Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Two Northside Families" by Rose Lucas

One of the great joys of living in closely built neighborhoods is the opportunity to get to know neighbors.  My memories of two families, one who lived in our neighborhood for more than sixty years, and one who lived here for more than twenty years, are the focus of this entry.  These families have made a huge impact on our neighborhood and elsewhere.

I grew up next door to the Kloeckers.  That begins a story that crosses many generations.  I look out my back door to the arbor graced with a lovely antique pink rose.  It has aged gracefully since it was planted by Grandma Kloecker, whose husband John H. Kloecker, Sr. moved to 628 Elsmere Park in 1918.  I only have anecdotal memories of Grandma because she went back to Cincinnati after her husband died.  But I will never walk away from my memories of her son, John, and his wife, Esther, and their children JoAnn, Phyllis and Jack.

I was prompted to write this when Phyllis died this spring.  She was a gifted athlete, played tennis and golf with the best, and was a respected tennis coach.  Her teaching and coaching took her after graduation from UK to University High in Lexington and then to Valencia College in Florida.  Phyllis married Ed Shemelya who was a strong athlete as well and played at Eastern Kentucky University.  I have lots of memories of the Kloeckers, but those of Phyllis that stick in my mind is seeing her laying out in the sun in the backyard and playing (after dark) baseball (with a tennis ball) with all of the “kids” on the park.  Although she as older than most of us, she was as much into the games as anyone.

JoAnn was one of my babysitters – there are wonderful pictures of her sitting on the ground with me and a few others playing jacks.  JoAnn married Bill Griffin of London, KY, and together they made a huge impact on, first, the economy in London, and then later the economy in Lexington/Wilmore through their ownership of Highbridge Spring Water and Kentucky Underground Storage.  Their business enterprises and their entrepreneurial spirit passed to their five daughters.  But most of all my memories of JoAnn are of a soft spoken beautiful woman who never passed up a chance to visit with her mother and my mother, and by extension with me, and who always made those she met feel really good when she left.

Jack was closer in age to me, and I lost track of him as we went through high school and college.  I do remember he hung around with the “kids” on the park a lot and played with us.  Like most of us he was not a fan of the overpopulation of garter snakes with which we suffered.  Power mowers later did help to control those critters!

But John Kloecker, Jr. was a man way ahead of his time.  As I researched the family for this writing, I learned Mr. Kloecker famously chaired the Greater Lexington Committee that unanimously recommended the annexation of the suburban area surrounding the city. At the time, Mr. Kloecker was president of Dixie Ice Cream Company (remember Dixie Cups?) and Ashland Dairy.  The dairy followed the Lexington Brewing Company, which John H. Kloecker, Sr., together with several others including Lexington Mayor Tom Bradley, bought in 1919.  Lots of interesting information about the brewery surfaced as I researched this family’s influence, and much of it was centered around activities during Prohibition, including a tale about seizures of bottles of beer by federal agents who then poured the beer down city drains!  Mr. Kloecker, Sr. established Dixie Ice Cream company in 1920 to replace beer business lost from Prohibition, and the firm used the refrigeration plant from the brewery for production. The company produced ice cream and ices, and the daily capacity could produce up to 1,600 gallons with twenty five employees.

Mr. Kloecker, Sr. died in a tragic fall from the upper floor of the plant in 1931, and his son, John Kloecker, Jr., took over the business, later adding the dairy.  The firm was located in a building at Rose and Main, and the dairy later occupied the building now housing Awesome, Inc. and others on Main Street east of Rose Street.

My fondest memories of John and Esther Kloecker center around watching them rock in huge wicker rockers on the front porch which was replete with a green and white striped awning to ward off the afternoon sun and welcoming me and other neighborhood children to sit a while and talk with them. 

This family has had a huge impact on our city and our state, and it is a pleasure to say they were members of the Northside Neighborhood Association and neighbors to us all.

The second family has been called the “new” Putnams by many of the Elsmere Park neighbors – because there were two other Putnam families (not related to them) on our 28 house street when Don and Nora Lee Putnam became out neighbors.  Don died in early April, and his legacy is one of great compassion and service. Don and Nora owned Greentree Applied Systems, located on North Broadway, and moved to Elsmere Park more than 20 years ago.  I always enjoyed talking and spending time with them, and I was so impressed with the breadth of Don’s knowledge about legislative matters, particularly with relation to working for intellectually challenged persons.  He was a leader at the local, state and federal level for people with intellectual disabilities.   I often remember Don and Nora leaving for a weekend to be substitute house parents at Bluegrass Oakwood where their son, David, was a resident.  Don was a champion for racial and cultural reconciliation and a leader with BUILD, the interfaith organization working for community justice, and Nora was always by his side.  As I would leave for church on Sunday morning, Don and Nora would be leaving, too.  He was a Deacon and Sunday school teacher at Trinity Baptist Church.

What I did not know about Don Putnam was he was a Navy veteran, having begun his service right out of high school.  He and Nora met in high school and were married while Don was in the Navy.  He served on the USS Yorktown as a navigator, and after he received a good conduct medal and an honorable discharge, he joined RCA as a technician and entered the world of computers.  Transferring later to New Jersey, he earned a degree from Rutgers University and then moved his family to Kentucky in 1976 and to Lexington in 1980. 

Until his last days, Don was carrying out his service and at the time of his death was the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Bluegrass.org.  Always concerned, always solicitous, always kind, Don Putnam was the perfect example of a good neighbor.  He and Nora served on the NNA Board of Directors and took care to be aware of the Northside concerns.  Because of Don’s health, they moved a year ago, but the family still considers Elsmere Park and the Northside home – another family who has impacted our neighborhood, our city, state, and country, and whose patriarch will be missed greatly by many.