BY LISA PERKINS
KINGSLEY — Stories shared by elders create a patchwork history of the town many have called home for most of their lives.
Longtime residents spoke of their early experiences during a meeting of the Paradise and Mayfield Historical Society on Wednesday.
"This is the most amazing little town ever. When I started doing family history I just got head over heels into it," said Tracey Sedlacek, president of the Historical Society that meets three or four times each year to compile stories and answer questions about the town she has called home since 1975.
"I haven't been here my whole life like a lot of the people that came to our meeting, I'm a short-timer," said Sedlacek, who asked residents to share stories about their early years in Kingsley as well as World War II experiences as she recorded them as part of an oral history project.
Bob Brown, an 85-year-old lifelong resident of Kingsley, was eager to tell about the time he spent in the Philippines as a soldier at an ammunition depot.
"I saw a lot of young guys cry when we left there to go home and they had to stay," said Brown, who also raised questions about a family picture of a nearby train wreck and the history of a fire that destroyed the south side of Kingsley.
"I'm not sure of the year, but I do remember that it was on the Fourth of July. Nearly the whole town burned. I'd like to know what caused it," he said.
Donaldine Nickerson, 87, spoke about growing up in a house filled with brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins.
"We had a wonderful time growing up. We had plenty of food, and Mom and Dad took good care of all of us," said Nickerson, who fondly remembers the oranges they would receive each Christmas.
"We really looked forward to the dime we would get from our grandparents, too," she said.
John Conroy shared stories of tank missions through salt marshes in North Africa and how great it felt to return home to Kingsley at the end of World War II.
"The closest I could get to home on the train was Grand Rapids where a mail truck picked me up and took me to Beulah. There a highway department man went and got his brother out of bed to give me a ride home. I was so happy to be home," said the 94-year-old Conroy.
Retired Kingsley schoolteacher, Betty Bowden, recalled teaching German and Italian prisoners of war while she and her husband were in Ogden, Utah.
"The day a guard came looking for 15-year-old German POW Willie Joseph to tell him that his parents had both been killed was one of the saddest things I have been through," said Bowden, 89, who along with more than a dozen town elders has contributed stories that were the basis for 233 poems written by Kingsley school students with the help of local poet Terry Wooten.
"They have a lot of stories to tell," said Sedlacek, noting that members of the Historical Society plan to create a book using the poems and historical photos from the area.
For more information on the Paradise and Mayfield Historical Society, call Tracey Sedlacek at 342-9854.