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True Southern gentleman
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To the visitors of the Blue Willow Inn, he is known simply as "Colonel Bill."

But Bill Kuhn, the gruff, personable, no-nonsense 75-year-old who dresses as an 1860's colonel in his job as a greeter, has been many things throughout his life: Marine, business owner, truck driver, construction worker, bond bailsman and now a greeter.

Kuhn, who helped build the Blue Willow Inn when it got started 16 years ago, had worked as a greeter at Wal-mart for a season to alleviate the boredom of retirement. He brought the idea of being a character greeter to his friend and neighbor Louis Van Dyke, owner of the Inn.

"He's been having antebellum girls here for a long time. It's hard to find antebellum girls," said Kuhn. "Most of them are high school kids and they don't stay more than a season anyway."

Van Dyke liked the idea. They began working on a costume and the "Colonel" became a hit with the customers of the Inn.

Kuhn was awarded an honorary Kentucky colonelship when a customer from Kentucky submitted his name to the Kentucky governor. After that, Kuhn's state senator petitioned Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who made Kuhn a lieutenant colonel. More recently, he was made an honorary colonel in Alabama.

Kuhn grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., which was a much smaller city back then.

The Naval Air Station was still new - his father helped construct the first buildings - and he remembers all the kids used to walk to school.

 It was on a pier in Jacksonville at the age of 24 that he met his wife, Marian, known to everyone as "Ann." She was 22, going to the same business school as the girl he was dating at the time.

He said, "I saw her dancing with those sailors and figured she'd be better off dancing with a Marine instead."

He grinned. "That's pretty good since I'm a lousy dancer," he said.

The Kuhns went onto raise four daughters and recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.

The secret to having a long marriage, he said, lay in two words: "Yes ma'am."

"We're no different than anybody else," he said. "We've had our disagreements and differences. But divorce has never been mentioned. Moving out has never been mentioned. If we had a problem, we worked through it."

He looks off to the distance and chuckles ruefully.

"Sometimes I wonder how she put up with me that long," he said. "My wife is a very gracious lady. She's not a high society type. She's a country girl who believes in the values of life."

Though it can get busy at the Inn, he enjoys working with the customers.

"I'm just a very customer oriented type of person," he said. "I believe in treating people right."

When he's in a room, he tries to talk with every table and make people feel wanted and thanked for their presence, not just for their money.

"I used to think I was lucky," he said. "As I get older I realized I am blessed. I try to hold that same feeling with the people I work with."