EATON — The Preble County Historical Society capped off the Fourth of July weekend festivities with their Old Fashioned Independence Day celebration on Sunday, July 5.
The event included food, live music, and fireworks for the attendees. While people enjoyed the musical stylings of Justin Bryan, Chris Mowen, and The Worley Boys, along with tours of the historic buildings, nature trails, and wetland area, the day was also two-fold.
During the celebration, the Historical Society and The Register-Herald recognized some of the county’s finest people, holding the PCHS Sara Swartsel Hall of Honor program at The Amphitheater.
The Hall of Honor is named after Swartsel to recognize her heritage and philanthropy, where she donated her family farm to the PCHS as well as the Preble County community.
The program kicked off with the national anthem as sung by Sophia, Tess, and Grace Murphy before Tim Lane, PCHS President, took to the podium.
Lane welcomed everyone and recognized the sponsors, which included Reid Hospital and Health Care Services, Thumb Up Promotions, Henny Penny, Lawn Plus, Otterbein Senior Life Style Choices/Skiilled Nursing and Rehab Neighborhoods, Mike and Judy Raymond, Rodney Cobb Chevrolet Buick GMC, Jones Complete Carpet Care, Dr. and Mrs. David F. Sikora, Michael Murphy Insurance, Somerville Bank, Preble County Development Partnership, Timken Steel, Wetzel Auto, Summit Chiropractic, Remagen, Preble County Medical Center, Preble County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Eaton Hometown Furniture, McDonalds, William Nelson and Janet L. Hardin, The Eaton Place Restaurant, Craig Hewitt DDS, Twin Valley Bank, Lowman Heating and Air, West Alexandria Lions Club, Bullen Tech, LCNB, Jim Hildebolt, Tom and Karen McQuiston, and Seth Schlotterbeck.
The ceremony marked the fifth year for the program and each inductee is recognized with a plaque in their honor in the Hall of Honor Garden on the center’s grounds.
The 2015 inductees included William Bruce, Cornelius Van Ausdal, Sarah Elizabeth Daugherty Reynolds, Chester (Chet) and Mary Wagner, Timothy H. Miller, and Rosetta (Rosie) McNees.
Bruce (1762 -1830) was born in Virginia, the first generation of his family to be born in North America. As a young man relocated with his parents to Restone, PA near the present site of Pittsburgh, and volunteered as a private in the Revolutionary War.
Bruce then migrated to Bourbon County, KY, where he married Frances Lewis on April 20, 1790. They moved to Warren County, Ohio then to Butler and later to Montgomery County (now Preble County) in 1805.
During that time, Bruce investigated the land along Seven Mile Creek, and conceived the idea of founding a town – now Eaton. He purchased almost two thousand acres of land, laid out the town, and built a sawmill and gristmill.
Bruce named his new town in honor of General William Eaton, the military leader and hero of the Tripoli War. He was the first treasurer of Preble County. He died on Feb. 25, 1832, and is buried in Mound Hill Union Cemetery, his monument formed in part of grinding stones from his mill.
The next resident honored was Van Ausdal (1783-1870), who was the pioneer merchant of Eaton, and his career as a businessman extended from 1806 until his death in 1870.
From the very beginning, Van Ausdal prospered and, for many years, carried out a wholesale as well as retail trade.
In 1816 he opened the first store in Lewisburg as a branch of his Eaton store. In 1849 he joined a group of businessmen in forming the Eaton and Hamilton Railroad Company under Ohio legislative charter for the purpose of building the most feasible rail route between Eaton and Hamilton. In addition, in 1810, Van Ausdal was appointed a Deputy U.S. marshal and in that role took the first census of Preble County. In 1812 he was paymaster of the army. In 1819 he was elected to the state legislature. At about this same time he owned the Western Telegraph, a weekly paper published in Eaton.
His granddaughters, Mary Gould Brooke and Edith Gould, contributed to local affairs and established a trust upon their deaths that has contributed substantially to many Eaton-based projects.
Today 22 descendants live in the Eaton area. Among these are five third great nephews (Stan Van Ausdal of Richmond, Indiana; Jerry Hoover of West Manchester; and Charles Hoover, Harold Geeting, and Robert Geeting of Eaton) and one third-great-niece (Jeannette Alexander of Richmond, Indiana.) Sixteen fourth, fifth, and sixth great-nephews and nieces live in West Manchester, Eaton, New Paris, and Richmond, Indiana.
Reynolds (1845 – 1923) was also honored on the day. She spent almost her entire life in Eaton and was very prominent in public and patriotic affairs.
Reynolds was educated in the district schools of Dixon Township and married Roddy Reynolds, who was a gunboat captain in the navy during the Civil War and who served as secretary to the local congressman for many years in Washington DC.
She was a charter member and president of the Women’s Relief Corps and a member of the Civic League, Current Events Club, and Worthy Matron of the Eastern Star. She was Past Captain Commander of the National Association of Naval Veterans of America, a member of the D. A. R. and the Order of Lafayette. At the time of her death she was a member of the Preble County Soldiers’ Relief Commission, having the honor of being the first and only woman to be named to this commission.
Reynolds was a life member of the Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society and Secretary of the Historical Society of Preble County. Her advocacy resulted in the purchase and designation by the State of Ohio of the Fort St. Clair Park in Eaton to preserve the sacred burial spot of the fallen heroes.
Reynolds represented the women of Preble County at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893 and was one of the incorporators of the Eaton Public Library now located at North Barron and West Decatur Streets.
Husband and wife, Chet (1908 – 1970) and Mary (1913 – 1985) Wagner also received the high honor.
Chet was founder of the world-wide Henny Penny Corporation in 1957. A Preble County native, he attended Monroe, Jefferson, and Eaton schools and graduated from Eaton in 1927. He worked in a drug store and sold household appliances in his early career and later took a sales job with the Leader Specialty Company, a plumbing supply firm.
After two terms at Ohio State University, he joined the J. E. Parker Poultry Company in Eaton and later moved to the Sherman White Poultry Company in Union City.
In 1937 Wagner left the poultry business and worked at the Frigidaire plant in Dayton until 1945 when he returned to Eaton to work for his parents at the famed Mrs. Wagner’s Colonial Kitchen.
After perfecting his first deep fat pressure fryer unit in 1955, manufacturing began. In 1956 Wagner received the patent and demonstrated his product at the National restaurant Association Convention in Chicago. Since then, the Henny Penny Corporation has marketed the fryers, related items, and supplies worldwide.
Mary was Chet’s partner in the popular Eaton restaurants Mrs. Wagner’s Colonial Kitchen and the Whispering Oak Restaurant (1946 – 1961).
She was a member of the Eaton United Methodist Church and served as board chairman for the Henny Penny Corporation upon her husband’s death. She guided the company to successful transition upon its sale to Jack Cobb and G. Cecil Pruett in 1976.
Miller (1938 – 1993), a local journalist and jack-of-all-trades, was inducted on the day, too. He was involved in everything from news reporting to politics to the Pork Festival to photography to the 9-1-1 system — and more.
After a journalism tour with the U. S. Navy, he returned to Eaton and continued his photography and writing career as a correspondent with the Dayton Journal Herald, the Dayton Daily News, and the Richmond Palladium-Item. He then joined The Register-Herald and served as news director for eight years.
In 1965 Miller was named technician and later named investigator with the Preble County Coroner’s Office.
In 1972 he took over the operation of his family’s business, thus beginning his business career that included oil distribution and consignment, cable business, shopping mall building, real estate sales, mini-storage business, communications towers, and more.
Miller’s community service included serving as one of the founders of the Pork Festival. He helped found the Friends of the Library and the Eaton Camera Club. He was involved in the four-year planning stage of implementing enhanced 9-1-1 telephone service for Preble County.
When the 9-1-1 telephone service was placed into operation on Oct. 13, 1993, Miller said, “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”
Tim’s relatives include his brothers Terry Miller of Eaton, Nicholas Miller of Sidney and Thomas Miller of Memphis, Tennessee.
McNees (1928 – 2010) was also recognized in the 2015 class. She was one of the founding members of the Preble County Art Association (PCAA), which was formed in 1965 as a fine arts guild dedicated to providing understanding, enlightenment, and participation in the fine arts through programs, classes, and exhibits.
She was instrumental in raising funds to build a new fine arts center after a fire destroyed the art gallery in the St. Clair building in downtown Eaton in 1987. McNees served as president and project chairman, and after a three-year campaign, the new art center was dedicated in 1990 as a cultural opportunity facility for all people in the county.
McNees was a well-known and prolific artist, having earned over 600 art awards in professional competition during her career.
Her work is displayed in many businesses and galleries locally and in NYC, Boston, Indianapolis, and Flint, Michigan.
She was named 1989 Woman of the Year by the Eaton Business and Professional Women’s Club and was active in Downtown Eaton, Inc. and served as a member of the Downtown Eaton Historical Preservation Committee.
Upon her death, she bequeathed a quarter of her estate to be held in trust by the Eaton Foundation with the proceeds to be given to the Preble County Fine Arts Center.
Her family members who reside in Preble County include Patricia Hill Duke (sister) and Dan Duke (brother in law), Dan Hill (brother) and Martha Straw Hill (sister-in-law), and Ada Gilley Hill (sister-in-law).
Nominations for the inductees for the 2016 Hall of Honor are due on April 1, 2016. Visit the PCHS web site at www.preblecountyhistoricalsociety.com for the application form.
In order to be honored, the inductees must be deceased and have lived in Preble County at some point in their lives. They must also meet one or more of the following criteria: have been outstanding in achievement in agriculture, arts, professions, politics, public service, education, or sports; or have a reputation that brings honor to the county or personal commitment and service to the county; or had a lasting impact on the county.