The Longest Day
'Famous, Infamous and Unknown' Returns to Public Library
The Shelby County Public Library Genealogy Department’s “Famous, Infamous and Unknown” produced another hit last week, although organizing the running series takes an increasing amount of time.
“It's getting harder to find famous (people from Shelby County),” Donna Dennis admitted. “The infamous? Not so much.”
We’ll start with the famous: Waldo Sexton. The acclaimed developer of Vero Beach, Fla. was born here and was the first student from Moral Township to attend Shelbyville High School, from which he graduated in 1907.
“He claimed that at the age of 10, his father said, ‘I’m retiring, and all of you (five) kids are doing the work on the farm now; I’m not doing anything else,’” Dennison said. But she accompanied that quote with another of Sexton’s, when he reportedly told someone, “I’d rather be a liar than a bore.”
Whatever the case, Sexton graduated from Purdue University in 1911 and moved to Ohio before moving to Florida, where he became known for his agricultural entrepreneurship, including planting 10,000 citrus trees and developing three varieties of avocados. He then succeeded at tourism development, including building Driftwood Inn at Vero Beach, now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
“The Lodge is still there, even after three hurricanes and tropical storms,” Dennison said.
Sexton, who suffered from depression, died at age 82 in 1967. His descendants still own his tourism developments.
“He put Vero Beach on the map,” Dennison said, noting Waldo Sexton Homestead Days are still celebrated there every January.
“My only regret,’’ Sexton often told journalists, “is that I had not come to Vero Beach sooner.’’
The “unknown” feature was also rather famous in his day. Dr. Jasper Stewart, a local chiropractor who was called “The World’s Strongest Man” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, lived in Shelbyville many years. He reportedly could lift two 250-pound anvils, one on each arm, and jogged at least 10 miles before breakfast every day.
“Jasper never claimed to be a bodybuilder,” Dennison said. “He did do a little tour with Ripley's showing his strength. But he was just a happy doctor here in Shelbyville.”
Stewart died in 1959 at age 77. He continued working until the day before his death. He and his wife, Fanny (Bone) are buried in City Cemetery.
Dennison’s “infamous” pick was George Ray, presenting an opportunity to republish a previous Addison Times article on Ray. This piece first appeared in 2020 and has been updated to include additional information from Dennison.
A Liberal Newspaper Funded by Republicans
Local Republicans loved the early 20th-century Liberal newspaper, mostly because it helped split the Democrat party. At the center of the storm was a man named George Ray.
“This picture probably presents the worst, rather than any other, aspect of the political scene of those past years,” John Reed Wetnight wrote in Shelby County, Riled Up! Nevertheless, the subject of Ray involves the county’s brief swing to the Republican party before returning to the Democrats, the DePrez family’s rise in news prominence, and the downfall of the furniture industry, all major events in local history.
George Ray had a head start in life. His father, a state senator, was a Harvard School of Law graduate who practiced in Shelbyville with Thomas A. Hendricks. But Martin Ray died in 1871 when George was just nine. His two older brothers founded a law firm and one, W. Scott Ray, eventually gave up the practice to manage the Democrat newspaper, a position he held until his death in 1897.
The first mention of George Ray’s dabbling in suspect behavior was in 1880 when the Republican noted that Ray was purchasing votes for $1 each, and spent at least $1,500 to get Judge Hackney elected. “This was done openly without any attempt at concealment,” Wetnight later surmised. There was, after all, no law against vote-buying in the primary.
Ray’s day job involved selling office supplies to township trustees, and it seems his recipe for success was similar to that of his approach to politics. He organized a scheme in which township trustees issued $40,000 in fraudulent warrants. The Republican said Ray was arrested several times for bribing township trustees but always escaped conviction.
When W. Scott Ray died at 49 years of age, the Democrat paper was left to three sisters, with a provision that George serve as manager. The Democrats at the time controlled much of the county and there were plenty of allegations of illicit behavior.
The Democrat county treasurer was caught collecting tax payments but not reporting them, for which he went to jail. The County Commissioners were awarding contracts for bridge repairs without advertising the bids. The Greenfield Republican said, “The recent disclosures in Shelby County show a woefully corrupt state of affairs.” Even the Indianapolis Journal said, “Probably there is not another county in the State where political bossism and ring rule have carried things with a higher hand than they have in Shelby County.”
To complicate matters, George Ray started battling Judge Hackney and other Democrats with his editorials. He gave similar treatment to competing local newspapers, calling The Jeffersonian, “a bastard sheet of fungus growth.”
But by 1900, a grand jury convened to look at George Ray’s dealings and returned indictments against him and the county commissions. Ray had provided not less than 200,000 blank forms for which the commissioners paid him a printing fee. Despite no orders being made, he issued 10,000 blanks for the county auditor, 6,000 teacher certificates for the school superintendent, and 1,000 liquor licenses for the 40 saloons in the county. He even printed 1,000 Justice of Peace certificates, though the county used about a half-dozen every four years.
Ray went to trial at the Shelby County Courthouse, where he was represented by a few attorneys, one of which was Thomas Marshall, who later became Governor of Indiana and Vice President of the United States. (One local later told Wetnight that Marshall was "gloriously drunk" much of the trial.) Ray was found guilty and sentenced to two to 12 years in prison. However, he spent a month merely being escorted around town by the Sheriff until a new Republican governor came into office and ensured the sentence was served, Dennison said. Ray was sent to Michigan City for 22 months before he was released.
The Democrat paper was sold to a Mr. Fuller, who then sold it to a coalition headed by John Day DePrez. Ray then returned to town and started a competing paper called The Liberal. A Democrat fight ensued, the Republicans backed The Liberal, and John Day DePrez took aim.
“(Ray) would be a more effective preacher of morality if his own life had been more in accordance with the cardinal virtues,” DePrez wrote.
DePrez also said The Liberal had offered editorial support to local taverns for $1,000 each. Ray denied the charge, to which DePrez responded, “If he is sincere, why does George Ray advise people to drink a certain brand of beer, to trade with certain saloons?” There were also written accusations that Ray’s principal backer was Kate Hoyt, “a keeper of a house of ill fame.” Locals later learned that prominent Republicans had joined Hoyt in backing The Liberal.
By 1904, Democratic infighting had taken its toll and Republicans won the county. President Theodore Roosevelt’s win was the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won in Shelby County. DePrez wrote that the party had gone down thanks to “George Rayism.”
Over the next two years, DePrez fought hard to win back the community. The Democrats swept the Republicans out of the county in 1906. By 1908, The Liberal folded. In a good-riddance letter, The Democrat called Ray “a Judas Iscariot.”
The Liberal’s foreclosure suit offered sordid details about the business, including how furniture executives Mathew Montgomery, Burton F. Swain, Charles Davis, Harry Whitcomb, Charles Birely, Charles Campbell, and Charles Spiegal loaned $4,500 to Ray and he in return raged against the laboring men who were considering organizing a union. The money was put through an Indianapolis bank to hide the identity of the backers but the bank went bankrupt. A long and costly furniture strike ensued after the Liberal folded and the factories never recovered. “Of course, the Great Depression could be said to be primarily responsible,” Wetnight wrote. “But, one wonders if some of the seeds of the trouble were planted in 1906.” The furniture fight caused the Shelby County working class to turn against Republicans, where they remained until recent history.
Ray moved to Indianapolis in 1909 and served as editor of several weekly newspapers. He later became purchasing agent for the Haag Drug Company. He returned to Shelbyville in 1930 and engaged in the real estate business. He died in 1933 at age 71.
John Day Deprez eventually obtained majority control of the Democrat, which later became The Shelbyville News. “One can toy with the thought that if George Ray had not been inclined to ‘unorthodox behavior,’ perhaps the newspaper might still be in the hands of descendants of the Ray family,” Wetnight said.
- STATE NEWS: Indiana is well on its way to meeting a tree-planting goal that was set into motion by Gov. Eric J. Holcomb in 2020. At the time, Gov. Holcomb charged the Indiana Department of Natural Resources with planting 1 million trees during the next five years. This spring 253,400 seedlings were planted on DNR properties, bringing the four-year planting total to 964,900. (Indiana Environmental Reporter)
This Day in Shelby County History
2018: Josh Johnson stepped down after four years of serving as Morristown's Athletic Director. Johnson was taking a teaching position in Greenfield.
2013: Fred Miller retired as director of the Morristown Boys & Girls Club. The club appointed Scott Spahr as his replacement.
2008: Kevin Kling was hired as the new Triton Central football coach. He would succeed Rob Robertson.
2003: The Shelby County Soil and Water Conservation District announced winners of its poster competition. Coulston Elementary winners were Mason Harding, Cameron Meeke, and Shane Quick. Hendricks winners were Riley Achenbach, Mikayla Diemer, Jared Wise and Mia Swazey.
1998: Freudenberg (previously International Packings Corp.) celebrated 25 years since opening in Morristown. The company had grown from 45 employees to 320. Six of the original employees were still working there: Mike Snyder, Bob Eaks, Carolyn Foreman, Helen Burton and David Lanning.
1993: Top Shelby County high school students were recognized on WTHR-TV as part of its "Top of the Class" program. They were Lori Linville, Morristown; Amy Sullivan, Southwestern; Amanda Dickmann, Shelbyville; Jason Wilcox and Raymond Kulpa III, Triton Central; and Katrina McDonald, Waldron.
1988: Shelbyville High School baseball player Alan Coffey won the Shelbyville Optimist Club's McNamara Award.
1983: Major winners at the Shelbyville High School spring sports awards were Aaron Lawson, Michele Bush, Jean DePrez, Lee Kennedy, Gary Nolley, Joe McNeely and David Law.
1978: A tornado and severe storm warning caused 11 to shelter in a windowless room lit only with a flashlight in the local Burger Chef. Among them were employee Theresa Crowe, who was pregnant. Other employees in the room were Frank Leeper and Mary Lou Richardson. Other than one man having an upset stomach, there were no other issues during the two-hour incident.
1973: The metal bridge on 500E (Range Line Road) just south of 400N was demolished. It had stood for 60 years.
The Heritage House Children's Center opened, offering facilities for 64 children.
1968: Three Shelby County residents - Lafie Keaton, Morristown; Raymond Hamilton, Southwestern; and Kenneth Miller, Waldron - received awards at the state FFA convention.
Construction on the First United Methodist Church sanctuary neared completion.
1963: Shelbyville was assigned a zip code number - 46176 - to be used on correspondence starting July 1. Postmaster Robert Meltzer said the new system would cut 24 hours off delivery time by making it easier to sort mail.
1958: A dinner was held to celebrate Barry Copeland's 80th birthday and Father's Day. Guests were Mr. and Mrs. Albert Hoban, James Copeland, Glenn Montgomery, Rhoda Fancher, C.C. Mobley, Nancy Montgomery and Christine Copeland.
Residents of Tailholt (Carrollton/Finly) prepared to host the annual reunion and program to honor the memory of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.
1953: Mrs. Wilmer McNeely was elected president of the Ta-Wa-Si Club, succeeding Mrs. Arthur McLane.
Shelbyville High School Principal J.W.O. Breck was named superintendent of the school system. He had been principal here since 1934. He had been the junior high principal from 1930 to 1934.
1948: A large crowd turned out to see four unbeaten teams - Crystal Flash, Kirby's Tavern, Farm Bureau and Chambers - square off in a double header at Kennedy Park. Other local teams doing well were Stone-Fish, Shelby Mirror, National Farm, Admiral, Porter Steel and 200 Block.
1943: Mr. and Mrs. Pete Schaefer, who lived in a home adjoining the alley connecting the Porter Pool parking lot and Pennsylvania St., asked the city to vacate the alley. Pete cited the constant traffic and carbon monoxide fumes and said the alley had made his home "unhealthy" to live in.
1938: Unemployment benefits for Shelbyville residents reached a total of $1,500 weekly to 200 workers, approximately $32,000 in today's money.
1933: A state trooper told local news media that "the period of grace" was over and Shelbyville residents needed to get a driver's license in order to be on the road. He had worked with the local license branch to extend the hours to 8 p.m. for a week as a means to getting people in the door.
1928: An open house was held to give the community a chance to inspect the new mausoleum on Michigan Road. It was of concrete and Bedford stone construction. The local Cobb Line Co. provided furnishings for the event.
1923: Maurice Ash, 23, severely injured his back when he jumped from a high slide into the water at Flat Rock Cave. He was treated in Columbus and then brought to the home of his brother, Lloyd, at 315 East Mechanic St.
Christine Leming, 72, of Shelbyville, passed away, Saturday, June 17, 2023, at MHP Medical Center in Shelbyville. She was born February 22, 1951, in Phoenix, Arizona, the daughter of Hank and Barbara (Russell) Cristofori. Christine is survived by her husband, Robert; sons, Cole Leming and wife, Kayla, and Shawn Leming, both of Shelbyville; daughter, Brittney Leming of Shelbyville; sister, Tina Cherry and husband, Greg, of Shelbyville; brother, Bob Cristofori of Panama City, Florida; grandchildren, Bentley Elliott and girlfriend, Samantha “Sammy” McQueary, Aryia Kemple and Dane Leming; great-grandson, Jaxon Elliott; sister-in-law, Lee Ann Haehl of Shelbyville; brother-in-law, Kris Leming and wife, Nancy, of Indianapolis; and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents; son, Kyle Leming; sister, Deena Cristofori; and brother, Henry Cristofori.
In 1969, she graduated from Shelbyville High School. Christine formerly owned and operated Body Tan Plus. She enjoyed cooking. Christine also enjoyed being outdoors, working in her flowers and watching the hummingbirds. Christine loved animals and leaves behind her cat, Handsome.
A Gathering of Friends will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 23, 2023, at Freeman Family Funeral Homs and Crematory, Carmony-Ewing Chapel, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. Christine’s friends are asked to bring pictures to add to her family photo album. The Celebration of Christine’s life will be held at 7 p.m. Friday. Inurnment will be at Forest Hill Cemetery in Shelbyville, at a later date. Online condolences may be shared with Christine’s family at www.freemanfamilyfuneralhomes.com.
Phyllis Ann Eberhart, 88, of Shelbyville, passed away, Saturday, June 17, 2023, at Waldron Health and Rehabilitation in Waldron. She was born August 31, 1934, in Shelby County, Indiana, the daughter of Paul and Freida (Osting) Crafton. On August 14, 1953, she married Edwin D. “Eddie” Eberhart, and he preceded her in death on July 4, 2011. Phyllis is survived by her son, Mark Eberhart and wife, Lee Ann, of Shelbyville; daughter, Judy Eberhart of Shelbyville; grandson, Christopher Eberhart of Shelbyville; brother, Harold “Butch” Crafton and wife, Donna, of Shelbyville; half-sister, Paula Reese and husband, Jim, of Anderson; step-sister, Lisa Simon and husband, Harold, of Anderson; sister-in-law, Annie McClain of Wanamaker; and numerous nieces and nephews. In addition to Eddie, Phyllis was preceded in death by her parents; sisters, Marjorie Loggan and Bonnie Hill; half-brother, John Crafton; and step-sister, Sherry Ashby.
In 1952, Phyllis graduated from Shelbyville High School. She was a member of Mount Gilead Baptist Church for over 70 years. Phyllis retired from Farmers Home Administration. She was very instrumental in the founding of Shares, Inc., Phyllis also served on the Board of Directors for many years. Phyllis was a member of the TOPS, Order of Eastern Star and Business and Professional Women. She enjoyed working in her yard and tending to her flower gardens. Phyllis also leaves behind her cat, Callie Sue.
Visitation will be from Noon to 1:30 pm, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at Freeman Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, Carmony-Ewing Chapel, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. Funeral services will be at 1:30 pm, Wednesday, at the funeral home, with Pastor Bryan Trotter officiating. Interment will be at Forest Hill Cemetery in Shelbyville. Memorial contributions may be made to American Heart Association, PO Box 840692, Dallas, Texas 75284-0692 or the American Diabetes Association, 8604 Allisonville Road, Suite 140, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250. Online condolences may be shared with Phyllis’ family at www.freemanfamilyfuneralhomes.com.