Thursday, September 23, 2010

All in the Family – Lewis Orvil Heffner

The oldest child of John Arthur and Meribah (Molly) Webb Heffner, Lewis spent a great deal of his life on the road. After his parents divorced (sometime after the 1900 federal census), his mother could not care for her three children, so she placed them in the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Orphan’s Home in Anderson, Indiana.

Lewis ran away from the orphanage, joined up with his best friend Leon Erlich, then headed to Florida where they worked as circus carnies. Lewis always maintained his love of the carnival life and most of his life, he would be waiting at the Alexandria Fair Grounds early on Sunday morning when the carnival arrived to set up for the 4-H fair.

Like his forefathers, Lewis was a carpenter and woodworker. He worked at building houses and crafted many beautiful items which he sold to earn an additional living. These craft items included baskets, candlesticks, spinning wheels, message centers, and a picture frame with built-it flower vase. Several of the pieces he crafted were of his own design.

Lewis Violet Mae Warner were married in a big evening wedding at Mary Rose Fry Warner’s (Violet’s mother) home. The Episcopalian priest engaged to officiate, Matthew Palmer Bowie of St. Stephen's Church in Elwood, was described as “very persnickety” and when offered a drink after the wedding, he said, “I do not partake!” 

As a young married man during the 1920s depression, Lewis often traveled to Hoopston, Illinois, and Cincinnati, Ohio, for work. He sent postcards with his own photo to Violet, his high school sweetheart turned wife. Once he worked as a manager at the S.S. Kresgie Store in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he got his picture in the newspaper for capturing a shoplifter.

He and Violet lived in Elwood at first then moved to Indianapolis for a several years where both daughters Leona Mae and Helen Marie were born.

Lewis went on a search for his younger siblings, Ethel Rose and Herbert Arthur who had been taken from the orphanage by horse and buggy to Hancock’s Chapel to live with the Charlie Wolf family. Once Lewis located his brother and sister, and after Violet’s doctor suggested she leave the big city and move to the country, Lewis and Violet took the girl’s to the crossroads known as Hancock.

They lived in a small house across the road from Wennings General Store and a few feet away from Hancock’s Chapel, the church they attended and where their stillborn daughter Ethel Louise is buried.

Eventually Lewis moved the family back to Elwood near Violet’s mother then to 218 W. Tyler Street in Alexandria. He remodeled the house, adding a new stairwell to the upstairs attic which he transformed into three separate sleeping areas, putting in new hardwood flooring which the girls helped polish by holding sock hops with their friends, and adding a tiny, but efficient bathroom area off the main floor bedroom. He also had a wood shop and garage, as well as a chicken coop in the back.

Lewis was a regular attendant of the Friends Church on Tyler Street and read nothing but the dialogue in Zane Grey western novels. He raised lots of flowers, rhubarb, and at least three different types of apples.

Don’s dog Whiskers wandered up to the Heffner house one day and decided to stay, becoming Lewis’s buddy as he worked in the shop. Lewis used to smoke a pipe, and Lu Ann remembers he smoked her favorite aroma, Cherry.

After having several heart attacks, Lewis died at 7:30 p.m. in St. John's Hospital, Anderson, on July 9, 1963. He was buried at 1:30 p.m. in I.O.O.F. Cemetery, Alexandria.

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