HEY!Hamilton! Contributing Editor and Correspondent Emily Simer Braun sits down with Debbie Doerflein, owner and proprietor of Heaven Sent on Pleasant Ave. in Lindenwald to discuss the celebration of the 21st anniversary of the neighborhood anchor business, Heaven Sent, and of her own trials, tribulations, and triumphs through the years.
Heaven Sent is a multi-faceted business with a history and a heart for home. A cafe, gift shop/bookstore, floral shop, bakery, catering service, banquet hall, and wedding chapel, are occupied in the two buildings on Pleasant Avenue. Debbie customizes all orders and services to personal needs, requests, and budget. Her policy is a very personal touch.
Friday Gospel Fest is a new venue, and the bookstore/card and gift shop are brightly revitalized.
Twenty-one years ago, Debbie Doerflein felt called to be “A Light in Lindenwald”. She continues to shed light in the community and has dreams for a Heaven Sent future.
HEY! Hamilton! Correspondent Emily Simer Braun has been following the trails of the people she calls “Eagle Scouts,” a group of amateur naturalists who have been tracking the comings and goings of the families of bald eagles now living around the Great Miami River.
The podcast begins with an interview lifelong Hamilton resident Chuck Wells, who said, “I believe the eagles actually chose this area.”
She also spoke to Marcia Hunker Henderson, Kim Hunker and Lisa Glasgow, a formidable trio of scouts. Both Marcia and Lisa made mention of their Native American heritage and felt more connected in their pursuit of the perfect photo–or just an eagle sighting.
For all of them, the eagle is part of their American cultural heritage, giving their new hobby a patriotic mission as well as a photographic one.
Correspondent Emily Simer Braun chats with Daryl and Roxann Gunnarson of The Father’s House, “a place for families to unite in heart and live in community for the common purpose of loving children through foster care and adoption.”
We are restoring The Hamilton Children’s home [on South D Street] that was in service to the Hamilton community from 1860 – 1980. We are making this historic facility into a Foster Community where 6 foster families will live, taking in 12 – 20 foster children.
Also on the scene: Don Reilly, host of the Life of Reilly segment on the entertainment news magazine “X on TV,” airing 1 a.m. late night Fridays on STAR 64. Reilly is also the foster father of three girls, owner of Elegant Home Exterior and one of the benefactors of The Father’s House.
Orphanages began opening in the United States in the 1830s, encouraged by increased urbanization and immigration. There were few until the Civil War, a bloodletting which quickly multiplied the number of children without food and shelter. In Butler County more than 300 men lost their lives in the 1861-1865 conflict. The suffering caused by that war extended to thousands, including orphaned children. It was “the sad condition of many fatherless children” which led to creation of the Butler County Children’s Home, explained Mrs. Thomas (Mary) Moore, a member of its first board of trustees.
In January 1869, several Hamilton women met with a goal of “not only giving the children shelter and food, but training their minds that they may become useful men and women.”
That meeting led to incorporation of the Children’s Home Association of Butler County under the leadership of eight trustees. They were Margaret E. Leiter, Jane C. Skinner, Martha Beckett, Ann M. J. Matthias, Anna A. M. McFarland, Emma Phillips, Catherine Sohn and Margaret Dyer.
In May 1869 a house on North C Street was rented at $25 a month. The eight-room house on the west side of C Street between Park and Wayne avenues was placed under the supervision of Mrs. William Tweedy, the first matron.
Later that month, five fatherless boys became the first residents of the home, which served the youth of the area for more than 115 years.
Charitable contributions and a variety of fund-raising events — including concerts and lawn fetes — sustained the home, which soon was too small to handle the demand for its service.
In 1875, the generosity of two Hamilton industrialists and philanthropists enabled the association to expand operations. Clark Lane and E. J. Dyer, partners in business, offered $10,000 if the women could raise $2,000. (Lane also was responsible for starting the Lane Public Library, which still serves the Hamilton-Fairfield-Oxford area.)
After the successful finance campaign, the group bought the Dyer farm near the top of the South D Street hill. The stone house, built about 1850, became the center of what would be the campus of the Butler County Children’s Home for 110 years. The home moved to its new quarters in September 1875.
By the mid 1880s, the home had a staff of more than 20 adults serving 210 children.
Starting in 1872, the association had received some financial support from the Butler County commissioners. But throughout its history — as facilities were modernized and expanded and as services changed — the home relied heavily on public donations of money and time.
For several years “one of the main sources of revenue,” reported Kathleen Neilan Stuckey in a 1936 Journal-News article, “was the dining hall at the fairgrounds where, during the week of the fair each year for almost 20 years, the ladies took charge and worked successfully at the gigantic task of feeding the hundreds who thronged the hall, sure of excellent fare.
“This project netted usually amounts from $300 to $600 — enough to carry the home through the winter months with the donations that were sure to come in around the holidays,” Mrs. Stuckey noted. Contributions ranged from jelly, eggs and sauerkraut to firewood, second-hand clothing and straw for mattresses.
“These bountiful supplies,” Mrs. Stuckey said, “came from all over the county, wakened to the need of its children by the enterprising ladies who did not fail to solicit cooperation, interest and material aid from auxiliary societies” in the county.
In its final years in the 1970s and 1980s, the home’s mission changed to helping about 50 to 60 abused and neglected children, including some from outside the county. It also acquired houses in other Hamilton neighborhoods.
The name was changed to Miami Valley Children’s Home in 1977. It closed in September 1985.
Row America Hamilton, our local rowing team, will host a “learn to row” day this weekend, but HEY! Hamilton! correspondents Emily Simer Braun and Grace Sandlin got a jump on things and recently spent a day rolling on the river with Joy Nix and her rowers.
Here’s a slideshow of some of the photos Grace took that day:
Friends and family of Gretchen Fuller – known to many in Hamilton as Betty Hicks from her days as a home economics teacher at Notre Dame Academy – gathered at Westover today to celebrate her 105th birthday.
In the featured image at the top of the post, Mrs. Fuller’s stepdaughter Sue Samoviski plays a video of family members in Florida who could not attend the celebration singing “Happy Birthday.”
Here is a photo of Westover School 5-year-olds singing and giving flowers to a lady 100 years older than them:
Hamilton centenarian celebrates a life lived without fear
Gretchen Fuller — aka Betty Hicks — turns 100 years on Sept. 11
When Gretchen Fuller was 5 years old, she almost died.
She had a fever, and her parents took her to the doctor, who told them to give her a dose of castor oil and sent them home.
“He didn’t even look in my throat,” Fuller said.
Had he looked, he might have made a better diagnosis. She had diphtheria, and by the time they finally figured it out, her throat was nearly swollen shut and “I was in such serious condition they almost let me die,” she said.
But the doctor then arranged to have the antitoxin brought into Barboursville, W.Va., where she spent her early years, on train and by horseback.
“They gave me three times as much as a normal dose and they thought it was going to kill me,” she said.
“They said I didn’t move for 24 hours. They wanted to give me some more of the antitoxin, but the family said no, afraid that it would kill me.”
That was 95 years ago.
In the meantime, she has buried three husbands, traveled around the world and back again, taught sewing and home economics for 16 years, Sunday school for 35 years and has played countless games of bridge, which she still does at least twice a week. She exercises on machines three times a week and takes an exercise class, and is still flexible enough to kick a leg in the air and touch her hands. She has no conditions that require her to take prescription medicine and attributes her flexibility, if not her longevity, to making five almonds and a dried apricot part of her daily diet.
She learned how to drive at 14 and she just had her license renewed so that she can keep up her active life, driving herself to breakfasts with friends and to Partners in Prime for bridge in her 2000 Ford Taurus with 16,000 miles on it.
On Sept. 11, Gretchen Fuller — who said she is known by many people around Hamilton as Betty Hicks — will celebrate her 100th birthday with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Westover Fireside Dining Room, 855 Stahlheber Road.
She triumphed over many of life’s challenges
Gretchen Fuller comes from a family of long-lived women.
Her grandmother lived well into her 90s and her mother died 17 days before her 100th birthday.
She was born Elizabeth Gretchen Nunn on Sept. 11, 1910 in Barboursville, W.Va., a small town of about 2,500 at the time, 10 miles from Huntington.
“It was a wide place in the road,” she said.
Her father, who worked as a plumber, hardware store owner and realtor, moved the family to Huntington not long after her bout with diphtheria, and that’s where she was educated.
“We lived in the same block as the elementary school, so I spent a lot of time on that playground,” she said. “That’s a good reason why I’m so flexible today.”
She also lived 10 blocks from the public library, where she was well-known and permitted to carry home as many books as her tiny little body would allow, mostly mysteries like the Nancy Drew stories.
“After I had that sick spell I was always skinny as a rail,” she said. “I only weighed 84 pounds when I graduated from high school in 1929.”
She learned to sew when she was a small child because she wasn’t happy with the clothes her mother made for her. “It was just like she took a pillow case and cut holes for my neck and arms,” she said. “It didn’t do a thing for me.
“When I complained, she said, ‘Why, you could do it yourself and I won’t say a word.’
“So in the seventh grade I made a skirt and a blouse and by the eighth grade I was making my own clothes. I made practically everything I owned.”
So she went to Marshall College in West Virginia to get her teaching certificate.
It was there she met her first husband, William Russell Hicks, who went by Russell and had been saving his money for medical school.
But when the banks closed at the start of the Great Depression, he lost most of the $1,600 he saved, and “never got to go to medical school,” Fuller said. “He got a job he wasn’t proud of but he took it because they’d take most anything, with a Philadelphia company that sold liquor to the state of West Virginia.”
Then he got involved with construction safety and they were married in 1937.
“In 1943, he got a job that he couldn’t even tell me where he was going,” she said. It was in rural Tennessee at the Oak Ridge laboratories for the Manhattan Project.
After that, they went to Odessa, Texas, for while, where they lived for 16 months in a modular type of home known as a “Dallas apartment,” 16 feet square. “It was painted three times a year because the wind would blow it right off,” she said. “I know Texas is a big place and there’s bound to be some nice places somewhere, but I said if I’d never see Texas again, it would be soon enough.”
After that, in May 1950, Russell Hicks got a job as the safety director for the city of Hamilton, and they made a home here.
“There were a lot of incidents and a lot of deaths and accidents, then he got them to wearing safety shoes and safety glasses,” she said.
He had a mind for math, she said, and when she was teaching home economics at the Notre Dame Academy, the former girls’ Catholic school in Hamilton, she would read off a list of grades and he would immediately give her an average.
“We were married 38 and a half years,” she said. “On Nov. 1, 1975, I found him on the basement floor.
“Russell was a good PR man and we got along beautifully.”
In 1996, she fell in love with local salesman Bern Fuller, whom she had known from the bridge circles. He was 80, she 86.
His daughter Sue Samoviski said, “One day, he called me up and said there’s someone I’d like you to meet, and they came over to our house and sat on the couch spooning like a couple of teenagers.”
He became her third husband, married 11 years. They traveled a lot, beginning with a driving trip, 23 days across south Canada and back across the northern United States.
Her lifetime of travel has included trips to Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii twice, Alaska twice and Europe twice. She has cruised through the Panama Canal and around the Mediterranean Sea.
It was coming back from one of her trips with Bern Fuller that she decided to change her name.
“I always wanted to be called by my middle name, but Mother wouldn’t let me,” but Bern was quite willing to call her Gretchen.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Gretchen is that life is a book with many chapters,” Samoviski said. “You don’t have to forget about the previous chapter as you go through it, you just turn the page.”
“God doesn’t make mistakes,” Fuller added. “We just have to wonder what the next chapter is and don’t be afraid.”