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A walk to remember people of the past

Learn from the past to know more about the future
Learn from the past to know more about the future
Photograph taken by Danielle Coots

Even the downpour of rain and the distant thunder didn’t keep local portrayers from sharing the stories of previous West Milton residents that helped shaped the community and values of our great community. Sunday night at the Riverside Cemetery on Cemetery Road, five speakers shared the stories of West Milton’s first millionaire, successful farmers, a dedicated activist, local doctor, and someone that loved West Milton’s children enough to donate the land where the West Union Schools now resides. Hosted by the Tippecanoe Historical Society, visitors strolled from each site at their leisure during this 4th annual cemetery walk.

Getting to know the residents of the past
Getting to know the residents of the past
Photograph taken by Danielle Coots

“The fact that people are walking among the graves, many of people long forgotten, and at each designated site learning about local history and families is what makes this event special,” museum board member, Susie Spitler said. “And people running into people that they may not have seen in a long time, and then taking time to visit. It’s kind of like a reunion, only a very big scale and a very special program.”

Each speaker puts together their own presentation based on what historical information they can find about the person they are portraying. The museum shares what information they have. Other than that, the presenter can speak to known family members, or obtain additional information at the County Courthouse or from old newspapers articles.

“My Grandma Messick and I used to walk around the cemetery and as we would look up different stones she would tell me about our relatives, her friends and people of the community,” Spitler continued. “I would encourage families to do the same. You can learn a lot while spending time together. There are the various ways our community veterans are honored from the Civil War to the present. There are some very old stones of intriguing size and shape. And the newer stones are so beautiful and tell so much about those they represent. It is important to teach children that the cemetery is not a scary and boring place you visit once a year, if that often. It is a place to stroll and talk and to remember and honor our loved ones.”

Barbara Cecil, a portrayer for the past four years, portrayed Virginia Hemmerick (1934-1990), a well known community activist for the handicap in the area. While battling her own disease of muscular dystrophy, she fought for the rights of thousands of handicap children and adults until her death at the age of 56.

Monte Swigart, a first-time portrayer, portrayed Raymond “Lee” Hissong, a Quaker and successful local farmer, who married Gladys. Lee originally bought 40 acres from his father, during the depression. Born in 1905, he made a living farming his 40 acres and participating in shared farming with his brother and in his spare time, he drove a school bus for West Milton and Dayton bus line, a milkman for some time, ran the projector at the local movie theater, and helped out at the gravel company.

“The cemetery walks started because my friend, Dr. Linda Ginter Brown, was considering on retiring to Oxford, Mississippi. To get to a feel for the area she subscribed to their hometown newspaper. She gave me an article covering the cemetery walks they have done every year for a number of years, Spitler said. “I took it to the Tippecanoe Historical Society Board feeling we could do this too. I then got together with some West Milton shakers and doers and they felt we could put one together. We try to chose subjects that people will find interesting and for this walk, there are still a number of people around who may have known some of these people personally.”

Courtney Wion portrayed the life of Nellie Lowry, a woman who willed the land where the Senior Citizen Center and the baseball and soccer fields and now the new Milton-Union School are located. She was known for her love of the children and visitors had to drink out of her clear spring using an old tin cup, still owned by family members. “Noone is sure if the original tin cup was ever washed,” said Wion during her presentation.

Dave Tipton portrayed the life of Dr. Ephraim Spliter (1859-1914), a local German Baptist doctor. He was born just a year before the Civil War began. His father was a farmer and his father and mother had 13 children. He was a scholar and taught school for five years throughout the area before studying medicine at the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati. He graduated in 1885. After being a physician, he married, lost a child to a ruptured appendix at the age of 12. Spilter was a physician for the last 25 years of his life. He died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 54.

Gale Honeyman portrayed his grandfather’s second cousin, Benjamin Honeyman, known as the “Land King.” Honeyman obtained larges acres of land throughout his life and was known for having the largest real estate sale in Miami County n 1928, when he sold 1,225 acres for $138,850.32. In today’s standards, he would have been known as West Milton’s first millionaire. He was, ironically also a patient of Dr. Spilter. After his passing, after fracturing his hip, his property was passed over to his wife. At his wife’s passing, the estate was in litigation for over two years after the family contested a will that was created by Mrs. Honeyman, leaving a large chunk of the property to a “orphaned” girl and the girl’s daughter.

For more information regarding the cemetery walks or future events, contact Susie Spitler at (937) 698-6798 or contact the Tippecanoe Historical Society at (937) 667-4092.