Building on the Past, Present and Future of Fairfield, Ohio..
Random Thoughts from Ercel Stidham Eaton
Some years ago when I was deep into my work for a local newspaper and tracking an assignment from a city editor who was interested in the large numbers of Butler County area residential transplants from Kentucky.
Calling at the home of Don and Grace Sturgill, I was stunned at the first words of Mr. Sturgill: “I’ve spent many, many hours with your Dad,” he said with a smile.
Well, I was trying to begin what I had hoped would be a feature story about the Sturgills, but first and most, I wanted to hear about my father, who had been deceased about a dozen years and who was called “Poppy” by myself and my 11 brothers and sisters.
So the visit turned into a delightful hour and a half of reminiscing, remembering and visits to our former homes in the slopes of Appalachia.
Poppy, was a minister, coal miner, farmer, stone mason, and gristmill operator among other things.
I felt as though a crystal thread and slipped into the room to connect me with these folks who knew poppy. Born in Leslie County, Ky., I spent the first 15 years of my life there graduated, along with my older sister, from Leslie County High School, just as my family moved to another farm on “level land” in Laurel County.
Friendly and gracious, Don and Grace welcomed me into their pleasant home. I loved every minute of our interview.
“You know,” Don said, “our central activities in that community were in the church; and your Dad would preach in different areas. We’d go along with him to sing at the services.” “My father, Sturgill recalled, “preached with Bill Penningtion and was always surrounded by a quartet of local singers.”
At the time of our meeting Don Sturgill, still centered his life in the church serving as an elder of The Fairfield Church of Christ where he was active in many areas of the church.
Another thread-like connection was that the Sturgills had resided in the mountainous area of Leslie County, Ky., where my family had lived. He talked about walking to school on the ice in Polls Creek (so did I). Also, I could remember too as he talked about digging ginseng and may apple root in the spring and gathering chestnuts “before the blight killed most of the chestnut trees in the late 20s.”
It was across the creek that my father, Dewey Stidham constructed a stone dam interrupted in the center of the water with a gate that opened by way of a contraption across the top. In addition to grinding our farm-raised corn into meal for cooking, he opened the mill to neighbors who brought their crops to the mill.
Once in a while I would meet other Butler County residents who had known my father back In the mountains. “He was the kindest, most generous person I’ve ever known,” said another former Kentucky WPA worker who knew Poppy. It was said the builders of roads and other projects made a dollar a day.
My siblings and I grew up in those mountains and learned from our parents about caring for others and helping the needy. To this day we keep those lessons.
And what was a wonderful surprise is was to make the accidental connection to my father through the Sturgills. I hope to run into them again someday.
Fairfield Historical Society