The Living Record
Much of Evansville Living is devoted to those who live and breathe among us. We write about those who add to life, who change it, who improve it for all. Yet many people have an impact that lasts well beyond their last breath. They battled cancer, like Katie Schwenk, inspiring others to face challenges with courage. They stood their ground in war, like J. Douglas Knight Sr., and pledged to aid others if they survived. Like Thomas W. Traylor, they helped build companies that provide jobs and offer others opportunities for growth. Still, many others didn’t get the public recognition they likely deserved; imperfect as the rest of us, they lived their lives without headlines, quietly making a difference.
In this first annual Evansville Living Tribute Collection, we honor a small portion of the local men, women, and children who inspired us this year. We based our descriptions on our own research and on obituaries that, in most cases, were written by the survivors of the deceased. These obituaries were submitted to funeral homes and then published in The Evansville Courier & Press from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2013. At Central Library, the always-helpful staff of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library helped us peruse microfilm on a computer screen to make sure we read as many obituaries as possible. Nine nonagenarians made this list; one woman lived to be 101. Others served in the military yet accomplished so much in their lives that it would be inadequate to call them simply veterans. We hope this varied collection of educators, business leaders, musicians, and pilots honors the uniqueness in us all. May these men, women, and youth rest in peace, yet may their stories and accomplishments continue to teach us.
Sam Featherstone, 19 — Jan. 2, 2013
When brain cancer stole Sam Featherstone from this world, a whole community of people staunchly refused to let him go. They told stories about his hair (it turns out he was proud of his wispy locks), his sense of humor (he once donned a white top hat and cane and called it his swag), and his plans to become a pediatric oncologist. Featherstone was attending Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis on a full scholarship when tests showed the cancer had returned. Since his death, more than $200,000 has been raised to fund pediatric brain cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he was treated in Memphis, Tenn.
Genevieve Bootz, 95 — Jan. 9, 2013
You may call it the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. now. But it’s thanks to people like Genevieve Bootz that it exists at all. She was the president of the Vanderburgh County PTA Council and knew the importance of having a metropolitan school district. She also was a longtime supporter of the Easter Seals. She helped renovate the YWCA shelter and provided scholarships for at-risk girls.
Catherine Marie “Katie” Schwenk, 63 — Feb. 19, 2013
“God is good all the time!” If you were a student in Katie Schwenk’s third grade classes at St. Theresa School, Corpus Christi School, or Holy Rosary School in the past 40 years, you might have heard these words from this former member of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Katie often shared with her students, quoting Philippians 4:13. The verse sustained her through her own long battle with cancer, but so did the young adults who wrote “Miss Schwenk” to say how much they loved and admired her.
James A. McCarty Sr., 88 — Feb. 11, 2013
It’s unknown how many lawns and gardens in the area James A. McCarty Sr. had a hand in beautifying. After founding Colonial Garden Center Inc. in 1960, McCarty made the company a household name long before the big box stores moved into the city. Previously, his family had started the McCarty Seed Co. in Downtown Evansville that became one of the country’s largest popcorn processors.
Dr. William L. Ridgway, 92 — March 8, 2013
He never graduated from the University of Evansville. Yet Dr. William Ridgway, an Evansville native and ophthalmologist who graduated from Central High School, adopted the private institution as his alma mater. He purchased Harlaxton College in Grantham, England, and gave it to UE. Now, UE has one of the nation’s top study abroad programs. In April, the late Ridgway left UE $39 million. It was the largest single gift ever made to UE from an individual or corporation. In all, Ridgway donated $52.6 million to the university.
Michael McKinney, 53 — April 9, 2013
Smiling Mike McKinney, they’d say. That’s the guy who played guitar in the bands Blues 4U and Carl Rodenberg & Co. Early in his career, this sports car enthusiast played with Fabian, The Shirelles, and Chuck Berry.
Thomas W. Traylor, 73 — May 9, 2013
Thomas Traylor helped make his father William’s company, Traylor Bros. Inc., one of North America’s leaders in underground, marine, and bridge construction. A 1961 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he earned an MBA from Stanford University in 1963. He and his wife, Nancy, supported the JDRF, WNIN, the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science.
Jacob Andrew Schriber Ball, 12 — May 13, 2013
Jacob Ball wasn’t constrained by conventions. “He was brought into this world to teach us,” the staff at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis told Jacob’s parents, Tiffany Schriber Ball and Brian Ball, shortly after he was born. When Jacob was older, he sang at the top of his lungs at church. He didn’t need a joke to giggle. He both wondered and delighted in life.
Jack Allen Fenimore, 90 — May 16, 2013
He knew Lucille Ball and Kim Novak, and one of the films he produced for Hughes Aircraft Co. was nominated for an Academy Award. Yet Jack Fenimore also was a fighter pilot who battled during the New Guinea Campaign from 1942 to 1945. Local residents may have known him as the former director/producer for Keller-Crescent Co. before he retired in 1982.
J. Douglas Knight Sr., 98 — June 15, 2013
Roberts Stadium Gate 3 is gone now. So, sadly, is J. Douglas Knight Sr. For 53 years, he worked as a Hadi Shriner taking tickets during the annual circus. He also was active in other organizations that promoted sports, education, and community development. Why? Because he made himself a promise. Sixty years ago, he was hunkered down in a foxhole in the Battle of the Bulge, bullets whizzing by. “He turned to God,” his family wrote in his obituary, “and promised that if he got out of there alive, he would spend the rest of his life doing anything and everything for anybody who asked. He did get out alive. And he was true to his word.”
Ray William Arensman, 91 — June 28, 2013
A former dean of the School of Business at the University of Evansville, Ray Arensman was a musician (he founded The Temple Airs), a financial advisor to the Welborn Baptist Hospital Foundation and Great Fidelity Life Insurance Company, and a historian who co-authored the Riverfront Historical markers describing the history surrounding the Ohio River with the late Ken McCutchan. He and his wife, Mae, also were key to the development of the Osnabrück Society, a student exchange program with Evansville’s sister city in Germany.
Amos Washington, 92 — July 13, 2013
Amos Washington traced his roots to the Wessyngton Plantation in Cedar Hill, Tenn. Once the largest tobacco plantation in the U.S., it was founded by Joseph Washington, cousin of President George Washington, to whom Amos’ family is related. A railroad employee with Louisville & Nashville Railroad for more than 38 years, Amos earned the European African Middle Eastern Theater Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, and the Bronze Service Star while in the Army’s 3482nd Quartermaster Truck Company from 1942 to 1945. Former U.S. Senators Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh obtained the medals for Amos; the awards have since been donated to the Evansville African-American Museum.
Imogene Morrison, 101 — July 29, 2013
Imogene Morrison was one of only a few female graduates of the University of Nebraska Law School when she was admitted to the Nebraska Bar in 1935. After moving to Evansville with her husband, Russell, in 1958, she became active in the PTA at Dexter, Bosse, and Harrison schools. She taught for nine years in Evansville and Mount Vernon. Imogene was an elected delegate to the Little White House Conference on Education in Washington, D.C. There, she was addressed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Alfred E. “Ed” Small Jr., 84 — Aug. 22, 2013
Indiana University graduate Ed Small served as president of Universal Furniture Company until it closed in 1985. Yet many people might remember the Old Evansville Antique Mall that Ed and his wife, Dot, opened in the same buildings just off the Lloyd Expressway the next year. With its multiple floors, the antique mall was the perfect place to find trinkets, assorted Americana, clothing, and furniture until it closed in 1996. Ed also volunteered in the offices of Tucker Publishing Group for several years.
Larry D. Strawn, 71 — Aug. 23, 2013
As superintendent of St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, Larry Strawn would have known how to make others feel better about his death. An Army veteran and Loogootee, Ind., native, Strawn loved the outdoors and bowling. He bowled Loogootee’s first-ever 300 game not just once, but twice.
Esther Klein Baumgart, 98 — Sept. 12, 2013
Five-year-olds ran to her as if she had been a rock star. Yet Esther Baumgart was more than just a lovable kindergarten teacher who soothed tears and oversaw naptime. She was, former students later learned, an accomplished pianist who traveled to the East Coast at age 16 to compete in a National Piano Competition. She was the first teacher at Evansville Day School, where she remained until retiring at age 70. With her husband, Elmer, she traveled the world and, at age 91, ventured to the floor of the Grand Canyon.
Judge William J. Brune, 85 — Sept. 12, 2013
William Brune served in the Army during the Korean War and then used G.I. Bill (of Rights) benefits and day shift work as an insurance adjuster to put himself through the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He was elected prosecutor in 1970 and focused on gambling, prostitutions, and pornography cases. Brune initiated the first deferred prosecution program of its type in the U.S. that enabled drunk drivers to complete counseling to avoid being charged. He established the “Animal Crackers” group of the West Side Nut Club that dressed in animal costumes to entertain children in hospitals.
Adele Mittry Torian, 92 — Sept. 22, 2013
William Holden of “Network” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” wooed Adele Torian; she took flying lessons; she was named Queen of the 1936 Lebanese Heritage Festival in Los Angeles. But it was Paul Torian — World War II hero, Navy Cross recipient — who won her heart after a blind date. The couple returned to Evansville, Paul’s hometown, so he could join the family business of what became Torian, Hofmann, Dillow & Flittner; they raised four daughters here and then retired. A golfer, Adele was accused of playing eight days a week. She was a member of the Junior League and attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At age 74, she showed her mettle when an armed robber tried to snatch her purse — she resisted and sent the thief running.
Mary Esther Stinson, 86 — Sept. 24, 2013
Mary Stinson was only 15 when she began taking flying lessons. During World War II, she flew for the Civil Air Patrol, which performed critical wartime missions. At age 17, she entered Oklahoma A&M University, majoring in journalism. She later wrote commercials for Channel 7, an ABC affiliate, before purchasing Evansville Advertising Agency.
Thelma Louise Strassweg, 84 — Oct. 1, 2013
Thelma Strassweg was no stranger to politics. She worked on campaigns for her husband, R.M. Jack Strassweg Sr., who ran for Indiana State Senate, and for campaigns for mayors Manson Reichert, Hank Roberts, and Russ Lloyd Sr. In September 1974, when school buses began transporting students to integrate schools in Evansville, she and other mothers rode the buses to Harrison High School to mitigate racial trouble. Her son, Kelley Coures, is the community development director for the City of Evansville who also writes a historical column for Evansville Living magazine.
Steven Wood Sublett, 55 — Oct. 4, 2013
Steven Sublett refused to listen to the word “No.” Born with Spina bifida, a congenital defect that prevented him from using his legs, he still knew what it felt like to bike ride on a trail. At North High School, he was the first student in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. to request and complete the driver’s training program. His car had specially equipped hand controls. After earning a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting and business from the University of Southern Indiana, he founded CAPABLE (Challenged Adult Persons Advocating a Better Living Environment). The group worked with city government to make small changes that would support the conditions faced by disabled persons. In this way, he worked with architects to create accessibility at Roberts Stadium.
Robert A. Davies, 89 — Oct. 15, 2013
Those who have seen the interior of what is often referred to as the William Gumberts home at 22 Chandler Ave. know the work of contractor Bob Davies. After graduating first in his Army Air Corps airflight class of 100, he became a bomber pilot and flight instructor stationed in Italy during World War II. Once he returned to Evansville, he joined his father at George Davies and Son Inc., building commercial buildings and residences on the East Side of Evansville. Davies ran several mayoral campaigns and received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award.
Ross L. Compton, 94 — Oct. 26, 2013
Ross Compton was at the bottom of the hill when the flag of Iwo Jima was raised during World War II. Later, he was part of the Chosin Few — spelling intentional — when he was surprised by China’s entry into the Korean War. Over 13 days, and cut off from support, Compton and others embarked upon a 78-mile journey to the Sea of Japan, fighting their way through 10 Chinese infantry divisions to reconnect with American forces. A letter carrier, he was instrumental in the construction of Evansville’s Korean War Monument on the riverfront.
Betty R. Reynolds, 89 — Oct. 16, 2013
Many men left Evansville to fight overseas during World War II. Yet women like Betty Reynolds who remained here did their part, too. She was a Rosie the Riveter (a fictional woman who adorned numerous posters with the words, “We Can Do It!”) who helped build P-47 Thunderbolts, a fighter-bomber workhorse for the Army Air Corps, at Hoosier Cardinal on First Avenue near Garvin Park. There, she riveted stabilizers for the fighter planes. Betty had a fun side. Sporting a blond wig, she managed an entertaining Phyllis Diller impression.
Nathaniel “Nathan” Hoyt Schroer, 38 — Nov. 19, 2013
Nathan Schroer made the most of his life before losing his battle to cancer. An Evansville police officer for 11 years, he was a patrolman, narcotics detective, and sexual violence detective. A lifelong musician, one of his bands was signed to a major Christian label. Nathan cofounded NKOSI records, which seeks to lead the Evansville Hip Hop community to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.