By Leisa Boley Hellwarth
Willa Cather said, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the same quotation, the end is nothing, the road is all.”
Shirley Boley lived on the same road her entire 87 years, in the same farmhouse. Rural Route 2 Box 38 became 3815 Kuhn Road, but the road remained the same. Seasons came and went, and agriculture became more and more mechanized, and the farm prospered on Kuhn Road.
My grandmother, Shirley’s mother, Doris, loved to tell about the wonderful spring of 1935 when Shirley was born. She recalled there were new lambs, new pigs, new calves, new kittens, new bunnies and new chicks on the farm, as well as a new daughter. This was the middle of the Great Depression.
My mother was a tomboy, likely due to being a younger sister to her brother, Bud. From an early age, she was busy with farm chores. And she was not about to be bested by her big brother.
Shirley graduated from Celina High School in 1953, but she never made it to graduation. Some weeks prior to the end of school, Shirley was a passenger in a vehicle full of teenagers that collided with another car of teens. She was thrown on the floor of the ambulance by the paramedics who thought she was dead. She recovered fully with a scar on her forehead which she covered with bangs. Not only did she survive a deadly crash, in her later years, Shirley beat cancer.
The biggest regret of my mother’s life was not becoming a nurse. She planned to go to nursing school, but her dad wouldn’t allow her to leave home. So Shirley remained on Kuhn Road. Years later when my brother graduated from Medical School at Johns Hopkins, I think my mother believed some latent authority was granted to her. She loved to suggest cures and treatments for common ailments. And was quite conversant in medicines and procedures.
On November 22, 1957, my Dad, the former President of the Celina FFA, married my Mom, the former President of the Celina FHA. They were married just 2 days short of 61 years. Until Alzheimer’s, I never heard my parents argue or disagree about anything except for when to plant in the spring and when to harvest in the fall. And those discussions could be intense.
My mother was an equal partner with Dad in their farming operation that raised crops and Chester White hogs. My Dad also worked in the Press Room at Goodyear, second shift for many years. That meant my Mom had farming to do while he was in the factory.
Shirley could plow or cultivate as good as any man, perhaps better because she rarely broke equipment and was so precise in her fieldwork. She could back wagons with amazing skill. No need for a man to take over.
Joe and Shirley raised hogs back in the days before vertical integration. They took turns all night checking the sows with pigs that were kept warm by heat lamps. If there was trouble with birthing, my mother’s hands were smaller and likely the ones that assisted the sow.
Those same hands were skilled at sewing. For years, Shirley made all of her clothes. During Jerry’s senior year of high school, when he was playing the role of the King of Siam in Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, my brother brought home his costumes for the musical. Shirley took one look at the rags and proceeded to become skilled in costume construction and design.
The same hands that delivered pigs and fed steers sewed, crocheted and knitted with skill. Shirley shared untold numbers of potholders and afghans with others. And her chocolate chip cookies were the absolute best.
In the days before Google and YouTube, my mother was just able to figure things out. She never went to cosmetology school, but she cut, styled and permed hair with skill. She never took a floral arranging class but created gorgeous altar flowers for the Wabash United Church of Christ. She never became a nurse, but lovingly provided care to her mother when Alzheimer’s struck. She never took a canine training course, but had a strong bond with dogs. When she was pregnant with me, she had a boxer mix named Chuck. In her last years, Sandie, a red heeler, was her full-time friend.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of her pre-Google and pre-YouTube hacks was her solution to keep birds off of a patio. Just place rubber snakes around the area, and the winged creatures are scared off.
Shirley loved flowers. All flowers. But especially peonies and gladiolas and roses. Baby pictures of my brother or me typically showcased a stunning bloom in the center of the frame, with the child near the edge as an accent.
For years, while Joe served on the Mercer County Fair Board as Swine Superintendent, Shirley assisted with the Household and Floral Departments. Years later, when I told her Kent and I were engaged, she told me I was marrying well. She said her first recollection of my husband was watching him, as a young boy, carefully carry his mother’s exquisite arrangements to the floral show.
Fair time was Joe and Shirley’s vacation time. Others recall beach breeze or mountain air when remembering family trips of the past. I dream of the scents of the Agricultural Hall that no longer exists at the Mercer County Fair Grounds. It was the essence of my mother, a down to earth smell of hard work, abundant harvest and love of the Mercer County soil.
When Joe and Shirley retired, they didn’t stop working, they had time to garden, mow and keep 3815 Kuhn Road in pristine condition. War was declared on weeds. Every spring, they planted vibrant annuals in an old manure spreader. This was a living, breathing artistic composition of color and texture. Joe and Shirley spent hours and hours gardening and mowing the property, including all side ditches. 3815 Kuhn Road was an immaculate homestead with blooming flowers and a spotless lawn. Shirley raised onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, gourds and other vegetables which they shared. Every fall, Shirley cleaned and glazed with lacquer humongous amounts of pumpkins and gourds she gifted to family and friends.
When Jerry moved to Columbus to practice cardiology, Joe and Shirley made weekly trips to help him out. They traveled to Columbus every Thursday, and they never missed a Thursday. How fitting that this celebration of Shirley’s life is taking place on a Thursday. Joe and Shirley would grocery shop, run his errands, take him homemade meals and bakery buns to last for the week, mow the lawn, and distribute tomatoes or gourds to my brother’s friends and neighbors, depending on the season. Shirley also ironed my brother’s shirts. And she was a master with the iron. No wrinkles. No creases. Just crisp, clean lines, and enough fresh shirts to last until the next Thursday. Or longer.
When Jerry returned home to practice Cardiology in Mercer County, they helped with the design, building and operation of his new practice, located just a road over from 3815 Kuhn Road. During construction of the office building, Joe and Shirley cleaned up the project every evening. The general contractor confided to my brother that he had never ever had such a clean job site.
Once Jerry’s new practice was operational, Joe and Shirley opened up the office every morning, as my brother was rounding at the hospital. The young woman who never made it to nursing school had a big impact on the medical profession with all of the assistance she and my dad gave to my brother, both in Columbus and Celina. Jerry was able to focus on being a doctor because Shirley was ironing and cleaning and mowing and sweeping and doing anything she could to help.
Shirley’s final years were a struggle with Alzheimer’s. She wanted to stay in the only home she had ever known. I will be forever grateful to my brother, who became her caregiver, and kept her safe and comfortable in her house. On July 15, 2022, my mother passed away at 3815 Kuhn Road, in the only home she had ever known, a place she had cherished for over 87 years — 87 years.
Shirley Boley knew you don’t have to see the world to be worldly. Just raise good children, bake good enough cookies, and the world will come right to your kitchen window…at 3815 Kuhn Road.