updated 3/8/2009 2:39:37 PM ET 2009-03-08T18:39:37

The memories came flooding back to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when he made a visit to his hometown in South Carolina on Saturday.

The Fed chief was in Dillon for a special distinction: Exit 190 on Interstate 95 was being named in his honor.

"I must confess that, until recently, I did not realize that highway interchanges were named after people," Bernanke said in prepared remarks. "But, as I thought about it, I realized that it is indeed a high honor for someone whose job is focused on supporting the economy," he quipped. "Efficient transportation is crucial to economic development." A copy of his remarks was made available in Washington.

It was a long journey from his small town to the United States' top economic official, a job he has held since February 2006.

Bernanke spoke one day after the U.S. unemployment rate bolted to 8.1 percent in February, the most in more than 25 years, as the recession takes a bigger toll on America's workers and companies.

The Fed will do all in its power to "support the restoration of financial stability and the resumption of healthy economic growth," Bernanke said.

In South Carolina, the unemployment rate jumped to 9.5 percent in December as laid-off textile, clothing and other factory workers found it difficult to find new jobs, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Labor Department.

Bernanke moved to Dillon as a small child and lived there for 17 years before going off to college.

He recalled working in the family-owned drug store as a boy and "hiding out by the comic-book rack."

The summer after he graduated from high school, he reminisced about working in construction and waiting tables six days a week at South of the Border, a rest stop and roadside attraction near the border with North Carolina.

Bernanke left Dillon to attend Harvard University, where he studied economics. He earned his doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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