When my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack, my father Vernon Thomas became a widower. He soon found a friend in a local widow, Ruth Sprague (1925-1996).
Our family had known Ruth since we moved to Richwood, Ohio, in 1952. Like us, she attended the First Methodist Church; my mother was acquainted with her from the church choir and the Carpe Diem Club.
Ruth's parents were Jesse and Maude Roberts, who had a farm on the south edge of town. From 1954 to 1963, we lived in a house that we rented from Jesse. Then we built a new house, and Ruth's brother Russell became our neighbor.
Ruth was 16 years younger than my father. She married Harold Sprague in 1964, but he died in 1970.
After my father was widowed in 1982, Ruth and Vernon began spending a lot of time together. They dined together at a restaurant after Sunday church services, played cards, and went on senior-citizens bus tours. He advised her on investments and on buying her house at 116 East Blagrove Street.
In the fall of 1989, his 80th birthday was approaching. Ruth wanted to do something special, so she arranged a surprise party at her home. It was planned for Sunday afternoon, October 29, from 2:30 to 5:00.
The cake celebrated the fact that he'd been Richwood's Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealer for two decades before retiring.
In addition to local friends, Ruth arranged for folks to come up from Columbus, and she persuaded his brother and sister-in-law, Hubert and Martha Thomas, to make the 400-mile drive from Livermore, Kentucky. Below, Hubert and Vernon relax on the couch.
And then at 2:45, my father looked out the window and said in surprise, "Why, there's Tom!" Yes, his only son had made it to the party as well. Ruth had arranged with me to come to Richwood secretly. I had last been in town the week of October 9-13.
I'm on the right above, having just come in the door. On the left above, my father crosses the room to greet me. Below, we talk with my Uncle Hubert and Aunt Martha.
Other guests included Chancy and Elifrede Christy (in the foreground above) and Freda Kyle (clasping Vernon's hand below, with her daughter-in-law Pat in the background).
Bob Cheney (with the camera above) and his brother Gene were there as well.
Gene had been my father's office manager more than 20 years before, then moved a few counties north to become a dealer himself and go into local politics. This picture from 1965 shows him at the parts counter with pipe-smoking service manager Red Connolly.
My father had made a lot of friends, and they made that Sunday an afternoon to remember.