Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Teacher’s Memory Book

by David Parmer

Left: Olita Strader – Teacher at the Walnut Grove School near Peterson Siding

It was just a simple booklet, given by a caring teacher at the end of the school year, but to Terry Blake it was a treasure. Terry had never had a book inscribed with his name before, and besides that, it had the photo of Terry’s Walnut Grove teacher, “Miss Olita,” adorning the front inside cover. The school memory book was taken home by Terry and carefully placed in his secret hiding box. The treasured booklet would be extricated by Terry from its secret place from time to time over the years so that he could gaze upon the photo of “Miss Olita” and see his name, “Terry Blake,” emblazoned (at least in Terry’s mind) in the dedicatory place.

Walnut Grove School
It was 1924 and the Walnut Grove School serving the Peterson Siding community was full of school children. The residents of Oil Creek near Peterson Siding were mostly all subsistence farmers, with some railroaders filling out the slate. There were no luxuries and besides a few marbles, school children, and especially Terry Blake, son of Martha (Posey) and Joseph Blake, had few “treasures.” But now Terry had a memory book with his teacher’s photo and his name written in it. And it was personally given to him by “Miss Olita.”
Olita Strader
Olita Strader was one of the many dedicated school teachers serving in the Oil Creek area during the early part of the 20th century. Although her first name was “Edna,” no one ever referred to her by that name, and instead she was known to her family, friends and acquaintances as “Olita.” To her students, she encouraged the use of “Miss Olita.”

Born to Nicholas and Rosie (Lanham) Strader at Wildcat in 1901, Miss Olita was born to be a teacher, in a family of teachers. The fourth of nine children, Olita attended graded school at Roanoke and, after having exhausted all of the local schooling available to her, prior to 1920, Olita enrolled in Glenville Normal School at Glenville where she earned her teaching certificate.

By 1924, Olita would have been 23 years of age. Whether Walnut Grove was her first teaching assignment we cannot be certain. Memories have faded or died and records are non-existent except for a few mementoes such as Terry Blake’s memory book which provide a record of the students who attended Miss Oita’s school at Walnut Grove.
Miss Olita’s Students at Walnut Grove
Terry Blake
Terry Blake has already been introduced above to the reader. As mentioned, he was the son of Joseph Franklin and Martha (Posey) Blake. In 1924, Terry was listed by “Miss Olita” as a “Beginner – Second” in his Memory Book. Presumably this meant that he was in the second grade. Unfortunately, Terry did not advance much academically because he was afflicted with a speech impediment, as well as mental retardation, and today would be identified as a “Special Needs” student. As he grew older, his physical growth did not keep pace with his age, and he was a very small person after reaching adulthood. To provide him with a sense of security, his mother always accompanied him wherever he went in order to assure that he would not get lost on his short travels away from home. He was however, adept at riding a bicycle which he rode near to his home on Red Lick, a short distance from the Walnut Grove School.. Terry never married and lived his entire life on Red Lick with his sister Ellie and his mother upon whom he was totally dependent.

Violet Blake
In 1924, Violet Blake, sister of Terry, was one of “Miss Olita’s" oldest students. Today, it would almost be unheard of that a seventeen year old would still be attending grade school. However, in 1924, it was quite common that students of that age remained in school as eighth grade students. There was no high school to attend, and with the help an older reliable student for the younger children, teachers would often tailor class work to include post-eighth grade instruction for the older student.

Right, above: Terry Blake
Left: Walnut Grove School near Peterson on Oil Creek
In 1928, when she was twenty-one years of age, Violet married James Townsend, son of Albert Townsend. They lived their married life on Route 2, Weston, until Violet died in 1967 at age fifty-eight. She was buried in the Mitchell Cemetery on Clover Fork.

Oliver, Woodrow and Helen Keith
Oliver, Woodrow and Helen Keith, the three youngest children of Hugh Keith and Margaret “Maggie” Perrine Keith attended the Walnut Grove School in 1924. The four older Keith children, Ruth, Eva, Rudy and Alta had already completed their eight years of schooling and their help was needed on the farm. The Keith family was long associated with the Peterson Siding area. Hugh, the son of Albert and Rosella (Kelley) Keith, operated a general store for several years after he and Maggie were married in 1905. Sometime around 1922, marital bliss ended in the Keith family and Hugh moved to Clarksburg and opened a restaurant. The Peterson Siding Store was sold to Walter Foster and Maggie and her seven children continued to reside at the Keith home a short distance up Red Lick.

Oliver was born in 1914 and attended the Walnut Grove School through the 8th grade. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930’s and served in Greenbrier County where he met his wife. Oliver lived much of his life in Greenbrier County and for many years was manager of a large dairy farm until he developed an allergy to cattle dander. Oliver later worked for the Radford Arsenal in Virginia and for the Department of Highways. He died in 2005.
Oliver’s brother Woodrow was about a year younger. Like his older brother, Woodrow attended Walnut Grove School through the 8th grade and would have been around a third grade student during Miss Olita’s 1924 term. Woodrow served in the United States Army during World War II and after the farm bought a farm near Akron, Ohio. A part-time farmer, Woodrow also worked as an assembler in a plant which manufactured devices used in the space industry. He died at the age of 79 in 1995.
Right above: Oliver Keith
Left: Woodrow Keith
Helen, the youngest of the Keith children, like so many other Oil Creek natives, migrated to Ohio for employment when she was old enough to work. Helen worked in the food and lodging industries at various places in the Columbus area where she died in 1996 at the age of 78. Her married name was McCort.

An interesting historical note about the Keith children is that their great-grandfather John J. Keith (1823-1890) was a veteran of the Mexican War. He is buried in the Keith Cemetery on Red Lick.

Frank, Norman and Henry Ables
Frank, Norman and Henry Ables were sons of Jackson and Eliza (Riffle) Ables, and were born in 1908, 1912, and 1913 respectively. Although their normal residence was on Butchers Fork, during the 1924 school year the Ables brothers were living on Bear Run with their Aunt Fannie Riffle Atkinson (their mother’s sister) and her husband Philip Sheridan Atkinson. At the time Fannie and Philip were in their late 40’s and had a young daughter named Mary. Frank, Norman, and Henry were old enough to do farm chores for their aunt and uncle before and after school, an arrangement which was mutually beneficial.

Frank, the oldest of the three Ables children attending the Walnut Grove School in 1924, married Grace Deletha Posey, the daughter of Martha (Riffle) Posey and “Jack Sam” Posey, a noted hunter of ground hogs who was frequently mentioned in the writings of Uncle Zeke in the Buzzardtown News. Frank worked during his lifetime as a coal miner. He died in 1998 at age 89 and was buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery.

Norman Ables was a farmer and lived most of his life on Butchers Fork, Vandalia, and in the Indian Fork area. He married Ruth Neal, the daughter of Fletcher Neal and Mary Radcliff Neal. Norman served in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930’s in Pocahontas County and was engaged mostly in the building of roads and the planting of trees. Norman died in 1976 at age 64, and was buried in the Harrison Grove Cemetery near Copley.
Henry Ables, the middle in age of the Ables children attending the Walnut Grove School in 1924 was the first to pass away. Henry married the former Mamie Townsend, the daughter of Albert and Virginia Barnett Townsend. Henry and Mamie lived in the Three Lick area. Their children, three decades later, would also attend the Walnut Grove School which their father attended in 1924. Henry was barely 39 years of age when he died in 1948. He was buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery.
Five Puffenbarger Children:
Harry, Lillie, Nellie, Mabel, and Madeline
The Puffenbarger children who attended Walnut Grove School in 1924 were not all siblings. Sisters Mabel and Madeline were the children of Wilbert Puffenbarger and Vera Gay Puffenbarger. Harry M. Puffenbarger and his sisters Lillie and Nellie were the children of the late Roy Puffenbarger and Blanche Ables Puffenbarger. Harry was living with his uncle Addison Puffenbarger on Bear Run and Lillie and Nellie were living with their mother Blanche who later remarried Lloyd Riffle. The fathers of the Puffenbarger children were brothers and were the sons of Joshua Puffenbarger and Louisa Varner Puffenbarger.

Right: Madeline Puffenbarger
Right below: Mabel Puffenbarger

Mabel Puffenbarger never married and lived most of her adult life in the Akron, Ohio area. She was an employee of the Summit County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office for many years and worked as a tax collector. She died in 2000 and was buried at Peterson Siding. Her sister Madeline, who also never married, lived for many years with her elderly cousin Frank Groves at Peterson Siding. After Frank died, she lived with Sylvia and Hayward Groves at Peterson Siding for many years. Late in life, she moved to Akron and lived with Frank’s daughter, Ersel Groves Spencer. Madeline was residing in a nursing home in Ohio when she paased away in August of 2010.
Harry Puffenbarger was raised by his bachelor uncle Addison Puffenbarger on Bear Run after the death of his father Roy in 1922 at the age of 30. Harry followed his uncle into the carpentry and home-building trade, as had many of the Puffenbarger family. An example of the still-existing carpentry handiwork of Addison and his nephew, Harry, is the former J. W. “Bill” Conrad store building in Orlando, now owned by the Burgett family. Around 1930, Harry and his Uncle Addison dismantled the original J. W. “Bill” Conrad Store in Orlando and rebuilt the store in its current location. Harry married Martha Florence Radcliff of Gilmer County in 1941 but they soon separated. He lived at Peterson Siding and died in 1992. Harry’s sister Lillie married Martin Posey and his sister Nellie never married.
Clarence and Mabel Perkey
Clarence and Mabel Perkey were the children of Hayden D. Perkey and his wife Grace Bailey Perkey. Hayden had been a planing mill employee and worked in the busy Braxton County lumber industry during the early 1900’s. He later worked as a carpenter and farmer. Mabel Perkey was twelve years of age when she was a student of Miss Olita at the Walnut Grove School in 1924. After becoming of age, she began work in Clarksburg where she met her future husband Luther Johnson. They married in 1934.

Mabel’s older brother, Clarence, left the Walnut Grove School and Peterson Siding at an early age to work in the coal mines near Boomer, West Virginia. A mere three years after he sat attentively in the Walnut Grove School, he was dead of typhoid fever which he contracted while working for the Boomer Coal and Coke Company. His remains were returned before Christmas in 1927 to the Peterson Siding Cemetery on the hill overlooking the Walnut Grove School.
Not long after their son and brother, Clarence, was laid to rest in the Peterson Village Cemetery, the Perkey family left the upper Oil Creek valley and moved to McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, where Hayden found employment.
Floda Hoover
Floda Hoover was the daughter of Clyde and May Peterson Hoover and the granddaughter of Charles Henry and Emeline Smith Peterson with whom she made her home. Her mother’s family was long connected with the Peterson Siding village which was named for her family. In 1924, Floda was an eleven year old student of Miss Olita, and lived close to the Walnut Grove School. Two of her classmates in Miss Olita’s classroom were her close-in-age aunts, Lora and Dorothy Peterson. Since Floda was familiar with the Puffenbarger name, she married the Arthur Puffenbarger, the son of George Harvery Puffenbarger and Rosa Keener Puffenbarger. Arthur was the first cousin of her five Puffenbarger classmates at Walnut Grove School.
Dorothy and Lora Peterson
The daughter of Charles Peterson and Emeline Smith Peterson, Dorothy was twenty-one years of age when she married Walter Currence in 1934. Five short years later she would be a widow with two young children, Delcie and Wilda, when her husband was killed in a slate fall at the Weston State Hospital coal mine. She remarried in 1940 to Silbert Harley Workman of Weston. They became the parents of eight children, all of whose names began with the letter “S” and with a middle name which began with the letter “H.” Dorothy passed away in 1990 and is buried in the Machpelah Cemetery in Weston. Dorothy’s daughter by her first marriage, Delcie, was a frequent visitor to Peterson Siding during her youth and recalls that Sylvia Groves was her Sunday School teacher. Delcie, now a resident of Florida, recalls how she loved to visit the Oil Creek area and how much she misses it.
Lora Peterson was three years older than her sister Dorothy. Dorothy’s and Lora’s older sister Charlotte had married a Connellsville, Pennsylvania native, John Wiltrout, and during a visit with her sister, Lora met her future husband, David Bates, who was also from Connellsville. After their marriages, Lora and Charlotte made Pennsylvania their permanent home.

Stanton and Lena Gay
Lloyd Stanton Gay was the son of Lloyd Glen Gay and Laura (Wellen) Gay. Afflicted with polio when he was young, Stanton had some mobility problems when he was young. After his Walnut Grove school days ended, he took up farming on the family farm. Tragically, an unknown heart ailment proved his end and he died in 1941 at the age of twenty-seven. Like his Walnut Grove School classmate, Clarence Perkey, who died of typhoid while working in the Kanawha coal fields fourteen years prior, Stanton reposes in the Peterson Village Cemetery, not far from his classmate, Clarence.

Stanton’s sister, Lena Gay, was a nine year old student of Miss Olita in 1924. Lena remained single during her lifetime and continued to live on upper Oil Creek. Doris Nicholas of Dunbar recalls pleasant visits with Lena at her home over the years.

Herbert Fox
Herbert Fox was the son of Howard Reese Fox and Elizabeth (Posey) Fox. In 1924, he was fourteen years old, two years younger than his older brother Harley. Herbert began farming for a living after his Walnut Grove school days ended and at age twenty-one married Marnie Elizabeth Taylor Sims. Herbert’s last known address was Jane Lew.
Martha Brooks and Charles Brooks
Mary Summers, a kindly woman in her mid-60's who lived at Peterson Siding, was the daughter of Adam Summers and Mary Corathers Summers and a half-sister of Charles Peterson of Peterson Siding. In 1924 Mary took in as foster children a brother and sister, Charles and Martha Brooks, both of whom were enrolled at the Walnut Grove School. The family origin of Charles, who was afflicted with dwarfism, and his sister Martha is unknown and little is known of their life after Walnut Grove. Their foster mother, Mary Summers, eventually moved away from Peterson Siding and into Homewood where she died in 1940 at the age of 82.

The Class Roll is Complete
This completes the class roll of Walnut Grove School of 1924. Nearly ninety years have passed and all of the students of Miss Olita have since died. Few family members of the students still remain in the upper Oil Creek valley and the descendants for the most part have moved away to other sections of the country and have done well. Children of today know little of the struggles of their forebears to make ends meet for the simple things to keep body and soul together. No government programs existed to help educate school children with special needs or to provide support for them if their parents died or became disabled. There were no luxuries in the homes of the families of Peterson Siding and their livings were eked from the soil and from the sweat of the brows of the families. The compassion of neighbors to take in orphans and needy children has mostly been forgotten in the pages of time. Miss Olita, who took from a meager salary the wherewithal to buy each of her students a memory book, was long remembered by her students, and needs to be remembered still, by chronicles such as this one.
Miss Olita
It is unknown how long Miss Olita taught at the Walnut Grove School. We do know that she married Karl Post in 1928 when she was twenty-seven years of age and that she gave up her teaching career in order to raise three sons. Tragedy however struck her life when her husband died suddenly in 1936, in the midst of the Depression, leaving her a widow with three children to support. She returned to what she knew best – teaching. She re-enrolled at Glenville State Teachers College to renew her teaching certificate and in 1941 she returned to teaching at the Roanoke School and later at Jane Lew. After touching the lives of many more youngsters with selfless devotion, she retired because of poor health in 1966 and died in 1982.
Right: Olita (Strader) Post with her husband Karl Post

She lies in the serene Mitchell Cemetery, overlooking the picturesque Stonewall Jackson Lake at Roanoke, beside her husband Karl who died many years before her. Many of the students she taught at Walnut Grove School and at the Roanoke School also are at rest in this immaculately kept burial ground. Miss Olita’s son Bill wrote, “Doing for others – that was a way of life for the Strader family, and Olita was no exception.” No better epitaph could mark the stone which lies above her head.
. . . .

Note on the Puffenbarger Family
In the early 1900’s, four sons of Joshua Puffenbarger and Louisa (Varner) Puffenbarger of the Churchville area of Lewis County became residents of the upper Oil Creek valley. Addison, Wilbert, James Roy and George Harvey Puffenbarger found farms in the Peterson Siding and Bear Run areas and raised families there. Addison however remained single and never married although he did help raise the sons of his late brother, James Roy, who died young.

Joshua Puffenbarger (1841-1924) was born in Pendleton County, the son of German-born Henry Puffenbarger and Ireland-born Fanny (Stone) Puffenbarger. Henry was the son of Peter Puffenbarger and the former Sarah Pickle. Henry’s sister Charlotte married Adam Grogg of Highland County. Charlotte’s and Adam’s son, Samuel Grogg, married Margaret Lantz. Their son, Lee Grogg and his wife, the former Mary Montana Tracy, were the great-grandparents of this writer.
Note on the photo to the right:
Left to right is Terry Blake, with Jim Townsend and Jennings Roosevelt Blake
Comment 1 by Terri Bohl
While investigating my grandfather's family I was very pleased to come across your blog!

I am the granddaughter of the Herbert Fox mentioned in this article. Just to complete what you have listed, I thought I'd add to your information.

Grandpa passed away in Jane Lew on 2/6/88. His wife (my grandma) passed away in St. Louisville, Ohio, on 5/30/94. They had one son, Herbert Blaine (my dad) who is still living.

Great Grandma's full name was Laura Elizabeth Posey.

Thank you for this piece of the puzzle I've been trying to sort many records were destroyed in a courthouse fire that it's been difficult and every little bit counts!


  1. Didn't Samuel Grogg also have a son named Howard? I am curious as to Howard Grogg's life, nothing is ever mentioned.

  2. Okay
    the reason I'm asking is, Samuel Grogg and Margaret Lantz are my great great grandparents.
    Lee and Howard were brothers. Howard was my grandfather.

  3. Dear Anonymous, It is easier to correspond thru email. Please contact me at -from this blog's editor, Donna Gloff