By Leisa Boley Hellwarth
Willa Cather said, “When people ask me if the road has been hard or easy, I always respond with the same quote, the end is nothing, the road is everything.”
Shirley Boley lived on the same road for 87 years, on the same farm. Rural Route 2, Box 38, became 3815 Kuhn Road, but the route remained the same. The seasons came and went, farming became increasingly mechanized, and the farm prospered on Kuhn Road.
My grandmother, Shirley’s mother, Doris, loved to tell about the wonderful spring of 1935 when Shirley was born. She recalled that there were new lambs, new pigs, new calves, new kittens, new rabbits and new chicks on the farm, as well as a new girl. It was in the middle of the Great Depression.
My mother was a tomboy, probably because she was the younger sister of her brother, Bud. From an early age, she was busy with farm chores. And she wasn’t going to be beaten by her big brother.
Shirley graduated from Celina High School in 1953, but she never graduated. A few weeks before school ended, Shirley was a passenger in a vehicle full of teenagers that collided with another car of teenagers. She was thrown to the floor of the ambulance by paramedics who thought she was dead. She fully recovered with a scar on her forehead which she covered with bangs. Not only did she survive a fatal accident, but in her later years, Shirley beat cancer.
My mother’s biggest regret in life was not becoming a nurse. She planned to go to nursing school, but her father would not allow her to leave the house. So Shirley stayed on Kuhn Road. Years later, when my brother graduated from Johns Hopkins medical school, I think my mother believed that some latent authority had been granted to him. She liked to suggest remedies and treatments for common ailments. And was quite knowledgeable about medications and procedures.
On November 22, 1957, my father, the former president of the Celina FFA, married my mother, the former president of the Celina FHA. They got married just 2 days before turning 61. Until Alzheimer’s disease, I never heard my parents argue or disagree about anything except when to plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. And those discussions could be intense.
My mom was an equal partner with dad on their farm that raised crops and Chester White hogs. My dad also worked in the Goodyear second-shift pressroom for many years. This meant that my mother had some farming to do while he was at the factory.
Shirley could plow or cultivate as well as any man, perhaps better because she rarely broke equipment and was so precise in her work in the field. She could back cars with incredible skill. No need for a man to take over.
Joe and Shirley raised pigs in the days before vertical integration. They took turns checking the sows all night with pigs who were kept warm by heat lamps. If there were any problems with the delivery, my mother’s hands were smaller and probably the ones helping the sow.
Those same hands were good at sewing. For years, Shirley made all her clothes. During Jerry’s senior year of high school, while playing the King of Siam in Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and Me, my brother took home his costumes for the musical. Shirley took a look at the rags and perfected herself in costume construction and design.
The same hands that delivered the pigs and fed the steers sewed, crocheted and knitted with skill. Shirley has shared countless potholders and afghans with others. And her chocolate chip cookies were the best.
In the days before Google and YouTube, my mom was barely able to figure things out. She never went to cosmetology school, but she cut, styled and permed hair with skill. She never took a flower arranging class, but created beautiful altar flowers for the Wabash United Church of Christ. She never became a nurse, but lovingly cared for her mother when Alzheimer’s struck. She never took dog training classes, but had a strong bond with dogs. When she was pregnant with me, she had a boxer mix named Chuck. In her later years, Sandie, a red hooker, was her full-time friend.
Perhaps the most notable of his pre-Google and pre-YouTube hacks was his solution to keeping birds away from a patio. Just place rubber snakes around the area and the winged creatures are scared away.
Shirley loved flowers. All the flowers. But mostly peonies and gladioli and roses. Baby photos of my brother or me usually featured a beautiful flower in the center of the frame, with the child near the edge as an accent.
For years, while Joe served on the Mercer County Fair Board as hog superintendent, Shirley helped out with the household and flower departments. Years later, when I told her Kent and I were engaged, she told me I was a good fit. She said her earliest memory of my husband was watching him, as a young boy, carefully carrying his mother’s exquisite arrangements to the flower show.
The good times were Joe and Shirley’s vacation time. Others remember the breeze from the beach or the mountain air when reminiscing about family trips of the past. I dream of the scents of the Agricultural Hall that no longer exists at the Mercer County Fair Grounds. It was the essence of my mother, a down-to-earth smell of hard work, bountiful harvesting, and loving the soil of Mercer County.
When Joe and Shirley retired, they didn’t stop working, they had time to garden, mow and keep 3815 Kuhn Road in pristine condition. War has been declared on weeds. Each spring they planted vibrant annuals in an old manure spreader. It was a living, breathing artistic composition of colors and textures. Joe and Shirley spent hours and hours gardening and mowing the property including all the side ditches. 3815 Kuhn Road was an immaculate farmhouse with blooming flowers and a manicured lawn. Shirley raised onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, squash and other vegetables which they shared. Each fall, Shirley cleaned and glazed with lacquer huge quantities of pumpkins and gourds that she gave to her family and friends.
When Jerry moved to Columbus to practice cardiology, Joe and Shirley made weekly trips to help him. They went to Columbus every Thursday, and they never missed a Thursday. How fitting that this celebration of Shirley’s life takes place on a Thursday. Joe and Shirley did the grocery shopping, ran errands, brought him home-cooked meals and baked rolls for the week, mowed the lawn, and handed out tomatoes or squash to my brother’s friends and neighbors, depending on the season. Shirley also ironed my brother’s shirts. And she was a master with iron. No wrinkles. No creases. Just crisp, clean lines and enough fresh shirts to last until the following Thursday. Or longer.
When Jerry returned home to practice cardiology in Mercer County, they helped design, build, and operate his new practice, located just off 3815 Kuhn Road. During the construction of the office building, Joe and Shirley cleaned the project every night. The general contractor told my brother that he had never had such a clean site.
Once Jerry’s new office was up and running, Joe and Shirley opened the office every morning while my brother walked around the hospital. The young woman who never made it to nursing school made a big impact on the medical profession with all the help she and my dad gave my brother, Columbus and Celina. Jerry was able to focus on his role as a doctor because Shirley was ironing, cleaning, mowing, sweeping and doing whatever she could to help.
Shirley’s last years were a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. She wanted to stay in the only house she had ever known. I will be forever grateful to my brother, who became her caregiver and kept her safe and comfortable in his home. On July 15, 2022, my mother passed away at 3815 Kuhn Road, in the only home she had ever known, a place she had cherished for over 87 years – 87 years.
Shirley Boley knew that you don’t have to be worldly to be worldly. Just raise good kids, bake good enough cookies, and the world will come right to your kitchen window… at 3815 Kuhn Road.