The dead tell their tales

Mary Atkinson · Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Once again, history came alive last Sunday at the Community Center during the fifth annual Cemetery Theatre, sponsored by the West Liberty Heritage Foundation.

Local residents dressed in period clothing, portrayed great figures in West Liberty history, and reminisced with the audience about their character’s life.

Karel Cline began the program with her emotional portrayal of Mary Wilson Kimberly, who came from Ireland in 1860 with her parents and siblings. They lived in Scott County for many years before settling in the West Liberty area.

She married Amos E. Kimberly in 1877 and raised seven children, all of whom were educated at the Springdale school north of Interstate 80. The oldest, David, later became a state senator in Davenport. Kimberly Road is named after him.

Amos and Mary had 1000 acres of land in Cedar County, which comprised a regulated horse track and a boarding house as well as horse stalls and a stock farm. After a couple of economic setbacks, they moved to West Liberty where Amos died in 1910. 

“For 20 years, it was here that I fulfilled that noblest calling of mother and grandmother,” said Cline in character. “Preferring the sanctuary of my own home, I fostered an interest in community. Most particularly, the children.”

Because there was no park at that time that was suitable for children to play in or for family picnics, Mary and the rest of the family decided to procure money from a trust fund left by Amos’ brother, Peter L. Kimberly, to create a city park. They received $10,000 to purchase the land, and later, another $2,500 for landscaping and playground equipment.

In 1929, they received $13,500 for a swimming pool and bath house, which opened in the summer of 1930.

“It was my hope that no one would be deprived of enjoying the swimming pool and in keeping with that tradition there is still a daily free swim,” Cline said, paraphrasing Mary.

Mary, however, was not present for the opening. She had died in the spring at the age of 81.

“This was an amazing woman,” Cline told the audience, “She and her family had the foresight and generosity to give to our community the park and pool, now 85 years old - a lasting legacy for children and adults to enjoy for years and years to come. Thank you, Mary Wilson Kimberly.”

Next, Ken Donnelly gave a humorous portrayal of Dr. John E. Kimball, who practiced medicine upstairs of the old bank building on the southeast corner of Third and Calhoun Street from 1908 to 1974.

Many residents still living today remember being treated by Dr. Kimball while growing up.

In preparation for his role, Donnelly was told that sport physicals were passed if the patient could run up the steps to the doctor’s office and jump up and down ten times. He added that delivering a baby cost around $20 to $25.

Kimball was born in Downey in 1885 and died in 1974. He attended the University of Iowa and joined his father, C.B. Kimball, in practicing medicine in 1908. Later, he did some post-graduate work at Harvard University in Boston.

Virginia Miehe played Jane Purvis, who lived between 1871 - 1969. In keeping with the time period, Miehe wore a black mini-dress, fashionable during the 1960s, and spoke about how Purvis did not graduate from high school, but continued to educate herself by reading.

Purvis later was instrumental in establishing the first library in town. It cost $2 to get in until the city council approved it as a public library around ten years later.

Richard Myers became his father, Waldo C. Myers, and talked about his time as the city manager from 1940 to 1965. Waldo, a U of I graduate, supported his family during the Great Depression by pumping gas and mowing the original golf course, which was located north of town.

After moving around for a few years, the family moved back to West Liberty when he was hired as city manager in 1940. As the population grew, so did the need for his services. Because he was an engineer, Waldo was able to do the engineering for those projects himself.

Waldo was active in the community. He served as president of the Rotary, was a member of the school board and the fire department as well as the chamber of commerce.

After a second heart attack, he retired as city manager in 1965, stayed on as city treasurer for 20 years and died in 1992 at the age of 91.

James D. Carey also became his grandfather, Dr. James C. Carey, who came to West Liberty in 1919 to practice veterinary medicine after graduating at the top of his class in Ames.

At the time the vet doctor was Dr. Heck. He had his infirmary where the telephone company sits today. In Wilton, the vet was Dr. Hell. Carey said the saying was ‘If you can’t get Heck - go to Hell’. In 1922, Dr. Heck left the practice to Carey not asking him for a cent.

“I will forever be thankful to him for that and I’ve never forgotten,” Carey said.

When the 1930s brought difficult economic hardships, he did what he could to help.

“I lent all the money that I could at that time and we all got through to better times,” Carey said in character.

‘Doc Carey’ died in 1989 at the age of 88.

Robert Baugh ended the program as G. William Smith, who started working as an employee of the Index and later as the owner for almost 50 years.

He became associated with the Index in 1924, bought it in 1943 and retired in 1972. He only earned $3.50 per week when he first started.

Over 48 years he saw many changes in the printing trade, supported all community endeavors and became much loved by the community.

He served as a city council member, a member of the fire department and other civic organizations. He lived from 1908 to 1980.
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