It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
Whew! It's Wednesday and things have been busy for quite a few days on end. I have also been gone the last three nights with one thing or another so I welcome today to play catch up.
I'll start with a big thank you to Phyllis Slavens for inviting me several months ago to present the "Bloom" program to her Chapter H P.E.O Sisters at Thursday's dessert meeting at Sarah Bowman's beautiful home. It was my first time with the group and I thank each one there for such a kind and enthusiastic reception.
For years, club news about P.E.O. has crossed my desk for placement in the newspaper, but I had never attended one of the meetings. Phyllis filled me in on the club's purpose, beginning with what P.E.O. stands for. Turns out it is Philanthropic Educational Organization, serving women in the U.S. and Canada.
It dates to Iowa in 1869 and New Castle alone has three chapters. Chapter H is the oldest of the three, dating to 1922.
The main focus, Phyllis said, is "supporting women's education through various scholarships and we actually sponsor Cottey College in Nevada, MO, an all-women's college."
If you'd like to learn more about P.E.O. check out www.peointernational.org and www.peoindiana.org.
My thanks again, ladies! What a great way to spend a long lunch hour -- giving a program to such a receptive, interesting group.
Saturday was a day I had looked forward to for quite a while. It was Founders Day in my hometown of Liberty, Indiana, and I had the pleasure of presenting four mini-programs on hometown folks past and present.
The thrill of the day came first thing during my talk on Civil War General Ambrose Burnside who was born and raised in Liberty. West Point educated, a top general in the Civil War, eventual governor of Rhode Island, he is also known for inventing an upgraded rifle, the Burnside Carbine. It was shorter, easier, and quicker to load and use, and the U.S. War Department commissioned the guns to outfit soldiers from Burnside.
A gentleman from the Union County Historical Society showed up, at the request of festival chair Steve Logue, with an original Burnside Carbine! What a thrill.
I need to thank several people who helped me with Founders Day. First, to Kelly Finch and the Founders Day Committee for including me in the festivities. It is always my honor to return home, and to be asked to take part is a treat.
I also want to thank Joni McMechan Checchia and Bob Jenkins for their help in putting together mini-programs about them and their lives today. Both have fond memories of our hometown and what growing up in Union County still means to them. I thank them, as well, for sending the autographed photos that I gave away on Saturday. Thank you both so much.
Also, I wanted to clarify something. The Liberty Herald ran a nice article previewing Founders Day. However, it stated that I was one of the paid entertainers. I was not and do not wish to be paid for being there! It was surely my honor.
Thank you to Rita Teeters for loaning her Raggedy Ann doll for my display, and to my brother Tim and husband Brian for keeping me company Saturday. It was nice visiting with so many from my hometown. You all make me homesick! My heart's home is always Union County ... no matter how far I roam!
Next up: From 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, I'll be joining authors Colette Huxford, Kevin Harry and Sandy Moore at a signing in the Middletown-Fall Creek Library, 780 High St. during the Middletown (Indiana) Fall Fun Fest.
Lots of small-town fun going on there Saturday. Stop by the library and say hi if you are in town. My thanks to Colette for inviting me, and to the library for hosting us.
OK! Cross the midweek blog post off the to-do list. Now I've got to get busy with the rest of it. Happy mid-week and mid-September, everyone.
Please join me this Saturday, Sept. 9, on the Union County courthouse square for four mini-presentations on Four Famous Folks From Liberty. At 10 a.m. I'll profile Civil War General Ambrose Burnside; 12:30 p.m. is the real "Little Orphant Annie," Mary Alice "Allie" Smith Gray; 1:45 p.m. will be Voice of the 500 Bob Jenkins, and at 2:45 p.m. is our own Miss Indiana 1988, Joni McMechan Checchia.
This weekend, Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 9-10, Union County, Indiana, honors its past at the annual Founder’s Days on the courthouse lawn in Liberty.
Last year I took part in the programming by reading some Hoosier poetry. The committee invited me back this year, but I decided to personalize the program with Union County history. And since local history—or any history, for that matter--is always more interesting when it speaks of people (his story = the story of people), I thought it would be fun to create profiles on some Union County natives whose stories go far beyond the small county’s borders.
While brainstorming, it occurred that when we think of a pioneer, we generally associate the term with Conestoga wagons heading west. But pioneers are also those who explore new territories in ways in addition to homesteading and community-building. I chose to highlight four.
A Civil War General
Liberty native General Ambrose Burnside was a national figure in a troubled time. He was the first person to come to mind when developing this program.
As Civil War Commander of the Grand Army of the Potomac, an entire seminar could be done on his service in that sobering war where 620,000 Americans died on our own soil. What I didn’t realize were his additional contributions to American life.
On a lighter note, for example, his name is still associated in pop culture for his unique facial hair, whereby his very name created the term “sideburns.” He invented an upgraded rifle from previous models – the Burnside Carbine – and was co-founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
He went on to become a three-term governor of Rhode Island, a foreign-war mediator, a U.S. Senator, and – a fascinating side note – he was sitting under President Lincoln’s balcony in Ford’s Theater when the great president was slain.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, I’ll unpack more of Burnside’s story in the first of four 15-minute presentations on the courthouse lawn.
An orphan who inspired the Raggedy Ann doll
Specific details about her childhood are unclear. After all, the year was 1850 and there was no reason to think that the Liberty farm girl, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, would in any way be associated with fame or legacy.
It is known, however, that the girl became homeless, an “orphan child” and as was the custom of the day, she was sent to “earn her board and keep” with a family that needed a “servant girl” to help around the house.
She found a home with a benevolent family in Greenfield, Indiana, whose home can be toured today as a museum. It was the childhood home of the man who would become The Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Little Jim was fond of “Allie” and the girl inspired his most famous work, “Little Orphant Annie.”
The story behind the poem, as well as the legs that the poem took in inspiring adaptive works – books, a movie musical, and of course the ever-popular play, “Annie,” not to mention one of the world’s most recognized dolls, Raggedy Ann.
And to think, the true orphan child is from Liberty, Indiana. The presentation about her is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
An auto sport broadcaster
Veteran auto sport broadcaster, ESPN and other national-media talent, radio and track Voice of the 500, and even though he is retired, current track voice each May, Bob Jenkins was raised on Main Street in Liberty.
It was in our town that his international career covering auto racing around the globe was nurtured. He became enamored with watching small-town racer Levi Dunaway get his car ready for a Richmond run on Friday nights, and as a kid, Bob’s own raceway was the “oval” behind Miles-Richmond, where his dad worked.
Yet despite his successes around the world through his broadcasting and movie work, Jenkins reveals that he has thought about writing a book – one largely about growing up in a small town.
I had the privilege of writing about Bob in March when he gave a talk at a historical society fundraiser in New Castle, and we have emailed each other since with updates for this talk.
I’ll speak about Bob at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and have some autographed photos for those attending to win as door prizes.
Miss Indiana 1988 is former Liberty farm girl Joni McMechan Checchia. Today, Joni lives in Houston, Texas with her family, Paul, a doctor, and son Andrew, 16.
A Northwestern University graduate, Joni is an interior designer whose clients are located throughout the country, and she does volunteer work in her community. (By the way, her home was spared by Hurricane Harvey but many friends there felt the brunt of it).
Joni provides insights into the significance of growing up on the family farm, unpacks some special Miss Indiana memories such as touring with the Miss America USO program throughout the world, and sharing what it was like to be Miss Indiana and represent the Miss America scholarship program internationally.
She sent some autographed photos from her reign as Miss Indiana that will be given as door prizes during the 2:45 p.m. presentation.
If you are interested in these Union County legends, I hope you’ll come see me on the courthouse square Saturday. I’ll have a table set up with some memorabilia that might surprise you – from photos of the four I’m featuring to a children’s book I found that’s written about Ambrose Burnside.
Say what you will about love and marriage, but most girls dream of meeting Mr. Right. In my great-niece Nicki Barrett's case, make that Mr. Wright. As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, she became Mrs. Wright.
The two are special to me because Nicki is a blood relative (I'm her mother Marlene Thompson's aunt, as in the sister of Marlene's late brother, David Jobe). But there's another reason they are special. They live in and are remodeling the home where I grew up on the old Jobe family homestead in Union County. Yes, it's on Jobe Road. That's about as down-home-from-the-heart as it gets. And I am delighted to see this couple make their home there.
The two had Brian, my brother Tim, and sister-in-law Jeannie, and me out last October to show us their progress. I blogged about it on Oct. 15, 2016.
Their talents aren't limited to remodeling an old farmhouse. They also prepared the food for their wedding reception (including the beautiful cakes), made the decorations and Nicki even crafted the boutonnieres and bridal bouquets. It was all country, all the way.
The site is a race-horse training grounds deep in the countryside of Fayette County around Waterloo. Surprisingly, there had never been a wedding on the property before, but it was an ideal venue for this energetic couple.
I thought the jockey-inspired men's attire was a perfect touch for the setting, don't you?
In fact, you might say that everything was just exactly Wright.
All the best to you both.
The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter took office. Our beloved Union County Patriots basketball team won the Connersville sectional after several years of heartbreakingly-close title runs.
"Star Wars" was the buzz, and Elvis died. Rod Stewart told us that “Tonight’s the Night” and Andy Gibb crooned “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.”
For 130 or so kids from Liberty, Indiana – and Brownsville, Philomath, Dunlapsville, College Corner, Kitchel and Cottage Grove – it was senior year.
I had gone to school with many of these kids from day one. My zany best friend all through school days, Cheryl Rodenburg, was that from kindergarten on. But I remember them all, and thanks to social media, get to see a good many of them live out their lives. Or at least casually grab a glimpse at their family picnics, see their adorable grandkids, or where they went on vacations.
This is who we were.
Maybe because of the way social media brings so many of us together, that’s why the 40th class reunion didn’t seem all big and scary, somehow, as did the 25th when many of us weren’t plugged into each other’s lives.
Last night was the night, as several of our local gals who had the good fortune to remain in our home county, had worked to plan the reunion. They spent hours and hours pulling it all together as the centerpieces featured hand-cut pictures of us all. They created a touching framed memorial to the seven of us who have passed on.
They awarded door prizes and did so much more to make it a lovely evening for everyone. The former Lynn Stanley won the J’s certificates – and to my surprise passed them on to me. We had just been discussing the iconic restaurant and hangout. I’ve often said if even today I sat in J’s for an hour during a busy lunch hour, I’d see every person I have ever known pass before my eyes. An exaggeration, of course, but hey, now I have a new reason to visit – free food.
We gathered at The Castle in Connersville, some 50-plus of us, including spouses or friends.
For just an evening, an evening that went by too fast, amid talk of how we should do this more often, we all felt oddly at home again, I think, in a way that only growing up together can make a person feel.
When we meet again, it will likely be for our 50th. Sigh.
But for one lovely night, we were back in the 70s. Not a bad place to be, for sure.
I’ve watched with interest this spring as the old auto-racing track west of Liberty reemerged after years closed as the Route 44 Speedway.
My great-nephew, A.J. Jobe, is the Voice of the Speedway.
Yes, A.J. is named after who you think he is, the famous Texan racer and four-time winner of the Indy 500. And yes, if you are thinking young A.J. gets the racing bug honest due to his name, well, you hardly know the half of it.
My late brother, David, was crazy for racing, exceeded only by his son, my nephew Mike. Mike is A.J.’s dad.
So when a Friday night rolls around each spring week, I think of A.J. up there in the press box, announcing, interviewing, adding color and character to his job, as I know he is fully capable.
I think of other Friday nights at the same track, too; forty years ago this spring, to be exact. I remember the year well because it was the same spring I graduated from Union County High School.
It was the same spring I tried to figure out what I needed to do to become a newspaper reporter, and while I was figuring, with my eye on a day-job opening at The Palladium-Item in the advertising department, I worked Friday nights at the track concession stand.
It's funny to think about now, but I did get that job in advertising, and when I did, I gave up my stint at the race track. Since then, I've known several people who worked in the newsroom at the Pal-Item, including my current publisher. But none were there that summer.
That year on Mother’s Day I got the worst sunburn of my life--at that track. Opening day was coming and the bleachers needed painted in a hurry, causing the crew to put in a long day on the holiday. I was on the crew that smeared paint on the boards and by the end of the day, I was aglow in red.
On Friday nights, the vaguely-onion-flavored burgers simmered in one of those huge, white warmers you may still see biding time on a church-kitchen shelf. They were surprisingly delicious, too.
The menu certainly included hot dogs rotating in their heated glass case, along with the pop, popcorn, and other concession fare.
I often worked the cash register, and the evenings went by quickly as there was a constant flow of people digging out payday cash from their bank envelopes, and enjoying a night in the rural countryside, the track perched atop a steep hill just east of the Whitewater River on State Road 44.
But the best thing about working at the track was the possibility of being called upon to serve as the evening’s trophy girl. The concession stand, evidently, was the bullpen of sorts for teenage girls to be tapped to head for the track near the end of the evening’s feature event, poised and ready to present the winning driver with his trophy.
It wasn’t a position one could campaign for, only one that I don’t imagine any girl in the concession stand that summer would turn down. At least twice that spring, I was asked. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a “queen” of anything. The process was simple. Someone would come to the concession stand, and holler, "Hey, we need a trophy girl!" If he looked your way, you were it.
I’d like to say that the job meant a lot of responsibility, but it didn’t. You smiled, presented the trophy, and if the sweaty driver offered a peck on the cheek, so be it. And then you hustled back to your cash register, or to the simmering burgers, and spinning dogs.
Forty years later, a Jobe has returned to the race track of my youth where he speaks to and for the track and fans. The speedway has been reinvented by a new owner excited about its future. There was an official ribbon cutting.
I’ve always figured the trophy girl credential would surely come in handy sometime along life's way. Not in a resume kind of way, but as a roll call answer or odd fact about the most unusual job I ever held. I'm still waiting.
Until that day comes, I'll go with this blog post.
As I sat at my station at Warm Glow Candle near Centerville Friday hoping to move a few books, I looked up and recognized her immediately.
As I live and breathe, it was Mrs. Joan Kratzer, my eighth-grade history teacher.
“Mrs. Kratzer!” I instinctively bellowed, jumping from my chair to greet her. It had been 44 years since I sat behind Vonda Hoppes in the old Short High School, which in our day, served as Liberty Junior High.
No doubt Joan Kratzer (Mrs. Kitterman now, having married her high school sweetheart after she lost her long-time spouse) had surely heard her name blared out too many times to count from admirers: former students, or patients of her late father, long-time Liberty family doctor, James Lewis.
I fell into both camps. I loved and looked forward to her classes with her always engaging and amusing presentation of American history, and Dr. Lewis was my family’s doctor whom I associate with both shots and sticks of Juicy Fruit--peace offerings for the shots.
About both father and daughter, however, I have nothing but respect. Doctors and teachers were celebrities in my small-town world. You looked up to and trusted both. They were the community leaders, and the good ones (there were many) made you better for knowing them. If they weren't your favorites, well you learned from them anyway, a foretaste of life to come.
Joan Kratzer Kitterman didn’t recognize me, I’m sure, but she did a quick survey of my table and put it together. “I read your first book,” she said, not missing a beat, joined by her sidekick, Vicky Lakoff Snyder, who also devoted her entire career to Union County students as teacher, coach, and principal. The two are pals.
I must have sounded like a crazed fan, but I knew I had Joan Kratzer’s ear for only a few moments so I pulled up the memories, surprising myself even, with what came out. “I’m sorry about the loss of your brother,” I told her, having read her twin's obituary recently in The Liberty Herald. He was a doctor as was his father, and the two generations before them, and she filled me in on how like their father he was.
“Do you still wear the circle pin?” I asked. I recall her signature piece of jewelry and she wore it every single day. I have always thought that would be a classy thing to have, a signature statement like Joan Kratzer had. But she’s the only one I’ve ever known to have such a thing. That’s her, memorable.
“Oh, yes,” she said, explaining that she didn’t wear it on casual clothing such as what she wore in the candle shop Friday but otherwise, yes, and yes, it’s the same pin. In all these decades, she has lost – and found it – twice.
She told of the more than 20 times she had been to Europe, and listed some of her travels. She inquired how Brian was, as did Vicky.
I always thought Joan Kratzer (er, Kitterman) was one of the most beautiful women I ever knew. She still is. As a young teen, I loved how she dressed in her perfect, classic style, with her striking salt-and-pepper (frosted, she called it) hair, and she had the clearest, sharpest blue eyes which never missed a thing.
I asked her about her modeling days, and she confirmed that yes, she modeled in Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Eighth-grade was a good year for me, the year I spent with Mrs. Kratzer. I didn’t feel angst about life in that particular year the way some do about junior high. All things felt possible.
For one thing, I was selected as an office aide, and it came at the perfect time every day, the lunch hour, when things were laid back. I thought surely there had been a mistake when “office aide” appeared on my class schedule. First, didn’t you need to apply for such a lofty position?
And second, I didn’t think hoodlums were granted the kind of access that comes with a seat behind the principal’s secretary’s desk.
In seventh grade, I had gotten sent to the office for talking. Mr. Cummins, the principal himself, had sent me, and a stern lecture came with the trip, as heard through my own excessive tears and contrite humiliation.
Somehow, I had been redeemed.
The office was next to Mrs. Kratzer’s room and it seemed that she was in there quite a bit at midday. She would send me to the cafeteria to retrieve for her a chef salad with Russian dressing.
Russian dressing? That seemed rather exotic for Liberty. We only had Catalina at home.
It was no chore at all, but rather a privilege to be asked to help a teacher in any way. I liked having insider information. I mean, who knew that the cafeteria ladies created specialties such as fancy salads? Well, I knew. Yes, being an office aide had its insights.
Just like the time Mr. Cummins thought a boy needed a haircut so I watched as he cut the boy’s locks himself. (But I won't reveal said boy's name. That would disgrace my office-aide code of ethics, which far as I know has no statute of limitations.)
Also that year, the energetic school secretary, Mrs. Ruth Miller, turned a spare room on the second floor into an arts-and-crafts studio and we were given an option to study hall, that of spending the hour crafting or stitching. Mrs. Miller taught me to crochet – an aside that I fictionalized in my second book.
We used mostly recycled goods in our crafting such as from wallpaper-sample books. We covered everything with that free paper from paper flowers for our moms to an umbrella stand made of sturdy, leftover tubing. Her ideas and skills were those of a clever Pinterest artist decades before the website or even the personal computer were invented.
Seeing Mrs. Joan Lewis Kratzer Kitterman brought back these fine memories. I’m blessed to have grown up in such a wonderful community as Liberty, Indiana. I’m so happy that this icon, the doctor’s beautiful daughter, and generations of students’ fascinating and insightful teacher, is still beautiful, fascinating, insightful – and exactly as engaging as I remember.
Some things don't change. And sure enough, I wasn't the only one bending my former teacher's ear. A trio of women from the Liberty area recognized her, and another spirited conversation ensued. Guess that's what it's like when you are an icon.
“I grew up in the boonies,” I told Brian Sunday, as we meandered along our back-road route to Brownsville, Indiana, located not far from the farm where I grew up.
Of course my words didn't make for a news flash, and as we roll from U.S. 40 to Abington to Brownsville on this gorgeous November morning, we’re reminded that this area is still the boonies. Even so, imagine how much more so it would have been in 1806.
That was the year on our minds, the same year that the Methodist Church became a presence in tiny Brownsville. We were headed there to celebrate the occasion with not only members of the current Brownsville United Methodist Church, but with visitors, with the Greenwood Church Methodists, and with Liberty's Edwards United Methodist Church choir.
My lifelong friend, musician Karen Parks Bunch, was there to sing and play piano, accompanying church organist Charlotte Telker. Karen provided the special music along with her husband, the Liberty church’s choir director Kevin Bunch -- and with the choir. As I did, Karen grew up in that little Brownsville church.
While our hometown church has been served continuously by Methodist preachers starting with the early circuit riders in 1806, it’s interesting that the current pastor, Shelley Dodson, is the longest continually serving minister in this church’s 210-year history. She’s been there since 2004. One busy reverend, Shelley also serves the Greenwood UMC, and has a day job as interim bursar at Indiana University East in Richmond. Whew!
During the service, Shelley read some key points in the history of this body. The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800, and it didn’t take long for the Methodist Church to bring its Christian influence to this little neck of the woods in what would become Union County, and become the state of Indiana 200 years ago this year.
After a few years of circuit riders’ services in pioneers’ log cabins, the first Brownsville Methodist Church was built of brick in 1814, near the present building. The congregation grew and in 1828, land was deeded for a larger structure. Church history doesn’t record why the building wasn’t ready until 1844.
That building, however, stood for 101 years before it burned down in a Sunday-morning fire in 1945. However, before that bad turn, things got rocky in other ways. In 1860, the nation’s Civil War divided this body and a number of members left to form the Christian Union Church in 1865.
The Methodist Church went into decline to the point where windows were broken, the roof damaged, and doors stood open. In 1871, some members saved it with remodeling the dilapidated 1844 building, and it was re-dedicated in 1873. And so it went for 71 years until the 101-year-old building burned down nine days before Christmas 1945.
The congregation decided right away to rebuild and they got busy with planning and fundraising. To make do, they met for services in the Brownsville School. The new church – the brick limestone that’s there today – opened in 1948. There was a big celebration over it being paid off in 1952.
There was another big celebration on Sunday. It included a sermon about trusting God with the future of the church by the Rev. Mick Miller, assistant district superintendent. And being Methodists, cake and coffee followed. They even broke out the church's white china.
But first came the official bicentennial photo. For that, Brian and I stood behind the pulpit in the same spot where we lit a unity candle 38 years ago on our wedding day, a fine October afternoon not so different from Sunday’s fine November one.
As we stood there, I felt proud to be part of the Brownsville UMC extended family and so glad that we made the effort to attend.
This church. Home. Roots. This church provides a deep sense of belonging. One attendee, the former Janice Parks, whom I’ve seen once in the last 50 years before Sunday, but whom I would know anywhere all the same, even handed me an envelope of old family photos ... photos of my family!
They had been in her father, Gene Parks’ things and she thought I might like them. Where else could I be on the planet where something like that could possibly happen? Where her family would save photos of mine for somewhere around a century? And where a descendant would care enough to give them to me? To even consider that I might be there that morning? Unbelievable! That's home folks for you.
Yes, I’m from the boonies all right. These boonies.
If I could change that fact, change this place on the map that I call home, change this sweet church in the wildwood -- I wouldn’t.
Congratulations to Rev. Shelley Dodson who is the longest-serving pastor of this church in its 210-year history. (Photo provided by Brownsville United Methodist Church) Meanwhile, below is Geneva Floyd, who at 96 works behind the scenes constantly because she loves Jesus and people, and they sure do love her. Right, a look at the sanctuary.
My great-niece Nicki and her boyfriend Stephen are totally rehabbing the 1920s farmhouse where I grew up. We are so proud of the work they are doing and their vision for what will be. They have so many plans for the place! For starters, they are standing in what I knew as a bedroom, now transformed into a kitchen overlooking the living room.
Last week I stumbled upon this image, which incredible as it is to realize, is approaching 75 years old. The man, who looks almost exactly like my dad, is actually my grandfather, Roscoe Jobe. The little boy is my late brother, David. The setting is the same pasture where my pony grazed in the late 1960s, early 1970s. The building is the summer kitchen and the house where I grew up is on the other side of it.
I love this old photo for many reasons. For one thing, in decades past, people didn’t take bunches of pictures as they do now, so you’ve got to figure the photos that were taken and survive today represent special occasions or milestones of one kind or another. This picture is between 70-75 years old. I’m guessing that its significance is that my grandfather, Roscoe Jobe, had just bought this pony for my brother, the late David Jobe.
I also love it because this picture was taken in what I knew as “the pony lot,” or, referring to another era of the same location, “the chicken yard” (due to chickens residing there before I came along). My pony, Ginger, and later my horse, Buck, grazed and were saddled up in that same space 25 years after this photo was taken. By then, my grandfather had passed on and my brothers were grown. (Remember, I came along late in my parents' reproductive years.)
I love the continuity that this old farm photo represents, but there is more.
After my dad died, my brother David and his wife Janet built a home steps away from where this photo was taken. They are both gone now but their granddaughter lives in the home they built, and that granddaughter’s sister lives in the house where my grandparents, then my parents lived, and where I grew up (on the other side of that summer kitchen in the photo. It still stands as well).
One of my future projects concerns creating some kind of order for these old photos. And wouldn’t the best of them make great gifts, enlarged and framed, for particular loved ones?
I have century-old and older photos that are in perfect condition, clear, sharp and although they have not been cared for especially well through the decades, heaped into boxes and shelved, and who knows what else before that, they have come down through the generations intact and beautiful.
I have to wonder what photos (the current term has evolved to “images”) will survive from the digital age. I am as guilty as the next person of taking family pictures, posting the best of the lot on Facebook – and forgetting them.
Up until a couple years ago, I was good about making copies, at least. Before that, until about five years ago, I was good about not only copying them, but filing them in order in albums. I’m not so good at either now.
We see how technology changes rapidly, and we change right along with it more gradually, but change we do. So the camera cards and smart phones of today that produce beautiful images will become obsolete and if the photos aren’t printed, ones depicting entire childhoods, vacations and special events, may be lost forever.
It’s something to think about. Will my kids and grandkids, let alone great-grandkids, give a hoot about old photos? Will there even be remaining images of their ancestors or will today’s selfies be tomorrow’s long-lost fad?
I’m curious about how others manage their vintage, as well as more current photos. How do you store them? Do you still print and fill family albums? Do you ever print photos anymore? Do you trust the “cloud” to house your content on into the future or will it be lost when the “next big thing” comes along?
And even if you trust the "cloud," will your descendants be able to access those images?