Eller Chronicles Nov 92 p-1
The Eller Chronicles
|Vol. VI NO 4.||THE ELLER FAMILY ASSOCIATION||NOV 1992|
Page - 226
TRIBUTES TO THE MEMORY OF GERTRUDE ELLER WADDELL
(13 Jan. 1892 - 7 July 1991)
Thumbnail of cover photo
"A JEWEL OF THE CLAN"
It is an honor to me, my family and our community to be able to share the many memories we hold in our hearts for this well-known lady. It would be far to easy to dwell on how she died; after all, nearly a century of her life should not end in an automobile accident. Her mind was keen and she led a full life as homemaker, historian, and educator in Ashe County, North Carolina. However, her leadership in Phoenix Baptist Church was probably the most significant.
Mrs. Gert was the last Charter Member of our Church. She died a victim of pure chance on her usual Sunday morning trip to Church. (See enclosed news article for details). The irony of the accident left us all cold with many unanswerable questions. The contorting feeling of knowing her desire for death to come sudden had been fulfilled.
The Bible that she always carried to Church floated in the water. Some young men in our church later retrieved the Bible. Inside, on a small scrap of paper, Mrs. Gert had scribbled, Psalms 71:9, "Cast me not off in the time of old age: Forsake me not when my strength faileth." This note and Mrs. Gert's Bible will be placed in the New Church Library when construction is complete.
Mrs. Gert was living link to a nearly forgotten time. Early in her teenage life she left Ashe County long enough to receive a Teacher's Certificate from what is now Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She returned home, married Fred Waddell, a farmer, and lived at the Eller Homeplace in the Bina Community. Mrs. Gert's teaching was conducted in small one-room School Houses. She boarded in a home while teaching in one community. At that time the academic year lasted from two to two and one half months. The children were needed to help on the farms. A State-supported school system did not exist at that time.
Mrs. Gert's ancestors were firm believers in education and religious training: thus they were instrumental in establishing Phoenix Baptist Church. Mrs. Gert's grandfather JAMES ELLER gave a private school building for the purpose of educating three of his sons (H. A. Eller, Mrs. Gert's father; A. S. Eller, and E. C. Eller), his grandchildren and the children in the community. The building became our first Church.
Generations of strong Baptist Believers came together on May 9, 1908 to organize the Church. There were 16 male and 18 female members to dedicate their lives to carry on God's work. Phoenix Baptist Church was chosen as the name of the Church because of the Phoenix Mountain towering behind the little Church building. The structures soon became to small and a larger one was built. In Mrs. Gert's History of the Church, she paused to say, and I quote, "We have always treasured the fine fellowship we have had together, and we should continue to ask God to keep us as a Body of Christians and keep our love and fellowship too strong to be torn apart by evil doings." This was her lifelong desire in her many works in the Church.
Early in her life she became Church Clerk and remained in this position until age 85. She served as teacher of the senior Men's Sunday School Class until the age of 97. She represented our Church in the sessions of the Ashe County Baptist Association and served as a delegate to the North Carolina Baptist Home for the Aged.
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Mrs. Gert was well-known for her knowledge of the Bible, as well as her quick mind and great memory. The Church grew with her leadership and guidance through the years. In June of 1991, she witnessed and helped with the ground-breaking for an addition to our Church which is now in progress. She asked the Church not to start anything we could not finish. This has left us with a determination to see the job well done.
Mrs. Gert was instrumental in bringing Sprague Electric Company to Ashe County. She realized that industry would provide employment in our rural area for many men and women, thereby improving their standard of living and educational opportunities for their children. Mrs. Gert sold property to Sprague Electrical Company that had been in the Eller family for years.
Most people will remember Mrs. Gert as a self-reliant 99-year lady who lived alone in a hollow on Pounding Mill road. Her husband died in 1964, leaving her alone. They never had children except for the Kids in the community. Our family looked to her for wisdom, knowledge and understanding when problems arose in the Church and community. My father was a Baptist minister and he always relied on Mrs. Gert for advice and support in his church work. Mrs. Gert was never neglected, just as she had never neglected anyone. My brother Jack and I checked on her daily and my mother became Mrs. Gert's Security Blanket.
When someone such as Mrs. Gert dies, we lose more than a neighbor or relative: we lose wisdom that can only be gathered in a century of life and we lose history: Ashe County has lost A LEGEND, Phoenix Baptist Church A CORNERSTONE, and we lost a "GRANDMOTHER." Her life was a blessing and inspiration to all who knew her. With the passing of her generation, the ship of ourselves is cut from its mooring and we are set adrift in a future that holds no certainties and no guarantees. Mrs. Gert's memory will be instilled in generations to come by those of us who were so fortunate to share a part of our lives with her
..................................... J.C. Ashley
Sunday, June 9, 1991, members of the Phoenix Baptist church gathered outside the church for a ground-breaking service to let construction begin for an addition of a new fellowship hall, Sunday school rooms and eventually a bapistery.
Among the many members present was Mrs. Gert Waddell. At the age of 99 Mrs. Gert was the oldest living charter member present.
Mrs. Gert was very excited and supportive in the dream of adding on to our church. She encouraged us with her many words of wisdom to always give our best to the Lord and he in turn would bless us many times over our own givings. Her presence among us always encouraged us and boosted our efforts to strive to do better in whatever our task.
In July, 1976, Mrs. Gert gave to our members the history of our church and its Pastors from the beginning of its origin on May 9, 1908. In her closing comments she charged each of us to never forget our commitment of love to Christ and our love for each other.
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"We have been blessed with a wonderful Christian fellowship and we hope and pray it will continue on and bind us together in loving service to our blessed Savior Jesus Christ and may we never forget those who have gone on who made sacrifices to leave a worthy heritage for those who would follow after them. May we strive to live closer to God in the future and by doing so may it inspire our younger people to live worthy."
Today our building is up, our fellowship hall is completed and our goal for 1993 is to have our upstairs finished, complete with new Sunday School rooms and a memorial room dedicated to Mrs. Gert in honor of her life, her love for Christ and his teachings and the wonderful memories she left with so many of us. Our plans are to include pictures and history of her family, reflecting their dedication and love for our church and community.
As long as I can remember, Mrs. Gert was and continues to be an important part of my life and that of my family. I'm not sure if she "adopted" us as her family or it was us who adopted her and Jess as our family. However it was, it was our gain. There was never a time in our lives when we were facing difficult times and troubles that she was not always there to support, offer love and strength and encourage us to never question what God had a hand in but to simply turn it into an opportunity to increase our faith. She and my mother developed a bond that only the best of friends could have. Their daily communication consisted of phone conversations, usually around every two hours, most of the time to simply check to see if the other was O.K. This was the type of bond that always existed between us.
I am very thankful for the memories of Mrs. Gert and Jess and for the challenge they left to each of us to live each day as if it would be our last and live it for the Lord.
..................................... Barbara McCoy
From the time I remember anything, I remember Miss Gert. She was our neighbor and a part of our family, although we were not related. She was so unique, she never seemed like an aunt or a grandmother, she was "Miss Gert" and there was no one else like her. She always seemed to know something about everything. If you needed to know something, you asked Miss Gert.
She could tell you about traveling by horseback or in a wagon, about the slaves on her grandfather's farm, the beginning of Appalachian State University, hoeing corn in the field where Sprague Electric now stands or give you the best recipe for gingerbread.
There are so many things I remember about Miss Gert, but the thing I remember most was her love for and devotion to the Lord. She would tell you in a minute that the most important thing in this life was a close relationship with God and this was practiced daily in her life. Her faithfulness to her church was also an inspiration to all who knew her. She was there every Sunday, her Bible under her arm, prepared to teach her class.
I wish every child could be so fortunate as I, to be born into a loving caring family, grow up in a community surrounded by a wonderful church family and live just across the hill from someone like "Miss Gert
.......... Kathleen Ashley Turnmire (Phoenix Baptist Church)
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"Miss Gert" and her husband would visit my family in the fifties. If my family had the
television on Miss Gert always asked us to turn it off so we could talk. I wish families would do that now
...................................... Joe C. Eller.
Rev. Rex Eldreth, Pastor, Phoenix Baptist Church, Lansing, N.C. writing in the Church Bulletin, Sunday, July 21, 1991: "It's hard to try to put in words special memories or thoughts on things that are important in our lives and have special meaning. It is almost impossible to give back to others what they have given us. I often try to think of words that could express to others the appreciation and love that they have so _freely given but the words are hard to come.
"I have tried to think of a way to put on paper and give justice to all the memories, the words of wisdom and the many encouraging thoughts passed on to all of us thru the years _from Miss Gert but that also is impossible. You simply cannot express some things in words or writings that have been buried in your heart for so many years.
"Each of us have our own special memories of Miss Gert and while it has been hard to give her up she has left us with so much that by rights we should not grieve for something she has waited so long for. There is no doubt that we will all miss her for the rest of our lives. Her wisdom, her knowledge of so much and so many things and her own "special' ways of loving us and giving to us all things we can cherish forever. How sad it is to think of all the rest of the people in the world that will never have an opportunity to know a "Miss Gert'. The things that she has left us are things more precious than money or other material things. She has left us with a heritage, roots for our families, words to live and grow by and to help us "keep the faith' on our hard and difficult hours.
"If ever there was a person who had lived their live to the fullest each day, who fought life's battles in such a way that GOD and she always came out the victor it was most certainly Miss Gert. Mo among us could be selfish enough to deny her the crown of life she has strived for all these wonderful years so rightfully deserves. We would not, I don't think, if we could bring her back to us as much as we would all like to. She fought her battle and won. Her prayers have all now been answered."
Martha Gertrude Eller Waddell, known to all in Ashe County, North Carolina as "Miss or Mrs. Gert," lived her entire life of almost 100 years in the same house, located on Pounding Mill Creek, a tributary of the Horse Creek that flows through the community of Bina, Ashe County, North Carolina. Horse Creek flows into the North Fork of New River a short distance from Gertrude's home and a short distance from where her grandparents, James and Mary Ann Carlton Eller, settled in 1865.
James had been forced to flee for his life from Wilkes County, North Carolina as a result of deep animosities aroused among his neighbors by the War Between the States. James Eller and his family became outstanding citizens of their community, county and state. Previous issues of the Eller Chronicles have told parts of their story. This report and the ones following are special tributes to this singular Eller lady who stood so tall but walked so humbly among her relatives and peers in her community in beautiful Ashe County, North Carolina. We regret so much not having met her but her life of service and love can serve to inspire all.
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In a videotaped interview with Buddy Lovette and Talmade Wiggins in 1989, Miss Gert recalled the many happy hours she spent as a young girl listening to stories by her grandparents about their ordeal during and following the Civil War. She repeated the story of her grandfather, who, when seated late one evening on his front porch in Wilkes County shortly after the end of war, was alerted by his wife who placed her hand on his shoulder and told him to flee because she had seen suspicious men lurking about. Quickly her grandfather, who had removed his shoes, grabbed them and slipped from the porch into an adjacent corn field and escaped. The sharp eyes of her grandmother, and the quick action of her grandfather saved his life because the men came on to the house and were prepared to kill him.
After escaping into the cornfield, James Eller slipped on his shoes and climbed an adjacent ridge from which he watched the light of the search party go from room to room in his house as they searched for him. Without returning to his house, he made his way across the Blue Ridge Mountains into Ashe County. This and other stories of the Civil War adventures of James Eller are found in Jay B. Hubbell's manuscript: The James Eller Family and the Bushwhacker of Wilkes County, North Carolina 1864-1865,(The Eller Chronicles, VI 1 54).
Hubbell writes, "My grandfather and grandmother had been so outraged by the behavior of so many of their Wilkes county neighbors during the war that they did not want to ever see them again." So James Eller sold his Wilkes County farm and in October, 1865 and moved his family over the Blue Ridge into Ashe County. Miss Gert said in the interview in 1989 that her grandfather bought his Ashe County farm from a family who was planning to go to Texas but whose departure was delayed for a year. During that year the two families occupied the same log house which was the forerunner of the large comfortable two-story house that James Eller soon built. Within a few years he had acquired much additional land and became a very prosperous farmer and leading citizen of his county. He, like his father, Simeon Eller, of Wilkes County was a leader in efforts to bring educational opportunities to his county. Simeon Eller and his father, Peter Eller, were founders of the New Hope Academy in Wilkes County.
Dr. Arthur L. Fletcher (Ashe County, A History, 1963) mentions James Eller as being involved in several matters. He served on a special commission appointed in 1874 to develop a new tax plan for the county. The justices of the peace, of which he was a member, voted in 1878 to "stream-line the administrative set-up" of county government. In 1880 he was elected to the Board of County Commissioners. Always active in the affairs of the Baptist Church in efforts to provide higher education in Ashe County, James Eller was named to the first board of trustees charged "to construct an academy at Oak Hill" in adjoining Grayson County, VA. The school was established and flourished for many years with James Eller continuing to serve "many years as a trustee."
A photograph of the James Eller farm was published by Hubbell in 1909 (See below) The photograph shows the house, barns and other farm buildings as they appeared from the ridge across Horse River. The James Eller cemetery is visible at the top of the hill back of the house. In July, 1992, Buddy Lovette and J. Gerald Eller visited the farm with J.C. Ashley and took pictures from the same spot from which the 1909 photo had apparently been taken. Sadly now the farm presents a quite different appearance. No longer owned by a member of the family, the buildings have deteriorated, especially the main house which is now used for storage. The fields and buildings of the 1909 photograph no longer appear so well kept.
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"Miss Gert" was not a maiden lady; on 26 January 1922, when she was thirty years of age, she married Fred L. Waddell. They had no children and continued to live in the same house where she was born. The house began as a log house built by her father, Harvey Augustus Eller, eldest son of James Eller. Over the years the logs were covered and several additional rooms including a second story were added. This was the home in which James W. Hook was entertained on his genealogical excursions to Ashe County. Gertrude, in her interview with Buddy Lovette, recalled those visits and said her father and Mr. Hook would visit with James Eller and talk genealogy and family history. Her father gave much assistance to Mr. Hook in compiling his genealogy of the Ellers of Ashe County. Gertrude showed Buddy the autographed copy of Hook's book which he sent to her father.
Miss Gert, in her will, left the house, all of its contents, and the land to J.C. Ashley and his brother. They had been close friends and neighbors of the Ellers for years and during her last years, they and their families were her primary care takers. When we visited the house with J. C. in the early summer of 1992, he showed us the great accumulation of memorabilia (books, documents, pictures, etc) which he had collected from the house and stored in one large room. Although he had already removed two truck loads of material to his own basement for safe keeping, the remaining boxes of documents, books and pictures will require as many additional loads. These memorabilia, covering almost 150 years of family history, will be sorted and placed in the Gertrude Eller Waddell Room in the Phoenix Baptist Church in the Bina community in Ashe County, North Carolina.
Many photographs, some large and nicely framed, many small and unframed, of her relatives will be carefully preserved and become a part of the permanent collection. One problem: the photographs lack names and dates but with the help of relatives and older members of the Church, J. C. Ashley thinks most of them can be identified. He has graciously offered the Eller Family Association access to the photographs and other material for research, Explorations are underway to have the house listed as an official Historical Site.
On his way home from work each afternoon J.C. Ashley stopped to check on Miss Gert. She would greeted him with a smile and a bit of banter. J.C. remembers she would often say on those occasions, "Well, we have made it through another day but we don't know about tomorrow; but if I go, I hope you are with me." Her hope became reality on July 7, 1991. J. C., driving the church van, had picked up Miss Girt and three other elderly ladies and was on the way to church when a large car, driven by a lady who had fallen asleep, careened into them, knocking the van into Horse River and killing Miss Girt. Thus, Miss Girt got her final wish, J. C. was with her at the end.
Her mind remained clear and unconfused to the end. Two weeks before the wreck that ended her life, she, after being introduced by her pastor, stepped lightly from her seat in the congregation, mounted the pulpit, opened her manuscript which she had written, and read in a strong clear voice her history of the church and the role her Grandfather and his family had played in the founding of the church and its later development. The church was began as a school house built by James Eller. Later it became a church to accommodate those church members on that side of the stream who in times of flood could not reach the church built earlier on the opposite side. The naming of the church was left to her grandfather who choose the name, "Phoenix;" so named for the high mountain of the same name which towered above the church and surrounding community. Eller tradition says the mountain first received the name "Phoenix" from George Michael or his son Peter Eller, who named the mountain for the ship "Phoenix" which brought the family from Germany toPhiladelphia in 1743.
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Gertrude's father, Harvey Augustus "Gus" Eller, like his own father, was a man of a progressive frame of mind. Active in church and public affairs, he was elected Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners in 1909 and that board "took steps to provide funds for the building of a railroad into the county from Virginia or Tennessee" (Fletcher 1963). He continued the fight of his father on behalf of education and it was in his home on Pounding Mill Creek that Governor Aycock of North Carolina spent the night on the occasion of a visit to Ashe County to make a speech on public education. H. A. Eller was still Chairman of the Board in 1911 when they "faced badly needed road and bridge improvements and among other major operations agreed to repair the bridge over New River on the Jefferson- Wilkesboro turnpike, provided that Ashe County citizens would not be charged for using the turn pike" (ibid 1963).
Miss Gert's wit was always sharp and ready for any occasion. J.C. Ashley remembers the time when she called him at work during a severe cold spell and said, "J.C., don't you dare come home tonight without bringing me a new electric blanket. My blanket is not working. Either bring me a new one or come prepared to spend the night because I have no intention of spending another night alone in that cold bed." Her pastor, Rev. Rex Eldreth had been a neighbor in his youth to Miss Gert who always teased him about his cat. He moved away and did not see her again for thirty years. When they next met the first thing Miss Gert said, "Have you still got that funny old cat?"
J.C., who worked for Miss Gert's father on the farm, also remembers several occasions when Miss Girt would come out and join in helping him and his brother cut firewood. "She always could cut more than either of us," says J.C. Miss Girt helped pay her expenses at Appalachian State College by cutting wood for the girls dormitory. After obtaining a teaching certificate she taught school for many years in Ashe County. Throughout her life she made a garden and canned vegetables. She rarely missed a church service and was a liberal supporter of many causes. She had planted a garden in the spring before her death.
Upon her death, her fellow church members at the Phoenix Baptist Church, began immediately to consider ways of paying a lasting tribute to the memory of their beloved Miss Gert. A new educational wing of the church at that time was under roof but still under construction. The decision was made to set aside space for a special room to be named for Miss Gert. Also, plans were made to furnish the room so as to provide cabinets and other furniture to hold many of her family records and other family memorabilia covering more than 150 years of her family's history. In effect, a Gertrude Eller Waddell Memorial Museum, was planned. In this unique way, the Phoenix Baptist Church pays tribute not only to Miss Gert but to her grandparents, parents, and siblings who were so intimately involved for so many years in the support of the church. Also, through this action, the Church is making a powerful statement about family values, family heritage and the rewards for exemplary dedication of a family to Christian living and stewardship.
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One of the goals of the Eller Family Association is to encourage the restoration and maintenance of cemeteries or other sites of meaning to various Eller families. Buddy Lovette of Moravian Falls, North Carolina, an active member of the EFA who had made videotaped interviews with Miss Gert in 1989, recommended that the Eller Family Association endorse and contribute to the memorial project already initiated by her church. Officials of the EFA quickly approved the request. The Gertrude Eller Waddell Memorial Project of the Phoenix Baptist Church was endorsed by the Eller Family Association and announcement appeared in The Eller Chronicles, for August 1992. Two hundred dollars from the current budget was approved for the project and a call for private contributions was issued. Nancy Eller, Sec.- Treas. of the Eller Family Association, 500 Mission St., East Crowley, Texas 76036 is receiving contributions from EFA members.
Miss Gert told Buddy Lovette in the 1989 interview that she was a "double-Eller" since both her parents were Ellers. She was a seventh generation descendant of George Michael Eller on each side of her family; her great grandparents on both sides was John Eller, so her parents, although cousins, were not very closely related.
The Double-Eller Lineage of Gertude Eller Waddell:
Miss Girt told Buddy Lovette that she was a double-Eller because both her mother and father were Ellers. Her double-Eller lineage, according to J. W. Hook (1957), follows:
Martha7 Gertrude (Harvey6 A., James5, Simeon4, John3, Peter2, Georgel Michael Eller)
Martha7 Gertrude (Mary6, David5, Jacob4, John3, Peter2, Georgel Michael Eller)
.................................... Editors: The Eller Chronicles
(Eds.: The above report and the two that follow are the result of two trips to Ashe County. It was EFA member Buddy Lovette of Moravian Falls, NC, who first brought Miss Gert to the attention of the EFA through the videotaped interview which he and Talmadge Wiggins conducted in 1989. The videotape has been shown at each of the last two Eller Family Conferences. It was in that tape that Buddy called Miss Gert "A Jewel of the Clan." It was Buddy Lovette who also recommended that the EFA contribute to the Gertrude Eller Waddell Memorial Room. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of J.C. Ashley, Buddy Lovette, Rev. Rex Eldreth, Ethel Eller (Mrs. Ed Eller), Barbara McCoy, Kathleen Ashley Turnmire and Joe C. Eller in the preparation of this story.)
Note: A second and third story on the James Eller family of Ashe County, North Carolina follow the pictures next below.)
Mary Ann Carlton Eller
James & Mary Ann
New Phoenix Baptist Church
Old Phoenix Baptist Church
James & Mary Eller Stone
Fred & Gertrude Waddell Stone
James Eller Farm 1910
James Eller Farm 1992
James Eller Home
at James Eller Cemetery
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