Meadows family honors centenarians

Published 1:05 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

Working with genealogy often provides very rewarding experiences. This writer was granted one of these this past weekend upon visiting with three siblings in the Kelsoe family. James and Jenelle (Stokes) Kelsoe had these two aunts and an uncle as houseguests who were in town to attend the annual Meadows family reunion on Sun., Sept. 2.

It was most amazing that the three siblings ranged from 96 to 103 years of age, and all were in remarkably good health. Their visit to Opp began with one, Mary Emma “Joy” (Kelsoe) Sawyer, who will be 102 years old in October, leaving her own home in Melbourne, Fla., and driving herself to the local airport where she left her car parked. She then flew to Birmingham where her 96-year-old brother, John Rice Kelsoe, picked her up and took her to their sister’s, Ruth (Kelsoe) Farley’s, own home, which she personally cares for in Homewood. On Saturday, the brother, John, who resides in his home in Mountain Brook, drove the three to the James Kelsoe home in Opp.

It was a memorable sight to see the three arrive in John’s car and then enter the house so stately. All were unusually friendly and proved to be excellent company. This writer was privileged to visit and interview them about their family and their backgrounds. One special discovery was that Mary Emma “Joy” had taught a couple of years circa 1930 at the former Adellum School where the writer’s parents had attended. While teaching there she had resided in the Blake Pruitt home and also that of this writer’s grandparents, Lee C. and Bama (Fuqua) Stokes.

“Miss” Joy recalled some of her experiences at Adellum School. She and Mrs. Ruth McNeil were the only teachers in the two-room school building. She found teaching to be quite a challenge, so she sought another line of work when she moved to Birmingham after a year or two. While living in the Adellum community she attended the Cedar Grove Church of Christ, which had actually met during its early years in the Adellum School building.

Soon after “Miss” Joy’s tenure in the school, the building was burned during the early 1930s. It is understood that it took as many as three attempts before someone successfully destroyed the building by fire. It appears that the parents refused to send their children to the next nearest school, Carolina, and it required eliminating the building to force their cooperation. One can only imagine the pride a small community must have felt in having its own school, which was so convenient for the area children. Lee C. Stokes, in whose house “Miss” Joy resided, was one of the school trustees.

A year ago, “Miss” Joy was honored by the City of Melbourne, Fla., upon the occasion of her 101 birthday. In addition to the usual fanfare of a big birthday, etc., she was interviewed by a local news reporter. During this session she attributed her long and healthy life to “good genes.” She stated that her ancestors came from Scotland and Ireland. She also pointed out that she grew up on a farm outside of Opp, Ala., where she helped with the farming chores such as picking cotton and ate fresh, homegrown vegetables and milk, which she still enjoys. She shared memories of her childhood when the family lived so far out in the county that she did not even know there was such a thing as an airplane. The family would visit her uncle to listen to his radio, and they finally got a telephone, which was the party-line type. She concluded by pointing out that she has learned to just live one day at a time. Those present for the party attested to her “pleasant and spirited attitude and a ‘Joy’ to be around.”

Joy’s older sister, Ruth (Kelsoe) Farley, was also honored with a grand birthday party in Birmingham on her 100th birthday in 2009. Many of her relatives and local friends helped her celebrate the memorable occasion. A local nephew, James Kelsoe, shared some of the comments folks made regarding “Miss” Ruth. One gentleman commented that he once lived next door to her, but he had to move when she mowed her own yard while he, being some years younger, had to hire someone to mow his. Ruth did confess that she used an electric mower. She still appears to be in very good health and is a very adorable lady who does not require any assistance with her graceful mobility.

The three Kelsoe siblings have had a long, rich heritage in the church of Christ. Both of their grandfathers, Jason Miles Meadows and Peter Cooper Kelsoe, along with J.M. McFerrin, were the leaders in organizing and establishing the Opp Church of Christ circa 1910. Many members of these families were the earliest members of the congregation and a good number of the current generations continue to be. The three siblings and many of their relatives returned to this church for services on Sun., Sept. 2, and the annual family reunion, which followed afterwards in the fellowship room of the church.

The Meadows family reunion was begun circa 88 years ago, so this one was the 87th or 88th. One of the Kelsoe siblings, Ruth Elizabeth (Kelsoe) Farley, who is 103 years old, has only missed one of these. Their grandmother, Emma (Stephens) Meadows, got the reunion started in 1934 by inviting all the local relatives to gather on an occasion when one of her children, Q.P. Meadows, who had moved to Texas, returned home for a visit. Over the years it has grown into a special occasion held on the Sunday before Labor Day. Attendance ranges from 100 to 150 relatives being present and representing five generations. This year it was estimated that 125 were in attendance.

Each year a different line serves as host for the reunion, which works to involve as many descendants as possible. The senior ancestors are Jason Miles and Emma (Stephens) Meadows, former residents of Opp. They came to Opp in 1910 from Pike County and settled on a farm outside the town. They had waited in Pike County for “Miss Joy” to be born and to be a few weeks old before making the move.

Truly, this Meadows family has a rich heritage, which will no doubt be continued by current descendants. It is hoped that enough genealogical data on this family as well as the Kelsoe family can be compiled to allow them to be featured in this column. An urgent request is made to anyone who might be able to proved related information. Several years earlier, a different Meadows family, which settled in the Burnout/Rose Hill area, was featured.

Sources for this writing include an interview with John R. Kelsoe, Ruth E. (Kelsoe) Farley, and Mary Emma “Joy” (Kelsoe) Gregory Sawyer; a story by Dan Garcia, which appeared in the Melbourne Hometown News on Friday, November 4, 2011; and stories in The Heritage of Covington County, Alabama.

Anyone who might have a correction to any of the above or additional information on the Meadows or the Kelsoe families is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: