It is often the stories of ordinary people — ones who never gained wealth or fame but raised their families and worked hard in their respective occupations — that are the most interesting parts of local history. This is certainly true of the lives of many Knox County residents. Here are a few of those individuals who have been profiled in the Sun-Commercial over the years.
The Stoelting brothers of Oaktown were featured in the paper more than once. It was their occupation as blacksmiths in that town that brought them notoriety, an occupation that changing times was making obsolete. The shop was started by John Stoelting and another partner in 1893. The partner left after a year, but brothers Fred and Philip later joined him, continuing in the business after John’s death. Fred was featured in a Sun-Commercial story in 1948, after having worked as a blacksmith for 53 years. The job had certainly changed over those decades, from shoeing horses and building buggies and wagons to sharpening plow points and welding iron. Fred died in 1956, and Philip, still working at the same occupation in the same brick building at the age of 82, was featured in the paper in 1962. Philip died at the age of 92 in 1973.
Huckster wagons, those stores on wheels, first horse-drawn, then motorized, that traveled through the countryside, were starting to fade from America by the middle of the 20th century. In August 1949, Chester Horn of Bicknell was profiled as one of the last local men still driving a huckster wagon. For 18 years Horn had a route through northern Knox County, selling all kinds of items to country homes. Sometimes, there wasn’t even any cash exchanged between Horn and his customers, but rather he took eggs or chickens for the crackers, cheese, salt and other goods that he carried. He had more than groceries on his truck, everything from pencils to shoelaces to kitchen mops.
In September 1961, the paper wrote about Walter Allega (known as Pete), who on Sept. 15, retired from driving a school bus in Vincennes Township after 36 years. Allega, about to turn 65, started driving a bus in 1925, his first vehicle a new Model T bus. By his own estimate during that time, he had “worn out” seven school buses, traveled about 200,000 miles, transported some 874,800 students, all without ever missing a route, being late, or having an accident. Mr. Allega spent $50 to buy treats for the students each Christmas and gave each graduating senior a crisp new $1 bill, giving away $15 year. He carried children on his bus, who as adults married and had children of their own. He then drove those children to school.
Centenarian Mrs. Alverda Reedy Catt made the Sun-Commercial many times, significant for a number of years as the oldest person living in Vincennes. She reached her 100th birthday on July 17, 1956, having been born on that day in 1856 in Pike County. As a girl, she lived on farms in both Knox and Pike Counties, but became a hard-working farm wife in the latter following her marriage. One childhood memory she related to a reporter was going fishing and seeing enormous catfish that were caught, so big that a single fish had to be carried on a pole held on the shoulders of two men.
When she became a centenarian, she was residing with a daughter at 714 Main St. in Vincennes. Before her death on Jan. 9, 1962, at the age of 105, Mrs. Catt had moved back to Pike County, living in Winslow, and was interred there in White River Chapel Cemetery.
All of these pieces illustrate that the lives of neighbors in one’s own community make up a part of our greater history.