books added.
The two have raised three sons: Madison (a certified public accountant with Dave Shively Tax Service), Will (security at the Callaway nuclear plant) and Paul (now a senior at the University of Missouri). Paul Books followed in his father’s footsteps to become a state wrestling champ in 2013.
The Books family also includes daughters-in-law Madi and Amy. Bill and Liz expect their first grandchild in May.
Books’ spiritual life also matters deeply to him. He’s a member and trustee of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his ancestors have attended since its founding in 1879. Lurin Books played piano at Ebenezer for 55 years.
“I’m planning on living here my whole life,” Books said. “I’m raising my family here and now they’re raising their families here.”
In addition to spending time mingling with each other and this year’s honorees, supper guests enjoyed ham, the famed Kingdom of Callaway turkey and entertainment from Double Down.
Other award winners were recognized during Tuesday’s supper.
Glenn Hodges, boyhood friend of Custard, is this year’s guest of honor. Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton received the Settler’s Award. The Super Sam Foundation accepted the Distinguished Service Award.