Lifetime passion for repairing cars keeps Cassim going strong as he approaches 80


Chris Jones

Will Cassim was busy in his garage at Teetersville repairing one of the thousands of vehicles he has worked on in his 60-year career.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Don’t ask Will Cassim when he plans to retire from the only job he’s known since he was a teenager if you don’t want to hear some hard truths.
“He wants to die working in his garage,” said his son, Brian, who has spent countless days and nights working with his dad at his home/garage in Teetersville. “He lives 1,000 feet from where he was born on Dec. 17, 1942 — 30 years after his father moved to America from Syria. His favorite quote is ‘The only fair thing in life is everyone has to die.’”
Cassim’s father died when he was 1 from COPD and he grew up “really poor,” according to his son, who is now a deputy executive director with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Cassim, who will be 80 in December, remembers wrecking his first car, a 1949 Buick convertible, when he was 15. Will and his brother, Sonny, constructed their first garage with salvage lumber from a house the railroad had built in the 1920s. A sign hanging just outside his garage notes Cassim’s Body Shop opened in 1963.
Even though he served in the National Guard and worked in the coal mines, Cassim has spent much of his life restoring vehicles after accidents. He continued to work on cars in the evenings while working in the mines during the day.
“I’ve loved working with cars since grade school. Cars have been my life,” said Cassim, who noted he quit school in high school like many in that era who left for the coal mines.
“My best two years in school were seventh and eighth grade (at Elcomb Elementary School). Bill Looney was a teacher and he had a ’55 Chevrolet,” Cassim said. “I went one year to Hall (High School) and quit. I’d rather be here doing this than anywhere. I love the challenge. I still love what I do. I don’t plan to ever quit. I can’t do what I used to do, but I can still do enough.”
A long-time friend of N.P. Bingham, who ran the Ford dealership in Harlan for many years, Cassim started painting cars at Harlan Ford Motor in 1962 and continued as a contractor until the late 1980s. He also worked with Clarence Longworth at Harlan Ford Motor and with the National Guard. Longworth, a lifelong friend, eventually opened his own garage in Loyall.
Cassim has also volunteered the past 17 years with the Carpenters for Christ group building wheelchair ramps for disabled people in the area. He estimated the group has built approximately 270 ramps.
“We built 10 this year,” Cassim said. “We had 11 people helping on the last one.”
Cassim said the group came together in 2005.
“A man came from Hospice one Sunday and spoke down at the church (Teetersville Baptist Church) and said they needed volunteers to build ramps. I didn’t ask them, but I just volunteered us,” Cassim said with a chuckle.
Just like Cassim, who has lived all his life in Teetersville, his family has remained close. He and his wife, Betty, have two children. Jennifer Cassim Farmer lives across the road from her parents. Brian lives less than two miles away on Pope Hill. Brian’s son, Will, a junior at Harlan County High School, joined his grandfather earlier this week to work on his 1989 Ford Bronco.
“I was in the garage with him almost every day from age 3 to 17,” said Brian Cassim. “Now my son likes to spend time there and he’s learned enough to work on his own vehicle.”
The garage, according to Brian, has been a gathering place for friends and family for over a half century. It is the place where Will Cassim says he is most happy, even after all these years.

Will Cassim and other members of Carpenters for Christ have built approximately 270 wheelchair ramps for area residents over the past 17 years.