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Memories hold many pictures of our city

Dick Pea shares some of his memories ofConnersville.

When a person reaches the age of 94 they are in a very select group of individuals, making up less than 3 percent of the population in the U.S. Most people can’t even imagine the year 1924, but Dick Pea can. It happens to be the year of his birth. He is a walking talking history of Connersville and knew personally, or was well aware of, many of the characters of the last century.

After meeting Richard Pea in 1982 as voting machine mechanics, it didn’t take long to realize that he had seen and done quite a lot. Then in his early 60s, it was quite noticeable that he was in great shape and always seemed much younger than his years. Three decades later he is driving and getting around like a champ.

A few Saturdays ago, we had a nice conversation as he kept us company at the Fayette County Historical Museum. I decided to write about a few of his memories.

Richard Pea was born on Dec. 23, 1924. Later this year he will turn 95. His father Howard was employed at McQuay-Norris. After high school he served in Italy in World War ll and temporarily lost his sight caused by dust from a German gunfire. After that he became an ambulance driver.

Once home he went to work for the fire department and was in the first two-man first aid unit duty with Charlie Hines. He later became employed at D&M Corp. and was the personal aide to company president Sam Regenstrief. He served on the Fayette County Council for a term in the 1970s and worked on the elections for over 30 years.

One of his early memories is of playing on the Kennedy Bridge that spanned the Whitewater River until the mid-1930s. He spoke about being able to lay on the walkway and seeing the river through the slat boards.

He also recalled riding the traction line to Rushville for a nickel to visit his grandparents. He said it was a great adventure to ride, and even made a trip to Indianapolis on it once. The traction line, or interurban as it was also called, was discontinued in the late 1930s as automobiles became prevalent.

He recalls making the trek to 18th Street on the west side of the canal to see the new Auburn automobiles line up and down the street, getting ready to be delivered.

Another early memory was getting to the Lyric Theatre that is now occupied by Republican Party headquarters, to watch Western movies if they had the money. The owner, Axle Pearson, would sometimes let them in for free if they didn’t have the price of admission.

He explained that he was on the scene at the total fire loss of the Auditorium theatre at 7th and Grand while a member of the first aid unit. He said Chief Callie Porter summoned him to operate the aerial ladder as he wasn’t busy on the unit.

As he remembers, and he prefaced this story that his memory is a shade fuzzy at 94, his first call at the new first aid unit was a fatality at Bunker Hill where a man had overturned a Hudson automobile and did not survive. Dick says the first ambulance was a 1956 Cadillac and was poorly equipped. The community donated everything from blankets to bandages to get them up and running.

His most interesting stories, however, were of Fritz Conwell. He and his father knew Fritz well and were welcomed in his home and painting shed in the back at any and all times. He also knew Fritz’s monkey Jimmy well. He said the monkey tried to bite everyone in sight except Fritz and Dick’s father, Howard. Jimmy was mostly kept in a cage by the time Dick became aware of him in the mid-1930s.

Fritz Conwell’s home was on the present-day site of the Eagles Lodge in the 800 block of North Eastern Avenue. Dick recalls a beautiful picture of Fritz’s mother Lina Conwell that hung over the door and was breathtaking.

Dick recalled to me a scene that I was quite captivated by. He remembered that in the coldest part of the winter, the canal would freeze over near what he called the midway. This is an area near what is now Quality Appliance owned by Scott and Missy Kavanaugh. Dick remembers that Fritz and his wife Lenora were quite talented ice skaters and would dance skate on the frozen canal as hundreds of people would line the canal banks to watch them in the wintery scene.

These are just a very few of the stories Dick told us on that spring Saturday morning. Listening to him painted a picture in our minds of our great little city that won’t soon be forgotten.

Brad Colter is superintendent of Connersville Utilities and president of Historic Connersville Inc. He writes Looking Back for the Connersville News-Examiner.