Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Harry S. Truman Library
DR. BROOKS: This is to be an interview with Miss Sue Gentry of the Independence Examiner, and longtime resident of Independence, about houses and buildings in the Truman neighborhood. We are doing this on Monday, August 30, 1971. [This interview was tape recorded while Miss Gentry and Dr. Philip C. Brooks, then Director of the Truman Library, drove through the area discussed in this transcript.]
MISS GENTRY: 620 North Delaware was the Cook home, the James L. Cook home. They had a shoe store here in Independence. Yes. The Godfrey Twachtman family has been here about 25 years. He came to Lake City to work and Mrs. Twachtman, who had lived in France, was one of our important interviewees in the Examiner because she had lived in France and had done volunteer Red Cross work there. He was in the French Army and they met and married there and came to America together.
This new house here (next north of 610 North Delaware) is the site of the John G. Paxton home. Mr. Paxton was a well-known attorney in Independence. The home, the property ran from Delaware back to Union Street. It had a beautiful flower garden and vegetable garden, which was the scene of many early day parties and festivities when the Paxton children lived there.
The home that Mrs. Truman grew up in was on the site of the Graham home, 610 North Delaware Street. The Paxton girls refer to playing with Bess Truman under a large oak tree in the yard. The tree is still where the Paxton and Wallace children played.
BROOKS: And did that go clear through to Union Street, that property too?
GENTRY: I believe it did.
BROOKS: Do you know how long the Wallace family lived there?
GENTRY: Until Mr. Wallace died, which was, in 1903, I think. Then Mrs. Wallace took her children to the family home of her parents at 219.
BROOKS: And the house on the corner, the J. D. Sellers have it now.
GENTRY: The house on the corner was the home of the William Bostian family for a good many years. The Bostian family lived there from the turn of the century until about 20 years ago, when Mrs. Bostian died.
BROOKS: It is obviously one of the older and more interesting homes in this area, isn't it?
GENTRY: Yes. And across the street is the Jennings home, at 510 North Delaware, built by Aaron F. Sawyer, a well-known banker in Independence. Mrs. Sawyer continued to live there until about 30 years ago when
she died and it was sold, and the Frank S. Jennings have lived there since.
BROOKS: That's the house that's said to have been designed by Stanford White, but I've heard people say that it wasn't true. Do you know?
GENTRY: No, not for sure. 511 North Delaware Street was the home of the William B. Duke family for a good many years. Next north of it was the home of the Pendleton family. Mr. P. D. Bush, who is the father of the Bush twins (Mrs. Carl Sapper, Jr., and Miss Virginia Bush) lived there. His first wife, I believe, was a Pendleton.
503 North Delaware Street was the home of the Olney Burrus family for a good many years. He was the father of Rufus Burrus.
BROOKS: He lived there a long time?
GENTRY: The family lived there for more than 50 years.
BROOKS: Now, Mr. Truman, in his Memoirs, refers to the Burruses as neighbors. Was that when the Burruses lived there?
GENTRY: No, that was another family that Mr. Truman refers to playing with when he was a boy. The families were relatives. Olney Burrus came up here from Blue Springs.
The next house, at 500 North Delaware Street, was built by Roy Layland, who was later president of the Chrisman-Sawyer Bank. It is built on a part of the
old Sawyer lot, which Mr. Layland acquired when the property was disposed of.
Mrs. Madeleine Etzenhouser lives at 426 North Delaware Street. Mrs. Etzenhouser was Margaret Truman's teacher when she was a student at the Bryant School. The family has always lived there many years. Mrs. Etzenhouser's parents, C. W. Kellys, bought that home a number of years ago and she has continued to live there since the death of her parents.
422 North Delaware Street is a home in which the W. H. Johnsons lived for a good many years. Professor Johnson was a pioneer school man in Jackson County. He was a former superintendent of schools at the Ruskin School District, and under his supervision the first consolidated school in Jackson County was organized.
The house at 423 North Delaware Street was built by Mr. Joe Bridges, who was a former president of the school board and a groceryman in Independence. Next door at 417, I believe it is, was the home of Mrs. J. Roger DeWitt, former Historical Society president. She lived there when she grew up. Her father was Bernard Zick, president of First National Bank and well-known Independence businessman.
Mrs. DeWitt said her grandfather, Joseph Mercer, bought the house which was one of the "Walnut Park" houses and moved it to that site. Her aunt, Annie, and her first husband, Ben Bartlett, lived there. After his death her grandfather gave the place to her mother on her marriage to her father, Bernard Zick, Jr.
The dark brown shingled house is the home of Mrs. Tom Twyman, widow of Dr. Tom Twyman, well-known Independence doctor. Dr. Twyman represented a fourth generation of doctors in Jackson County. Mrs. Twyman was the daughter of Chris Casper, an early day Independence merchant, who was in business with Mr. Walter Shimfessel. They had a store on the north side of the square. After Mrs. Twyman's father died, she and Dr. Twyman moved from over on North River Boulevard to this home to be with her mother, and she just continued to live here. The house was built by a Clark family who sold it to Casper.
408 North Delaware Street is the present home of the George McMahans. Mrs. McMahan was the wife of former superintendent of schools W. E. Matthews, and upon his death she married Mr. McMahan. The home was formerly that of the Bowdle family. I remember the girls were active in social events,
and one of them was a piano teacher here in Independence.
BROOKS: We lived here, at 408 North Delaware, in the spring of '57 for a short time. I was then told that it was built in 1874.
The next one, 400 North Delaware, we call the Truman Library dormitory because I think at least seventy-five visiting researchers have roomed there. Mrs. Howard Carvin, the owner, keeps a register and corresponds with many of them after they are away. I don't know much about the history of the house or how long Mrs. Carvin has lived there.
GENTRY: Before the Carvins, Mr. Jordan lived there. Mr. Jordan was a school teacher at Northeast High School in Kansas City. The old house which stood there before the bungalow was built was the home of the J. W. Robinson family.
The present home of Mr. and Mrs. L. L. Compton (Mr. Compton is better known as "Polly" Compton), a spacious rock home at 308 North Delaware Street, was built, I believe, by Mr. Sollars. His daughter was married to W. C. Dunn, Jr. Mr. Dunn bought the home from Mr. Sollars when he went back to Warrensburg to live, and the Dunns continued to live there until the death of Mr. Dunn, I believe, then they went to
Florida to live, and they have lived there since. Mr. Compton has owned it probably close to forty years now. A Miss Pittman, a school teacher, and her mother lived in the first small house there.
In the next home, the gray house at 403 North Delaware, the W. G. Charleton family, I believe, lived a good many years. Mr. Charleton sold real estate and insurance, and Mrs. Charleton was a well-known dressmaker in Independence. The two daughters both worked for Western Union here in Independence and in Kansas City. They sold the home about thirty-five years ago.
No. 319 belonged to the Triplett family. Who lived there before that, I don't know.
No. 315 North Delaware was the home many years of Dr. N. P. Wood, who was a well-known family doctor here in Independence. Following the death of Dr. Wood, Mrs. Wood sold the home to Mr. William A. Merrifield, who moved in from the country. His widow later married Rev. Lawrence Proctor, who was the pastor of the First Baptist Church here for a good many years.
No. 305 North Delaware Street, now belongs to the Presbyterian Church; it is the Presbyterian manse, occupied by Dr. Thomas Melton.
306 North Delaware Street is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sapper, Jr. and Mrs. Sapper's sister,
Miss Elizabeth Bush. The home had previously belonged to their parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. D. Bush, The Bushes acquired the home from the Buchanan family. An old home stood there before the Buchanans built the new Spanish-type home. The F. R. Allen family (Mr. Allen was a well-known real estate man here) occupied the old home there for a good many years before it was razed and this new home built.
304 North Delaware is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lucas Choplin. It formerly belonged to the McCullough family.
224 North Delaware Street is the house built about forty-five years ago, maybe a little longer, an older home there had belonged to the Slack family. The Slack family were well known in Independence, and merchants, I believe, up in the Square area.
The home at 220 is occupied now by Riley Winget. His sister, Miss Helen Winget, lives next door. The home in which Miss Winget lived was first owned by her aunt, Miss Mary O'Reilly. Miss Mary O'Reilly was a lawyer, and before she completed her law degree, was a secretary in the office of John G. Paxton, well-known lawyer in Independence. Miss O'Reilly worked in the office as secretary and then she earned her law degree and became a lawyer in her
The J. T. Noland family have owned the house at 216 North Delaware Street as long as I can remember. Mr. Noland was an insurance man and realtor with an office up on the Square. He had three daughters, Miss Nellie and Miss Ethel, who were both school teachers, and Mrs. Ruth Ragland, who was the mother of Mrs. Haukenberry, whom we know and who is active in the Historical Society. Mrs. J. T. Noland was Miss Truman. She was a sister of President Truman's father and was quite affectionately known as "the Truman aunt" all during Mr. Truman's administration. She was the center of much news activity. All the news people who came here went to see Mrs. Noland, and visited with her daughters. Miss Ethel Noland was the family genealogist, and she is the one who supplied the Truman family background when Mr. Truman suddenly became President.
BROOKS: I think that this house, in connection with Mr. Truman, is one of the most historically important houses in town. He has been there many times. As recently as six or eight years ago I was there with him at a meeting of the Browning Society.
GENTRY: The property at 200 North Delaware Street, now
owned by the RLDS Church and the Center Stake Headquarters for the church, was formerly the property of the Watson Memorial Methodist Church. That church was there from the 1880s until about 1966, when the property was disposed of and the congregation joined with Christ Methodist Church here in Independence. The church which was razed was built about 1884. It was remodeled about 1903. Behind it was the Methodist parsonage. The old Methodist parsonage was on Maple Avenue, where there is now a parking lot. Later on the parsonage was moved around here on the Delaware Street side in the house which was on the corner of the alley here.
BROOKS: But when we came in 1957, the minister, Howard Woodruff, lived in a house on the Maple Street location.
GENTRY: The house next to the Truman home on the alley once belonged to the Winder family. He had a plumbing business here in Independence.
The home of Mrs. C. H. Allen and the late Dr. Allen, on the northeast corner of Maple and Delaware, was formerly occupied by Mrs. E. K. Crow and her late husband and son. This is the house referred to in Margaret Truman's book, Souvenir. She and the four Allen girls were near the same age, and she refers
to the four girls and to the home, and the good times they had as children.
William Chrisman High School, on the south side of Maple Avenue, built in 1918, was named for William Chrisman because his daughter, the late Mrs. Logan Swope, gave the old Chrisman home, which stood next to the school where the Maple Wood Apartments now stand -- she gave that property to the school board with the understanding that it be named for her father. The old mansion, the old Chrisman mansion was razed, and another addition of the high school was built there. Margaret Truman was a student there.
The large mansion-styled house at 522 West Maple Avenue was once the home of C. C. Chiles. C. C. Chiles was the president of the Bank of Independence. He died about 1920. The Examiner story of his death said he was the richest man in Jackson County. He owned thousands of acres of land in Jackson County. at the time of his death. One of his granddaughters lives up in Kansas City at Vista Del Rio. Her name is Hill. I've talked to her several times about a story and asked her if she had any pictures or anything. I haven't gotten with her yet, but I'm going to. Judge Henry Bundschu told me that Mr. Chiles did not build the house, that the first man who lived
in it was an agent at the Missouri Pacific Depot -- the first agent when the depot came through here, which was some time in the 1880s.
Mr. C. C. Chiles was one of the older members of a large family. Judge Bundschu told me that Mr. C. C. Chiles, who I believe was a millionaire, had a reputation for being a little tight and he would try to take advantage of people. When some of his neighbors were watering their lawns, like Mrs. Mize or somebody, he would get them to water over on his side, if he could. The Chiles home once had an ornate iron fence around it. Judge Bundschu and I were wondering the other day what became of it, and he may have a little more information on it. It might be good to follow through on that.
Next door, where Dr. Hickerson has his office today, was the R. D. Mize home. R. D. Mize was a judge of the county court and a partner in the Mize Drug Store on the south side of the Square. Judge Mize, an uncle of Mize Peters', has a road named for him which runs out east of Independence.
The Wallace family were members of the Presbyterian Church at Lexington and Pleasant Streets, for a good many years, and Mrs. Truman grew up in the church and went to Sunday School there. Mr. Truman,
who, at the time he lived out on West Waldo, for some reason or other went to the Presbyterian Sunday School, although he...traditionally the family were Baptists. I've heard him tell the story, and I'm sure the rest of you have, how he met the little girl with the golden curls and the blue eyes at Sunday School.
The Memorial Building, at Pleasant Street and Maple, was built by the City of Independence, as a memorial to the war dead of World War I. The American Legion, the Tirey J. Ford Post of American Legion, had its headquarters there. The American Legion boys were quite active in decorating the building and furnishing it in the early days. The architect for the building was the late Lon Gentry, who was also an architect for the Truman Library and was a longtime friend of Mr. Truman's. The Memorial Building is important historically, too, because it was here that Harry S. Truman held the only presidential press conference the city has ever known when he came home for the first time as President of the United States, June 26, 1945. There is a table in the building that Mr. Truman used when he presided over the press conference.
BROOKS: Did you work in that building when you were with
the Chamber of Commerce?
GENTRY: Yes. The Chamber of Commerce was the first organization to have its office in the Memorial Building. The American War Mothers, in those days the War Mothers Chapter was organized by the mothers of the American Legion boys -- all those original members are now gone.
BROOKS: I'm not sure how many people in Independence knew it, but from the fall of 1954, until the spring of 1957, the Truman papers, which are now the heart of the collection of this Truman Library, were in the basement and sub-basement of the Memorial Building. I thought it was a horrible firetrap.
GENTRY: The old Independence High School stood on the site of the present Palmer Junior High School. It was built some time in the late 1890s. The bonds for the new high school were voted some time in late 1898 or 9, and Mr. Truman and Charles Ross, who later became his presidential press secretary, were in high school then. They were sophomores, perhaps, or maybe freshmen. They went out, although they weren't old enough to vote, they went out and worked in behalf of the bond issue. They were mighty pleased when the bonds passed. The school was finished in time for Mr. Truman and Mr. Ross and Mrs. Truman, the former Bess Wallace, who was a member of this
famous class of 1901, for them to finish their senior year and to graduate from that school.
BROOKS: Is that where the library was in which Mr. Truman said he read every book, the library that served the town as well as the school?
GENTRY: Yes. Attached to the school building on the north was the library, a two-story building. It housed, besides the library, the office of the superintendent of schools. The upper floor had space for the art and manual training classes. Miss Carrie Wallace, who was a cousin of Mrs. Truman, was the librarian in this library for a good many years, and Mr. Truman has often said that he had read every book in that library.
The old high school building was destroyed by fire in 1939 and was rebuilt. When the new high school was built, it became a junior high school, and was named for Professor W. L. C. Palmer and his wife, the late Mrs. W. L. C. Palmer, Ardelia Palmer, who was one of Mr. Truman's favorite teachers when he was in high school.
The First Baptist Church is one of the older buildings here in the community. It originally was built on this site in 1884 and was destroyed by fire and later rebuilt. The Nolands, Mr. Truman's cousins,
were lifelong members here. Mr. Truman never was a member here, he never affiliated with this church. He attended a Baptist church in Grandview, and I don't know that he ever went to church here.
Now the site of the parking lot for the Baptist Church, north of the church on Pleasant Street, was the home of Dr. George T. Twyman, who was the father of Dr. Tom and Dr. Elmer Twyman, and the grandfather of Dr. Richard Twyman, who now practices in Kansas City. They were five generations. Dr. Richard Twyman represents the fifth generation of Twyman doctors in Jackson County.
407 North Pleasant Street was once the Compton home. Judge James C. Compton, who was a former county court judge, lived there. It has recently belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Garvin Dyer, who have remodeled it.
Next to that is the J. C. Noel home. The Noel family lived there a good many years. Before that it had been the home of Mrs. Noel's aunt and grandfather, Mr. Hearnes. Mr. Hearnes wrote a history of Independence that a number of people have inquired about. I have never seen one, but I have heard people inquire and is something the Examiner printed. If there are any copies of it, I have never seen it.
406 North Pleasant Street was the home of Mrs. W. L. C. Palmer. The family still owns it. The Palmers lived there for a good many years, all the years that Mr. Palmer was superintendent of the Independence schools and while Mrs. Palmer was a teacher in the Independence High School.
415 North Pleasant Street is the home of Miss Bess Raymond. It belonged to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. O. J. Raymond. Her father was a well-known businessman here.
The house at 300 North Pleasant Street, at the corner of Truman Road, is the N. D. Jackson home. Major Jackson was a World War I veteran, a well-known Independence businessman. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Jackson, I believe, had lived here before him. The home is still owned by Mrs. Jackson, who is now in a rest home in the St. Louis area, where her two sons, Lane and John Jackson live. Lane Jackson came here recently, just last week, and conducted a sale here, and a good many of the family pieces of furniture and glassware and interesting antiques were purchased by antique lovers throughout Independence and are now in other homes. Lane Jackson told me that he had some things to give to the Historical Society; among them, a Bingham print and a number
of other papers and things that he would see that we got.
The homes at 601 and 605 West Truman Road were occupied by the late George P. Wallace, who lived at 605 and Frank D. Wallace, who lived at 601. Both are now deceased. Mrs. George P. Wallace, the former Mary Southern, still lives in the home at 605. The one at 601, which was occupied by the Frank Wallaces, is still owned by the family, I believe, but Mrs. Wallace is gone too. When the boys grew up and were married, I understand that they were given these lots to build their homes.
610 West Truman Road was formerly the Baldus home, and later it was purchased by the First Baptist Church and used as the parsonage.
At 821 West White Oak was the home of the Chiles family. Mr. Chiles, who was known as Buzz Chiles, I believe, came from the Fort Osage area and moved in to town here. He had a number of daughters and sons, among whom were Morton Chiles and Henry P. Chiles. In Mr. Truman's Memoirs, he speaks of playing baseball in the lot across the street (back of where the Trumans lived) with the Chiles boys. Miss Janie Chiles, who was one of Mr. Truman's teachers, lived here, and Miss Chiles was on a television program
after Mr. Truman became President. She told about teaching Mr. Truman and remembering when they used to play here, on the north side of White Oak. Miss Chiles said that she never would have picked Mr. Truman out for a President in those days. Henry P. Chiles, who was the father of General John Chiles, or Jack Chiles, as he is better known by the home folks, lived next door there at 901 West Waldo.
909 West Waldo is the home Mr. Truman lived in when he was a young man attending the old Ott School. After he became President, one of his favorite walking places was West Waldo, where, when he walked up around the corner here, he always pointed to this house as one of his boyhood homes. This is where there was a vacant lot behind, and that's where the boys played a lot of baseball. Mr. Henry Chiles always said, "Well, Harry wore thick glasses and he didn't play with us very much. He always had his music roll, but sometimes he would surprise the boys and get into a baseball game."
At the Buckley home here at 820 West Waldo, the Flournoy family lived for a good many years. The carriage house next door is now owned by Arthur O'Leary, or Pat O'Leary, who is a well-known decorator in the greater Kansas City area, and he made
the carriage house into a very attractive home.
The Waldo Avenue Baptist Church is located on the site of a home occupied by a member of the McCoy family. It was razed to make room for the church.
Across the street here is the block which was once occupied by Woodland College, the whole block. The house at 800 West Waldo was built by Professor George Bryant, who was president of Woodland College for a good many years. His grandson, Albert M. Ott, Jr. lives next door now in the home that his parents, the Albert Otts, lived in. Albert Ott has a rather unique position in that both of his grandfathers have schools named for them. The Bryant Elementary School, which is now located on the Woodland College site and Ott School, which was first on the corner of College and Liberty Street.
The house at 826 North Delaware Street is on the site of the J. N. Hanthorn home. Mr. Hanthorn was a principal of William Chrisman High School here for a period of twenty years, and later served as assistant superintendent of schools. Before the Hanthorns lived there, a number of years ago, a family named Pipps lived there.
NOTE: Miss Gentry suggests that valuable information about this neighborhood is given in a two-part article, "Remembering Delaware Street," by Elizabeth Paxton Forsling, Jackson County Historical Society Journal, Vol. III, No. 8, May 1962, pp. 7-12; and Vol. IV, No. 12, November 1963, pp. 6-11; with supplement by Lewis McCoy, Vol. V, No. 13, March 1964, pp. 13 and 16. There are also articles dealing with the Choplin house at 700 North Delaware, and with the Twyman family. Further information about the part of Delaware Street near U.S. 24 Highway could, perhaps, be obtained from Mrs. Leonard Trenchard, who is the daughter of J. N. Hanthorn.
Philip C. Brooks
FUCHS: Sue, why don't you give us a little bit of your background; when and where you were born, and how you happened to come to Independence; and some of your educational accomplishments, perhaps, until the time you started with the newspaper. Then we can go on from there.
GENTRY: Well, I am a native of Independence; lived here all of my life. I first remember hearing about Mr. Truman when I was quite small. He was running for county eastern judge, and one of the neighbors told me, "Tell your father to vote for Truman, he's a good man." He did, and Mr. Truman won, and from that day I was always interested in Harry Truman.
I always read the Independence Examiner. I was interested in history, as my parents were, and we
talked about the town, and Jackson County. I never dreamed, of course, that someday I would be working on the Examiner.
I did all of my schooling in Independence and graduated from William Chrisman High School and went to Junior College in Kansas City. During 1928-29 I was working at the Chamber of Commerce, and Colonel [William N.] Southern, who was the editor and founder of the Independence Examiner in 1898, would come to the office and talk to me and I would give him news sometimes.
He told me that he was looking for a girl to do items in the Examiner office; that he wanted a girl of average intelligence, that he could train to suit himself. Someone recommended me, and I went to see him, and he agreed to try me out for three months. It wasn't until ten years later that I spoke to him about whether he was going to keep me on or not, and he said well, he ought to try me awhile longer.
FUCHS: Now this was in the summer of when?
GENTRY: I went to work for the Examiner March 1, 1929.
FUCHS: Oh, then you were still in college?
GENTRY: No, I didn't go anymore, I just went two years . . .
FUCHS: Two years to Junior College.
GENTRY: . . . to Junior College and decided I would work for awhile. Went to work at the Examiner in '29 and stayed with Mr. Southern for 27 years, until the Examiner was sold in '51. Then when the Examiner was sold in '51, I went along with the paper, and I retired in '73.
FUCHS: But he had hired you on a contingency basis.
GENTRY: He did.
FUCHS: How did that work out.
GENTRY: Well, it worked out pretty good. When the three months were up I loved it. The first day I was there and I saw an item on the front page I had written, I thought, "I'll work here even if they don't pay me." And I really loved it and it seemed like it was natural for me, because I had a good memory. I wasn't smart but I had a good memory and that helped. Mr. Truman was County Judge when I went to work at the Examiner. He was Presiding Judge, and he was in and out of the office every day. Colonel Southern had a family connection. Mrs. Truman's brother was married to Mr. Southern's daughter.
FUCHS: This is William N. Southern.
GENTRY: William Southern, Colonel William Southern. He was a good family friend, and in those days, no one ever ran for office or started a new business or did anything that they didn't come in and consult with Colonel Southern. So Mr. Truman was among those who came in to consult with Mr. Southern and get his support. I never dreamed at that time, or I never presumed, that I would ever be smart enough to write a story about the County Court or anything Mr. Truman was doing. And it never occurred to me that someday I might go to Washington and cover one of his press conferences.
FUCHS: Now, he ran for County Judge the second time, as Presiding, in 1930. Do you recall him coming in to see Colonel Southern at that time?
GENTRY: He was elected Eastern Judge in 1922; was defeated in 1924; and ran for Presiding Judge in 1926.
FUCHS: And then he came back and ran again for a second term in 1930, and you would have started at the Examiner, and that is why I say, do you recall him coming in to see Colonel Southern?
GENTRY: Yes, I recall him coming in to see Colonel Southern when he was Presiding Judge.
FUCHS: Do you have any recollections of Colonel
Southern when he was Presiding Judge.
FUCHS: Do you have any recollections of Colonel Southern mentioning, in the pre-1930 election, Mr. Truman?
GENTRY: No, I really don't. Colonel Southern was a Democrat and always supported Democrats; that is unless they did something that was against his principles and then he might write something about the Democrats, and the Republicans would come in and throw both arms around him; but the Colonel couldn't stand that, so the next day he would say something about the Republicans.
We had stories--I've looked over the files--and while I hadn't written any of those about the County Court, I read them all. I remember Judge Truman, his campaign for good roads throughout Jackson County and Missouri, and the remodeling of the Courthouse on the Square. He had trouble with strikes and he was able to handle those situations and handle all that building. And I remember his interest in history, particularly, in preserving the central core of the old courthouse to be sure it was incorporated in the new courthouse and how he--the dedication came about the time that he was running for the Senate.
GENTRY: Well, he was thinking about campaigning; there was a lot of talk. The courthouse was dedicated in '33, September '33, and I believe he was elected in '34. So, the campaign talk was going on; and there was some talk, I know, once of him running for Governor, but it ended up by him running for the Senate.
FUCHS: He was supposed to have had the new congressional district in mind, too, at that time. Do you recall anything about that aborted governorship candidacy, where he was being boosted for Governor?
GENTRY: No, I really don't. You know, I've read it again and been reminded of it, but really as far as anything real personal about that, I really don't.
FUCHS: Do you recall the first story you ever wrote featuring Senator Truman, or President Truman, or whatever he was, about whatever it was?
GENTRY: Well, I think I really was more concerned with Mrs. Truman at that time, because . . .
FUCHS: When he was County Judge?
GENTRY: Yes. When he was County Judge, Mrs. Truman was secretary of the Needlework Guild, a women's organization that collected new good clothing,
bedding, and underclothing for needy people, and she came in and gave her report every year and I would take it, and if I were busy she would wait. I became real well acquainted with her, and when they went to Washington I remember when Margaret christened the Missouri, that Mrs. Truman wrote me a letter and told me all about it, and I had a story about that; and I still have the letter. But the most stories that I have written about Mr. Truman was after he was President because I was City Editor of the Examiner at that time, and directing the coverage, and we put out a special edition at the time he was elected President. He would come to the Examiner office and take his walks and so that was my connection. But my closest connection with Mr. Truman came after he came home, after he had finished his Presidency and had come home.
FUCHS: Well, to go back to when he was a Judge. Did you write any stories about road projects, or that sort of thing? You weren't in that phase of the operation?
GENTRY: No. I wasn't in that class; I started the Examiner as the girl to do items.
FUCHS: As the what, girl to do items?
GENTRY: I started as a reporter to do items.
FUCHS: I see.
GENTRY: So I was satisfied to do items, but I moved along. I kept moving along until the war came along and James Allen Southern, who was Colonel Southern's nephew, went to a job in a defense plant; they didn't have anybody else, so they made me City Editor.
FUCHS: Oh, he was City Editor?
FUCHS: Did Colonel Southern have any sons?
GENTRY: No, he had two daughters. And then this was Judge Southern's son.
FUCHS: Judge Southern, what was his first name?
GENTRY: Judge Allen C. Southern. This is James Allen Southern, who was Colonel Southern's nephew, and he was a journalism school graduate. He had the desk book that gave all the rules, and I learned all the rules real fast. I was really doing items and then I just kept going from there.
FUCHS: How large was the reportorial staff of the Examiner when you started there?
GENTRY: Oh, probably about four or five reporters. Colonel Southern's son-in-law, Edward Carnes, was on the staff then, and that is John Carnes' grandfather.
FUCHS: Oh, he's dead now?
FUCHS: Well, this Needlework Guild, did this name imply they did work on it, or just collected?
GENTRY: Well, it was a national organization and I think in the olden days, the women probably had made things themselves, but at the time that I remember, they would buy sheets and pillow cases and underwear, and warm clothing for needy people.
FUCHS: They bought it rather than collected it?
GENTRY: Yes, in that day. I think, originally, when it started out, they made them.
FUCHS: I see.
GENTRY: Mrs. Truman, of course, was the secretary of that and that's when I first got acquainted with her.
FUCHS: What do you recall about the judgeship days, when Mr. Truman was forwarding the road project and the
eleemosynary projects and so forth? Anything occur to you that you heard, or Colonel Southern remarked about--such as Pendergast?
GENTRY: No, but he [Truman] was held in great esteem by hundreds of people, and as you know, Independence and Jackson County has always been a Democratic stronghold--that is in the old days. You don't know what anybody is now.
FUCHS: Of course, those were the days of Pendergast and the, what, the Shannon Rabbits, and the Pendergast Goats?
GENTRY: Yes, I remember the rivalry between the Goats and the Rabbits, but I never really could figure in out. I don't know. My father was always a Democrat and of course, I was, too; but I never did know the difference really between the Shannonites and the Pendergast people.
FUCHS: You just considered yourself a Democrat.
GENTRY: That's right.
FUCHS: Just voted a straight ticket?
GENTRY: When I became City Editor, Colonel Southern said to me, "Now, you know when you're editing the paper you've got to be open-minded, and you mustn't take
sides on anything." So, I remember one time we had a real hot city campaign and the Democrats and Republicans had a rival for Mayor against Mayor [Roger] Sermon, and some man who was new in town said, "I think Miss Gentry is a Republican." He said, "She gives the Democrats a story on this side of the front page one day and the Republicans a story on the other side the next day, and both the same length, and they never did used to do that. So I think she's a Republican." I told this to one of my Democrat friends, and I said, "Well, that's the greatest compliment I've ever had" (as an editor).
FUCHS: How does the City Editor decide the space that will be allotted to a story? I mean the position on the front page and so forth. Also, the prominence and headlines and so forth?
GENTRY: I gave the assignments, and wrote the heads, and went downstairs and helped make up the paper, that I wanted this on the front page and this someplace else. Of course, the space that we get is guided by the advertising, because if the advertising doesn't pay, why the paper doesn't run. So sometimes we would lose; sometimes we would have more copy than we could use, because the ads came first.
FUCHS: Well, was Colonel Southern active in politics in
any way other that just his support being solicited, of course?
GENTRY: He never ran for office. He never believed that a newspaperman had any business accepting a public office, because then he said he couldn't be fair in his news reporting; he would be bound to be biased. He always said that, and when he told me that I must be open-minded, that went for all of the reporters but Colonel Southern.
I remember one time, Bud Porter, who was the reporter for the Kansas City Star, asked me about a story, and I said, "Well, didn't you see the story Colonel Southern had yesterday?"
And he said, "Yes, but I can't write a story like Colonel Southern." Colonel Southern editorialized in his stories, but nobody else could do that. But it was his paper.
FUCHS: Yes. What were his antecedents as far as his family and . . .
GENTRY: Well, his father [John Nelson Southern] had been a confederate soldier and was injured in battle [See Appendix I for a brief biography of John N. Southern]. They came from Morristown, Tennessee and he was injured in a battle and was a cripple for life. The
family came to Jackson County and the elder Southern was a lawyer, but he wasn't able to practice, at first, because he refused to take the oath to the Government. And he couldn't teach school, so he started a newspaper.
FUCHS: But not the Examiner.
GENTRY: Not the Examiner; it was the Sentinel.
FUCHS: In Independence?
GENTRY: In Independence.
FUCHS: About what year?
GENTRY: Right after the Civil War [in 1868]. So his son, Colonel Southern, was a Confederate and he was a Democrat. He was born in Tennessee, and in his writings he tells a story about his mother being on a mattress in the house and the bullets in the war going through the house and he was being born on a mattress. So, he really went through the Civil War.
FUCHS: What year did Colonel Southern die?
GENTRY: He died in 1956. I think he was 91.
FUCHS: Lived a long life. When did he take over the paper?
GENTRY: He started the newspaper in '98 and he started it because a judge of the County Court was running a newspaper and he was doing it for political gain and . . .
FUCHS: The Examiner?
GENTRY: No, not the Examiner; this was the Sentinel.
FUCHS: Oh, he took over from Colonel Southern's father? [John N. Southern resigned as editor of the Sentinel in 1879.]
GENTRY: I don't know whether he took over from him, but, anyway, at that time, Judge Chrisman, George Chrisman, was running the Sentinel and he also was a County Court judge. This was the cause of Colonel Southern's lifelong aversion to a newspaperman having a part in politics, because he said he was using the paper for his political gain; and Colonel Southern left the paper. He was working on the paper, I believe, and he started this other paper because of that.
FUCHS: His father had died by then?
GENTRY: No, I don't believe he had. He didn't die until in the 1920's, I believe, his father. [John N. Southern died on May 20, 1920, at the age of 82.]
FUCHS: Was he still interested in the Sentinel?
GENTRY: No. No, he was practicing law by then, and he was the attorney for the Temple Lot people down here, you know, when they won that suit. They took it to the Supreme Court and they got that Temple Lot grounds.
FUCHS: Some of these things I realize are already in print, but to get it in one place in this context is good. I just feel we ought to have a little more about Colonel Southern. How long did the Sentinel and the Examiner run concurrently?
GENTRY: The Sentinel was never anything but a weekly, I believe. The Examiner started out in '98 as a weekly, and in 1905 it became a daily.
FUCHS: There were the two. There was the Sentinel . . .
GENTRY: And the Sentinel lost ground from then on.
FUCHS: When did it go defunct?
GENTRY: Well, finally the Wolf's down in Blue Springs had it, and then they went out of business. You know, they had that weekly paper down there, and it's gone.
FUCHS: I see. Did the Examiner ever publish on Sunday?
GENTRY: No, never. It was six days a week and still is six days a week, except that they do the Saturday morning paper on Friday night now.
FUCHS: But the Colonel never ran for office. Did he participate in politics?
GENTRY: Never. He was always behind the scenes. He was the power behind that scenes. Nobody ran for office that they didn't come in and talk to him about it. Colonel Southern and Mr. Rucker, who was his partner, sold the paper in 1951 [to Stauffer Publications] and Colonel Southern was invited to continue to write his column "Solomon Wise," and he did so for awhile. He would come in the office and I could see he just didn't have much to say, because people then were coming in to see the new editor. It just wasn't long before he told somebody, "You know, I never should have sold the Examiner." But you see, he was nearly 90, I believe, when they sold the paper, or in his late eighties, and it just sort of killed him off when nobody came and asked his advice about anything anymore. He just didn't feel important.
FUCHS: Yes, apparently. What was his relationship with the Sermons?
GENTRY: Well, he and Rog Sermon were good friends, and he always stood by Sermon on anything that he did. Sermon, Roger Sermon, was a good mayor. He operated the city on a businesslike basis and got that light plant started down there, and it paid off and did a lot of things for the city. I remember one year at Christmas time they gave all the customers their light bill free as a Christmas gift. Another thing. You see, Mayor Sermon was, as I say, a good businessman. He had this light plant operating on a very sound basis, and after his death, and when Bob [Robert P., Jr.] Weatherford became mayor, this light plant fund was in such good shape that that money was used to help buy land for the Truman Library. So that's the story, you know.
FUCHS: Weatherford succeeded Sermon and then was there a William Sermon that succeeded Weatherford, or was there another mayor?
GENTRY: It was William Sermon.
FUCHS: By that time Colonel Southern was dead, I guess.
GENTRY: Roger Sermon died in 1950, and Colonel Southern didn't die until 1956.
FUCHS: Well, Weatherford was mayor when I came out here and I forget when Mayor William Sermon came in.
GENTRY: William Sermon? Let's see. I guess I don't know either, but Curry was elected in 1960, so it must have been '58.
FUCHS: Who was elected in '60?
GENTRY: L. F. P. Curry.
FUCHS: Well, Weatherford was still mayor in '57 and if Southern died in '56, he never saw William Sermon as mayor.
GENTRY: That's right, because Weatherford was mayor when we dedicated the Library. And I think it was '58 when Bill Sermon was elected.
FUCHS: What is the background of Roger Sermon? Was he Independence born?
GENTRY: He was an Independence native, about a fourth or fifth generation Jackson Countian. One of his ancestors, a Todd, was a member of the City Council, I believe. Rog Sermon, of course, grew up in Independence, and was in the war with Mr. Truman, not in the same battery, but in the war with Mr. Truman. Then he came home and was elected mayor in '24, and served, as you know, almost 25 years.
FUCHS: The traditional story about Mr. Truman running in '22 you have read and heard about, I'm sure. What
is your understanding of the true story on how he got into politics?
GENTRY: Well, all I know really is what I have read.
FUCHS: You don't have any other information from talking to any of the veterans, or the people who were involved at the time?
GENTRY: I always believed the story Mr. Truman told about how he first met Tom Pendergast's nephew, because he was in the service with him, and that he introduced him to Tom Pendergast. That's the story that I have always heard, and I think it's probably right.
FUCHS: What were Colonel Southern's views of Pendergast? Do you recall any anecdotes or recollect anything about that?
GENTRY: I really don't. If I would read Colonel Southern's column I would recall something I'm sure. The Colonel, he was fearless. He didn't mind saying what he thought about someone, such as Tom Pendergast. Also I remember the day that Mr. Truman came in the office, after he was made the Vice-Presidential candidate, and talked to Mr. Southern, and Mr. Southern said, "Harry, I can't support you. I can't go along with Roosevelt for a fourth term,
so I can't support you."
And Mr. Truman said, "Very well, that's your privilege," and he forgave the Colonel. But some, like George Wallace, never did forgive the Colonel.
FUCHS: Well, did Colonel Southern take a stand against a third term?
GENTRY: I don't believe he did as vehemently as he did to that fourth term.
FUCHS: Which is rather strange, don't you think?
GENTRY: I can't remember. I'm sure that he probably had some misgivings about it. But I know about the fourth term, he said, "We've had it; now we can't have that anymore." He told Harry Truman, his good friend and connected by family, that he could not support him. And I remember Mr. Truman didn't hold any hard feelings; if he did he didn't show them. And when he became President, he had the first press conference, the only press conference we ever had in Independence, up at the Memorial Building. I remember we were all in there sitting down, and Mr. Truman was at this little table and Charlie Ross was there, and everybody was there, and the President looked around and he said, "Where's Colonel Southern, is he here?"
And we said, "Well, he's coming."
And he said, "Well, we'll wait a few minutes."
And so pretty soon the Colonel strolled in and took a seat in the back row. So some of the big city newspapermen said to me later, "Well, can you imagine that, holding up the press conference for the hometown editor?" But that went clear back to the time he ran for office the first time, how he always depended on the Colonel to support him, and he still had this high regard for Mr. Southern.
FUCHS: Well, let's see, in '48 then, certainly the Colonel supported him.
GENTRY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And then after he became president, you know, he said the country was in good hands, because Harry Truman was an honorable man.
FUCHS: I was just rather surprised. It seemed to me that the third term was the one which people really opposed and then the fourth, of course, came up during the war, and there was the slogan, "Don't change horses in mid-stream." There seemed to be less opposition, as I recall it, to the fourth than the third.
GENTRY: It may be that I just am not really remembering that, but I know all through those years, the later
years, Colonel Southern did have some things to say about Mr. Roosevelt.
FUCHS: He may have had good reason for not opposing him for a third term, other than constitutional grounds, and then said we have had enough.
GENTRY: Well, being a Democrat, the Colonel had a hard time with [Wendell] Willkie. I think he would have had a hard time supporting a Republican.
FUCHS: But did he come back and support Dewey in '44?
GENTRY: No, I just think we sort of laid low. I remember that day when Mr. Truman came in the office and walked out, and he had told him.
FUCHS: What do you recall of the opposition to President Truman locally? There certainly must have been some powerful Republicans.
GENTRY: There weren't. Of course, there was some opposition to him, naturally, but you know, to say you knew the President made the Republicans forget.
FUCHS: Let's start with, say, Truman for Senator. Who were the ones who seemed to be leading the opposition in this town?
GENTRY: Well, I can't remember like I used to. But there
was Arthur McKim, and Harry Sturges, and Harvey Roney who were good Republican leaders, and they carried on. Harry Sturges, of course, was an American Legion friend, and they all had been friends of Mr. Truman's. But the Republicans, well, they never got anyplace in city government, as you know, here in Independence all those years. Roger Sermon bucked them all those years. The only way the Republicans got in is when they joined with some renegade Democrats and formed the Good Government League. That's the only way the Republicans got in.
FUCHS: Used the right title. What about Spencer Salisbury? Did you ever meet him?
GENTRY: Yes, I hate to say, you know; I hate to get into this.
FUCHS: Well, if there is something you want to say and if you want to close it until after you're gone, whatever you want, if it's worth preserving . . .
GENTRY: He never was a very loveable character. You know, when the name was mentioned, I thought "Well, there's a shady deal," and I think everybody thought so. I remember when William Bradford [Huie], who was a writer, came to Independence and he came up to
the Examiner office. Someone had sent him out from the [Kansas City] Star; he was a very debonair man and had a charming face, with a charming smile, and he said, "I'm here to do a story about you guess who."
I said, "Well, I suppose Mr. Truman."
He said, "Now, I don't want any of that Pollyanna stuff about Truman. I know all that. " He said, "I want some dirt."
I said, "Sir, if I knew any dirt about Mr. Truman I would certainly not tell you."
And he said, "I can believe that." So then we got into conversation. He told me, "I'm known as a rat," and he told me some stories that he had done down South--he was from Alabama--about "Kissin' Jim," who was the Governor down there.
GENTRY: Yes. He told me how the Governor had some relationship with some girl, and he followed her around and he wrote this story, you know. He said, "I'm a rat," and he wanted a lot of dirty stuff.
Well, I wouldn't tell him anything about Mr. Truman, I mean anything detrimental--well, I didn't know anything detrimental about Mr. Truman. Even Judge Bundschu, you know, always had a little party
and invited people down, and he had people who were friends of Mr. Truman's. Well, anyway, he [William Bradford Huie] finally got hold of Spencer Salisbury, and he told him a whole lot of stuff about the family and about, you know, the mortgage on the farm and all that sort of thing. Then he came out with this sensational article, you remember in Cosmopolitan [William Bradford Huie, "The Terrible-Tempered Mr. Truman," Cosmopolitan, April 1951].
GENTRY: Oh, I still have that.
FUCHS: I'll have to look that up.
GENTRY: All right. And he talked about Mrs. Truman (Harry Truman's mother), called her "Old Miz Truman" you know, and all that sort of thing. And then I remember the letter that Rufus Burrus wrote. He brought it in to me and I made an article on the front page of the paper, and gave it double head.
FUCHS: This was Burrus' refutation of Huie's article in Cosmopolitan, right? He wrote about the article?
GENTRY: Yes. He wrote about the article. You know Rufus Burrus?
FUCHS: Very well.
GENTRY: So that made a good story, I thought.
FUCHS: Well, Spencer Salisbury, of course, had kind of a reputation such as you describe. The one thing that I've heard alluded to that brought him to the breaking point was his involvement in a little bank scandal when Mr. Truman was Senator; I think he just said the investigation was needed and he forwarded it. Of course, it wasn't really a big deal, I believe it was some kind of a . . .
GENTRY: They were in this building and loan together.
FUCHS: Community Savings and Loan, I believe it was called.
GENTRY: And then there was the Citizen's Bank, too, over there, and they were involved in that. But, see, they had been good friends all through the war.
FUCHS: Did you know Spencer Salisbury personally? I believe I asked you that before.
GENTRY: Yes, I remember him. He had been in the office and I remember him. Of course, now his sister, Mrs. Mary Bostian is a good friend of mine, Mrs. Kenneth Bostian; and then there's Mary Pearl Hare, his daughter, who is a good friend of mine.
FUCHS: Mrs. Kenneth Bostian was his sister?
GENTRY: His sister, yes.
FUCHS: That was the Bostian that had, what was it, the Chevrolet Agency?
FUCHS: Was Bostian a veteran? How did he relate to Truman in any way?
GENTRY: Well, he was in the regiment, not in the same battery, but they all went to war together.
FUCHS: In the regiment.
GENTRY: And American Legion. Of course, President Truman was always a member of the American Legion, but he was never a commander. They said it was because he held a political office. He couldn't be a commander. Somebody asked me and I remember looking it up, or finding out, because he had never been commander of the Tirey J. Ford Post of the American Legion.
FUCHS: He never joined the VFW did he?
GENTRY: I don't believe he did; I think the American Legion was the only thing he belonged to. The VFW may have given him an honorary, because everybody
gave him an honorary membership when he became elected. I remember that in June 1945, when he was President, the first time he came home as President, he had this big meeting down in the auditorium, and I remember everybody gave him an honorary membership in something.
FUCHS: I was sort of wondering why he never affiliated with the VFW, but I think probably World War I veterans felt they ought to go with one or the other rather than . . .
GENTRY: Well, the American Legion was founded first, wasn't it?
GENTRY: In Paris, right at the time.
FUCHS: Yes, he was more or less a charter member, I guess, or he was in it very early.
GENTRY: And was on that committee that dedicated the Memorial Building, as you know.
FUCHS: Do you recall any personal association with other battery members of his? People who actually served in his battery, do you recall having . . .
GENTRY: You see, they were mostly Kansas City people.
That was a Kansas City battery, and this old Battery C and all these boys here, see, like Kenneth Bostian, who was a lieutenant in one of them; and Mayor Sermon, Roger Sermon, was a lieutenant in another one, and Spencer Salisbury in another one. And then Truman was in another battery.
FUCHS: Battery D. Well, he took over Battery D when he got to France.
GENTRY: Yes, and you see, of course, this was old Battery C here, the original one. Most people in his battery were Kansas City people, isn't that right?
FUCHS: Yes, that's true. A lot of people have written and said . . .
GENTRY: His battery grew and grew and grew, I understand, after he became President.
FUCHS: Everybody served with President Truman. Sort of like, "I served with Patton," or "I served with Eisenhower." Well, one story is that his political career had a lot of impetus from his battery members in '22, getting together; and of course, others say that it started in Independence where certain people felt he was a good candidate.
GENTRY: Like Pendergast was one of them.
FUCHS: Oh, yes, certainly, Mike.
GENTRY: You see, when he got into politics, he had a lot of support in Kansas City because he knew all those boys; and he had a lot of support out in the Grandview area because that's where his family had been; and then, of course, he had a lot of relatives here in Independence, and Mrs. Truman had a lot of relatives in Independence. So he kind of had it made when he ran.
FUCHS: Pretty good base.
GENTRY: Judge Bundschu told me the story about when [Henry] Rummell (a Republican) ran and defeated Mr. Truman. He said, "You know, a bunch of us got together and filed Rummell," and he paid the five dollars, Henry Bundschu did. Maybe you've heard him tell this story; he paid five dollars for a filing fee, and he said, "You know, Rummell never did pay me back."
FUCHS: Did you ever meet Rummell?
GENTRY: Rummell? Oh yes. Yes, he was a neighbor of mine, a nice old gentleman. I did a story about him when he was in his eighties and we had a good time
talking about that.
FUCHS: Well, maybe we'll get into him a little more in the next interview. Thank you [Subsequent to this interview, Sue Gentry offered the interviewer a copy of notes by Ardis Ragland Haukenberry on "Childhood Memories of Delaware Street." with editorial marks and insertions by Miss Gentry. It has been appended to this interview as Appendix II.].
Appendix I: Forsling, Elizabeth Paxton, "Remembering Delaware Street," Jackson County Historical Society Journal, Vol. III, No. 8, May, 1962, pp. 7-12 (material subject to copyright, not reproduced herein).
Appendix II: Forsling, Elizabeth Paxton, "Remembering Delaware Street, Part II," Jackson County Historical Society Journal, Vol. IV, No. 12, November, 1963, pp. 6-11 (material subject to copyright, not reproduced herein).
Appendix III: McCoy, Lewis, "Remembering Delaware Street, A Supplement," Jackson County Historical Society Journal, Vol. V, No. 13, March, 1964, pp. 13 and 16 (material subject to copyright, not reproduced herein).
NOTE: This subject list applies only to the 1971 interview conducted by Philip Brooks. There currently is no subject list available for the 1981 interview with Ms. Gentry.
Carvin, Mrs. Howard, 6
Etzenhouser, Madeleine, 4
Gentry, Lon, 13
Kelly, C. W., 4
Layland, Roy, 3
Tranchard, Mrs. Leonard, 21
Wallace, Bess, See Truman, Mrs. Harry S.