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Hosea's Remarkable Journey (02/23/13)
Posted Saturday February 23, 2013
By Mike Paradise
The road to the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame for last Sunday’s Lifetime Dedication inductee Hosea Williams didn’t begin at any nearby horse farm. Rather the remarkable career of the 66-year-old horseman started out in the cotton fields of Mississippi.
“I grew up on a plantation,” said Hosea who was born in the small town of Arcola in western Mississippi, about 75 miles northwest of the state capitol of Jackson. “My father was the foreman of the plantation and my mother worked as a maid in the big house.
“I have nine brothers and sisters and my older brother James and me dropped out of high school to work in the fields picking cotton to help out the family. We didn’t make much money working all day and there were no opportunities to better ourselves.
“So by the time I was 19 we told our mother we were going to go up north to look for work. We told her when we got jobs we would send back money so that our brothers and sisters could get a better education than we had.
“It was July 9, 1966 when we came to Chicago. I had an uncle who was a supervisor at the old Zenith plant on Cicero Avenue who came to my grandfather’s funeral in Chicago and he offered us jobs at the factory. We took it. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was more than we made in the Mississippi cotton fields.”
Up until this time the only horses Hosea ever saw plowed fields in his native state. Then one night some of his friends talked him into going to a racetrack.
“I didn’t want to go,” continued Hosea. “I told them I knew nothing about horse racing but I went along anyway. We drove down Halsted Street to old Washington Park on the south side of Chicago.
“Well, I made my first-time wager. It was a $2 bet and I won and got back 86 bucks. That was a lot of money in those days. To me it was like hitting the Lottery. I think my weekly paycheck back then at the factory was around $86, so I was hooked on horses after that,” he said laughing.
When the racing circuit moved to Maywood Park in the near-west suburban of Melrose Park, Hosea became a frequent visitor at the track’s stable gate where he could look in and watch the horses being trained.
The late Hall of Fame trainer Harry Sprunger took notice of the enthusiastic young man.
“One day Harry offered me a job as a groom and I accepted it,” continued Hosea. “I liked being on the backstretch with horses so much I quit my job at Zenith and began working with horses full-time. The rest is history.”
Hosea found his calling in life and it wasn’t long before he blossomed into an exceptional horseman, receiving his “A” driver license and branching out on his own, establishing the Hosea Williams Racing Stable.
While Hosea no longer drives horses after being seriously injured in an qualifying race accident at Balmoral Park in 2011, he “still gets up at 5:30 every morning and heads out to the (Maywood Park) backstretch” where he continues to actively jog and train horses each and every day, while maintaining a stable of 10.
He and his wife Linda have been married for over 40 years and reside on the west side of Chicago.
Through all of the up and down years the hard-working Williams has earned the love and respect of his peers. He has been a tireless worker as a director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association for the last 15 years always there for other horsemen, especially those with small stables like himself.
Hosea is currently the assistant secretary of the organization. He’s the chairman of both its legislative and the Maywood Park backstretch committees. He also serves on the drivers committee, the inclement weather committee, the membership committee, and the negotiating committee.
“When I think about this lifetime appreciation award and going into the Hall of Fame it makes me get a little emotional,” said Hosea, his voice cracking. “I start thinking back to those old days of sending money back home to my family.
“My brothers and sisters are all spread around the country now and are doing well. They all finished high school and went to college. They’ve all called me and thanked me for helping them. Having all of my family come in for the Hall of Fame ceremony made it a very special evening for me.”
A special man deserved a special night.
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I.H.H.A. Director Bernie Paul (right) presented Hosea Williams (with cap) a lifetime dedication plaque upon his induction into the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame. Hosea's entire family came into town for the ceremonies.