Bustling about vacuuming, I gingerly avoided three or four disembodied hairballs deposited by two of my best friends ever, Tristan and Isolde, kitties named after legendary star-crossed lovers who cohabited in the Middle Ages. Nice save! I deserved — break-time! I willingly succumbed to Facebook monitoring where I discovered a lively string of conversation which had been prompted by a nostalgic link called “Great Memories and History of Fort Wayne, Indiana” — specializing in memorable trivia.
Captivated by a familiar pair of lovingly worn-out jeans serving as a profile picture, Phoebe Gallagher Roehrs happened onto a discussion of our local Blue Bell plant’s probably manufacturing more Wranglers, coveralls, and bib overalls than any other source upon our entire globe! I noticed a post from Bazil Jackson who wrote about his family’s treasured copies of our local plant’s monthly newspaper which either my mom or Majorie Cullimore Anders had dubbed for posterity the…”Stitch ‘N Times”. My dad’s secretary Phyllis Mattix, employee Ruth Runion, and factory nurse Beverly Bevington served as editors.
A week-end visit quickly followed at Bazil’s house where his loyal dog Keyona received alternating pats on her head from Don, me, Don, Bazil, me, etc. We laughed, sometimes nearly cried, as we passed around several copies of the fantastic retro-newspaper. Bob Hiss, Cliff Blanchard, John Moyer, Paul Zumbrun, Clela Richards, Joy Murbach Heinbaugh, Lawrence Wolfe, Erma Travelbee, Ray Ummel, Jack Crabill, Floyd Sullivan, Sheldon Marrs, Cliff Balyeat, Larry Kneller, Tom Hontz, Don York, Bill Winters, Richard Fleck, Bertha Grable, Lucille Scott, and three Jackson family members met our intent gazes A picture of the world’s tallest cowboy (on stilts we presumed), wearing the lengthiest inseam garment ever crafted by Blue Bell, Inc., begs to be seen to be believed! We enjoyed anecdotes, original poetry, announcements, jokes, accounts of successful operations within each Hoosier plant — whether located in C.C., North Webster, Nappanee or Warsaw — photos of company picnics at Center Lake in Kosciusko County as well as Christmas parties with Jay Smith as a jolly Santa, and “Identify This Child Who is a Current Employee” snapshot-riddles.
My dad at age 10, sporting knickers and a tiny tweed jacket, was featured in a July, 1950, issue. Aha, I knew the answer! Another informal photograph of my pop chatting with employees nestled itself within a collection of some 20 candid shots. Most fun though was a story entitled: “Roy Duncan Gives a Friendly Greeting!”
From September, 1958: “Walking along a crowded Chicago avenue last Saturday, Roy Duncan thought he recognized a familiar face, although the person’s name escaped him temporarily; so with a friendly tone he greeted the approaching man and received an amiable reply. Much to his wife and daughters’ surprise, and even Mr. Duncan’s, the familiar face was that of the TV (“Father Knows Best”) and movie star, Robert Young.”
Bazil single-handedly provided a welcome respite from winter doldrums with his appreciation for how the past informs the present. Keyona, pining for her recently deceased mama named Lady, also participated in our happy afternoon. I marveled that 70 years after my dad commenced his management of four Midwestern factories, stories and snapshots filling those exceptional, lovingly crafted newspapers — which focused intently and positively on employees’ lives at home-work-play — resonated on that February afternoon while we turned pages, sharing LIFE which happened only just yesterday it seemed.
Most times the advantages of small-town living outweigh occasional smatterings of negatives. After we waved good-bye to Bazil and Keyona, we lunched at Bob Haisley’s new restaurant and enjoyed viewing Bob’s gallery of 1930s KODAK ads, all impressively displayed on freshly painted walls. These posters, discovered in the former Washburn building which once housed a photography studio upstairs, beckon us to review another era when folks were scrambling for a living – the Depression years. Blue Bell arrived locally at that same exact time, its headquarters located down South in Greensboro, North Carolina. This handsome Whitley Street factory, constructed in 1932, continues to stand proudly in all of its art deco glory to this day, having employed nearly everyone in town –“and his brother” –at one time or another. Bazil’s grandmother Venia and her son Sgt. Delmar Jackson — among those on the payroll – punched the time clock, and both individuals peppered the pages of “Stitch ‘N Times”! We surprisingly met Delmar’s wife at McDonald’s later that evening for the first time — out of the blue! Only in a small town!
Thank, Bazil, for loaning me your family’s beautifully preserved “Stitch ‘N Times” issues. Although primarily a dog person, thus perky little Keyona and I bonded immediately as she pranced down memory lane with the three of us, when I returned to my house that evening with my packet of Blue Bell newsletters, I pored through them all with several feline interruptions. Tristan and Isolde, ever curious as befits their species, reminded me that kitties also claim kinship with that 1732 phrase, “A stitch in time saves nine”…meaning to repair a tear quickly to prevent a bigger rip in material as time evolves. We rescued those lovebirds from traffic and Mother Nature’s quirky elements nearly 10 years ago, and as both appealingly nuzzled me while I read, I silently prayed for their health and happiness during the remainder of THEIR “nine lives”! Issie and Trissie qualify as the fabric and the tapestry of our existence. Ah, why fight the inevitable? I am a “cat woman” after all… barefoot, sweeping up fuzz, opening countless Friskies’ cans, endlessly filling water bowls, and also—in harmony with Neil Diamond’s melodic lyrics — “Forever in (fur-covered) Blue Jeans”!
(For extensive coverage of our local Blue Bell Company’s manufacturing operations throughout the 40s to the early 70s, please consult the Whitley County Historical Bulletin’s February 1987 issue for my archived article entitled: “Blue Bell Factory Revisited”! Enjoy!)