Lanier & Betty Bailey: Taking Care of Randolph County's Dirty Laundry for over Sixty Years
By Scott Shaffer
Lanier Bailey and his wife Betty have been taking care of Randolph County's dirty laundry from their dry-cleaning and laundry business in downtown Farmland for over half a century. Lanier learned the business from Charles Vannatter in 1957, when he returned home after serving in the Navy during the Korean War.
Born in 1932 in Tennessee, Lanier Bailey moved to the area with his family in 1936. He attended school in Muncie and returned to Tennessee in the summers. As a teen he worked for his parents in a diner that they operated on the South side of Muncie on highway 67 before they put in the Muncie bypass. Upon graduating high school, he joined the Navy where he became a radio operator stationed in Japan throughout the entire Korean conflict.
He met his future wife Betty, who grew up in the Selma area, at a school event and the two became close friends. The two were married while Lanier was home on leave for a short period during the war. "Farmland has changed a lot over the years," he says. "There used to be two dry cleaners in Farmland and three or four in Winchester. There were seven churches within a mile, four were in Farmland and two or three were in Parker." "People dressed a lot better back then than they do nowadays," he goes on. "Most women had one or two dresses that they would wear to church or out to the theater. Most men had at least one suit. Now people hardly ever dress up, not even to go to church."
When he started in the laundry business, he was the youngest merchant in town at the age of 26. "Back then, the older merchants helped out the younger merchants. When we built the current location, the Tinsman's and several others helped us with the construction and moving the equipment."
Lanier has made a habit of surprising his wife Betty. A few years after opening the laundry business, he was conducting some business at a local office and learned that the owner of the town's drug store was looking to sell. He returned to Betty at the laundry and told he that he had a surprise for her. He asked her to close her eyes, and lead her across the street to the drug store, (now the Chocolate Moose). He asked her to open her eyes and informed her that they were now the owners of the drug store. "There was this lady named Esther that had worked at the drug store for years. She came off as a bit of a grouch, but she knew everything that went on in that place. When we took over, Lanier told me that the first thing we were going to do was to get rid of Esther. I told him that we would do no such thing and that we could learn a lot from her. She pretty much taught me how to run that place," recalls Betty. "Esther taught me the proper way to make all of the drinks at the soda fountain, the ones that you get now taste nothing like they used to," she continues.
Betty really enjoyed working with all of the young people at the drug store. "We've taught a lot of young people skills that they can use not only at work but in their day to day lives as well. Many have gone on to be quite successful and will stop by to visit with us if they are in the area," she states. "When he was a sophomore, our son started a disco upstairs on Fridays and Saturdays. Teenagers would hang out there after school events. That lead to quite a few memorable evenings," she laughs.
Lanier once surprised Betty with a brand new Mercury, and did not understand why she was upset. "We had a son, she was pregnant, and I had bought a two door car," he explains. "She has made the decision on every car we've had since then.
Although they have been in business for over sixty years, Bailey's Cleaners has only had a handful of employees. "Many of our employees stay here for a long time. One of our curent employees has been here for 30 years, and another of our employees continued to work for us until she was 92," states Bailey. "The school bus stops in front of our shop. It used to be that when it got close to summer, we'd get kids who'd stop in and ask for a summer job," says Lanier. "We've given lots of kids jobs over the years, taught them how to clean and other skills that they can use in life. Now, they've got their heads in their phones or tablets and don't even notice us," he adds.
Now, they are the only remaining dry cleaning business in Randolph County. Lanier and Betty continue to operate the Laundry and Dry Cleaners in Farmland. The Bailey family has been very fortunate. There has yet to be a divorce in their immediate family. Their sons Phil, and Steve, own and operate most of the remaining dry cleaners in Muncie, and their daughter, Aaro, owns and operates Aaro's Flowers, also in Farmland. Lanier and Betty have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Although well into their eighties, Lanier and Betty have been remarkably healthy. "Until some recent heart trouble, Betty has almost never been sick," says Lanier. "I had quite a few health issues over the years," he goes on. "Right after the war I was in and out of five hospitals once for seventeen months with a spot on my lungs. A few years ago, right after Christmas, I had a serious heart attack and nearly died. I just wasn't feeling well, Betty called my doctor and he suggested taking me to the emergency room. So we got dressed and she drove me to the Reid Hospital in Richmond. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and they managed to save me."
"Randolph County has been good to us and we hope to continue our cleaning business for as long as we are able to," states the couple.