Profile on Longevity -
By KAREN KENNEDY
|the Meade County Messenger
Community, page B1
December 6, 2006
Thomas J. Stith was born Feb. 5, 1915, in Stith Valley, a small Meade County farm community. Thomas was the fifth of six children born to William Allen Stith and Lena Marion (Drury) Stith. In their youth, William and Lena went to college to become school teachers and taught for a brief time. However, the Stiths purchased a 365-acre farm and raised Hereford cattle and hybrid seed corn. William Stith became a state representative while in his late 20s, serving two terms.
The Stith children attended the one-room, Shumate School. The old school building is still standing and is, today, located on farmland owned by Thomas.
Thomas attended Shumate School up until the 8th-grade. He recalls his older sister Blanche at one point being his teacher. "She gave me a whipping once," laughed Thomas.
Following grade school, Thomas attended and graduated from Meade County High School. "I hadn't been to Brandenburg much and I was scared about stories of the upperclassmen initiating the freshmen," said Thomas.
It was the job of the parents to introduce their children to the faculty and other students on the very first school day of the year. "My father told them, 'I've brought you a diamond in the rough today, and I want you to smooth him up and make something of him,' " said Thomas. He said that after that day, for a long time his nickname at school was "Diamond."
In order to attend high school, Thomas needed to board in town. He lived with his uncle Dr. Sam Stith for awhile, then roomed at Zelda Bennett's with his sister Cornelia, and later he and Cornelia lived in the Harvey Ditto Apartments.
After graduating MCHS in 1934, Thomas wasn't sure what he wanted to do, so he enrolled at Spencerian College. However, after a year, he decided the place he wanted to be was Meade County, and he returned to the farm.
Thomas remained a single man for quite a long time, but his long run as a bachelor ended when he was in his early 40s. Thomas and his sister Blanche were Billy Graham fans, and one day they took a train up to Madison Square Garden in New York to see him. On the "crusade train" was also a woman named Esther Vincent, whom Thomas and his sister knew from Meade County, and a woman named Audrey Fisher and her mother who were from Louisville.
For three years, Thomas courted Audrey, with the two marrying when Thomas was 45 and Audrey was 33. They had five children - all boys. Today, their son Thomas Mitchell resides in Stith Valley, John Whitney lives in Lexington, Stanley Kevin lives in Louisville, Jeffrey Allen resides in Stith Valley, and Kyle Layton makes his home in Lexington. Of these five boys, only one had a child- a granddaughter for Thomas and Audrey.
Audrey kept busy raising those five boys but helped out some with the farm work by taking care of the registration papers for the cattle. Sadly, Audrey passed away in 1997.
Thomas has several interesting stories about various members of his family, such as his grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Stith, who served in the Confederate Army and fought at the Battle of Perryville. At the age of 80, Thomas Jefferson Stith was walking across the railroad tracks to his son's home to fetch a pail of water. Because he was hard of hearing, he didn't hear the train coming, stepped in front of it, and was killed.
William Allen Stith - Thomas' father - was in legislature when then Governor-elect William Goebel was assassinated. Goebel was on his way to be sworn in when he was shot. "My dad saw him lying on the walk and they took him into the old Capital and swore him in. He lived several days before passing away, and Lt. Gov. Beckham became governor. Dad said the Republicans accused the Democrats of stealing the election, and they may have," said Thomas. Goebel's killer was never found.
While all this was going on, a train load of people came from Eastern Kentucky to Frankfort carrying rifles on their shoulders. "Dad said members of legislature were ordered to carry pistols and they met in secret sessions," said Thomas.
Interestingly enough, Thomas's brother Ralph - the fourth child of William and Lena Stith - served two terms in he legislature just like his father.
During his lifetime, Thomas has had the opportunity to see four different U.S. presidents. The first one was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thomas saw him get off a train in his wheelchair. Roosevelt was in Elizabethtown and on his way to visit the Lincoln Farm in Hodgenville.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower also came to Elizabethtown and rode through town in a convertible en route to the Lincoln Farm. President Harry S. Truman spoke in Irvington off the back of a train. Thomas said that people said it was Truman's trips through the central United States that got him elected. The Meade County Farm Bureau sponsored a trip to Washington, D.C., and so a man named H.J. Rice and Thomas made the trip to D.C. by train. They visited the Senate and asked to see then Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who agreed to come out and meet them.
"He made a statement I'll never forget," said Thomas. "He said, 'You would be surprised how many people in the world would like to trade places with us.' "
Thomas has lots of interesting stories, but his own life has been pretty full, too. Thomas is currently serving as a director of Meade County Farm Bureau and is an active member of the Lincoln Trail Antique Powers of the Past. He served as a director of the Producers Livestock Marketing Association and is past-president of Planters' Cooperative Insurance Company of Meade and Breckinridge counties. For years, he was a member of the Kentuckiana Polled Hereford Association.
Since he was 15 years old, Thomas has been a member of Hill Grove Baptist Church. Five years ago, he became a 50-year member of the Bewleyville Masonic Lodge.
Besides the fact that he's worked hard and lived a clean life, Thomas attributes his good health and longevity to the fact that he "has a good appetite, sleeps good, and the good Lord has given me a good life."
Profile on Longevity
By VICKEY CARWILE
|Meade County Messenger
April 8, 2009
Thomas J. Stith, 94, was born Feb. 5, 1915, about seven miles from the town of Guston. He lived in a five-bedroom, two-story farmhouse with his father, William A. Stith, his mother, Lena Marion Drury Stith and five siblings: Blanche, Cornelia, W.A. Jr., George and Ralph, all deceased.
His father was a progressive farmer who raised some of the first registered polled Hereford cattle in the state of Kentucky. He also raised hogs, sheep, corn, hay and tobacco and served as a representative in the Kentucky Legislature in 1898. His mother was a homemaker and former schoolteacher. Thomas' father passed away in 1963, the year of the John F. Kennedy Assassination: His mother followed six years later.
Thomas' grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Stith, was a Confederate soldier who fought in the Battle of Perryville at the tender age of 18. He and Thomas' grandmother, Hannah Williams, raised 11 children. When Thomas was 10 years old, his grandfather was hit and killed by a train where he lived in Ekron. He was 80 years old and hard of hearing at the time of the tragedy and is buried in the Ekron Baptist Cemetery.
Thomas attended 1st- through 8th-grade at Shumate, Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse that is still standing today. His oldest sister, Blanche, taught school there for awhile. "She gave me a whippin' one day," he said. "I guess she didn't think I was settin' a good example for the rest of the school!"
He graduated from Meade County High School, enrolled in Spencerian College in Louisville, and took some business classes. His brother, George, was in law school and the two were roommates. But, Thomas' heart belonged in Meade County. After six months, he returned to the family farm. "It was really hard work," said Thomas. "We didn't have tractors or pickup trucks. One of the most exciting things we did was break a lot of young mules to work. If the mules didn't act up when we hooked 'em up, we were kinda disappointed!" he said. Thomas chuckled as he recalled one mule his family owned.
"We called him Ol' Pack. That mule could open any door or take a chain off the gate. Dad finally sold him to a fella in Custer. But he didn't tell him the mule was bad about getting out. Anyway, the fella took Ol' Pack home. Next mornin', I went to the barn to do the chores and the barn door was standin' open. That ol' mule was back! He had traveled 15 miles and come back to our farm! The fella came and got him and took him back to his farm. I guess he finally outsmarted that mule because Ol' Pack never came back again."
Thomas is a fan of the Rev. Billy Graham and attended many of his services throughout the years. In 1956, Thomas, his oldest sister, Blanche and her husband all traveled to Madison Square Gardens in New York to attend one of the Rev. Graham's services. As they boarded the train in Louisville, Thomas saw a friend, Esther Vinson, who lived in Battletown. His future wife, Audrey Fisher, and her mother were accompanying Esther and her mother on the. trip and Thomas became acquainted with Audrey. A few years later, Thomas and Audrey were married Aug. 14, 1960, in a Baptist church in New Albany, where she lived. He was 45 and she was 32. The couple spent their honeymoon in Daytona Beach, Fla., and then returned to the family farm where they raised cattle, hogs, sheep, alfalfa hay, wheat, tobacco and hybrid seed corn. They were blessed with five sons: Mitchell and Jeff, who currently live with their father in Guston; Whitney, Union; Kevin, Louisville; and Kyle, who lives in Eastern Kentucky. They also have a granddaughter, Carla Alise.
In 1980, the old farmhouse burned to the ground due to faulty wiring. Thomas built a newer, more modern domicile in its place. "My wife always wanted a better house anyway but I kept puttin' it off. After the house burned, she finally got her wish," he said.
In 1997, Audrey was diagnosed with cancer. She was operated on in March and passed away in October of that year. They had only been married 37 years.
Thomas still lives on the 426-acre family farm where he has resided all of his life. He has been a member of Hill Grove Baptist Church for 15 years and a 50-year member of Bewleyville Masonic Lodge.
He collects and restores old John Deere tractors with his son, Whitney. To date, they have a total of 18 tractors. Thomas is a member of the Lincoln Trail Antique Power of the Past and plans to appear with his tractors at the Lincoln Trail Antique Power of the Past Machinery Show and Threshing Days at the Meade County Fairgrounds during the Fourth of July weekend.
Thomas also enjoys fishing for bass and hunting for quail and deer. He likes to travel but "doesn't do much of that these days."
When asked what the secret is to his longevity, he replied, "I don't know why the Good Lord is keeping me around, but I am thankful for every day I wake up!"
Thomas J. Stith 96 birthday.
Thomas J. Stith 97 birthday.