A Phone Call from Ida Lee Edmiston
By Deborah Burkett
Not long ago, the phone rang while I was working at the office in Rusk. "Hello, Cherokee County Historical Commission, may I help you?"
The voice on the other end of the line said, "John Allen Templeton is dead."
I responded, "Yes he is…been gone a long time."
The voice continued, "I knew him…Who's in charge now?"
"Well, I guess you could say I am. I'm currently the chair of the historical commission."
The voice then proclaimed, "I've got something you're going to want, if you don't already have it."
And so began an amazing adventure which led me to a touching oral history interview, an old church photograph and a new friend.
I soon learned the caller was Ida Lee Derrett Edmiston of Jacksonville and she had a picture of the old church at Shiloh, located near Alto, which had burned many years ago.
"Do you want a copy?" she asked. "Yes I do. I wrote a story for the local papers about three years ago and didn't have a good image of the church at that time."
She went on to tell me a little bit about herself. She, along with several others in the county had helped Mr. Templeton type the big Cherokee County history book which was printed in 1986. Templeton had been chairman of the county historical commission for many years. Ida Lee's comments really piqued my interest and I mentioned that I would like to meet her one day-get a copy of the church photo and just visit.
But when she said, "I'll be 97 this December." My immediate response was, "I'm closing the office right now, locking the door and I'll be there soon. I drive through Jacksonville on my way home."
She replied," I no longer live in Jacksonville-I live in Whitehouse now, at the Oakbrook Healthcare Center."
"No problem," I said, "I live in Mixon-not too far from Whitehouse-I'll see you in a bit."
When I found her I must say, Ida Lee looked like a million bucks and was sharp as a tack. Here's a little of what I learned.
Ida Lee Derrette was born December 6, 1919, in the community of Primrose which is located about 4 or 5 miles south of Alto. She shared, "We then lived in Shiloh till I was in the 4th grade-went to school there. I'm the youngest in a family of 10 children. Since 1988, I've been the only surviving member. That makes me sound lonely and I was…"
She also talked of her parents, Josephine Price (1877-1963) and Andrew Jackson Derrette (1870-1939), explaining that when they married in 1894, they were living at Pierce's Chapel near Jacksonville. "They are buried at Shiloh and that's where I'll be buried too," she said. Ida Lee also noted when her father died; the "e" was dropped from the end of the family name.
I also learned Ida Lee was a member of Daughters of American Revolution (DAR). In fact, she had been active in the same Jacksonville chapter I now belong to-Major Thaddeus Beall. The late Ogreta Huttash was a big influence, encouraged her to join the organization.
Ida Lee was a member of Central Baptist Church in Jacksonville for 52 years and the editor of the Cherokee County Genealogical Society publication, Tree Talk, for nine (May 1989 to Sept.1998). "Gordon Bennet was my assistant at the time and Sue Taylor had been the editor prior to me."
Her attention soon turned to a framed image hanging on her wall. "I initially wanted a photograph of the old Shiloh Church so it could be used as a model for an oil painting. But it turned out so well, I just framed the photo instead."
When asked who took the picture she looked directly at me, "Well, I did…I borrowed the company camera."
When asked what company, she explained, "The Gas Company in Jacksonville, of course. I worked there 32 years as a secretary in the personal department. Before that, during WWII, I worked at Ernest Whitaker's Drug Store in Jacksonville, located on the corner of Main and East Rusk…"
I married during the War and had one wonderful son, Woody D. Years later when I could no longer live alone; I lived with Woody and his family until I moved to this Center a year ago.
That afternoon in Whitehouse, as I sat listening to Ida Lee, I marveled at her positive attitude and love of family. There she was surrounded by photographs and a huge 3-ring binder notebook filled with her family history. She spoke of people long gone who had once lived in Cherokee County. I was spellbound as she shared stories from the 1930s. Her memories of the Great Depression still vivid, talking of how appreciative she was work could be found.
And work she did--in a café in Alto, then as a nurse's aide at Nan Travis Hospital but most often she found employment in drug stores-Allen's in Alto and at various locations in Jacksonville--Wood, Whitaker and May Drug stores.
My conversations with Ida Lee always came back around to Shiloh. Just as Ida Lee's life has almost come full circle--one day she'll return to Shiloh. "My marker is already there in the cemetery, near where the old church stood… it's a special place," she noted.
Shiloh is located about three miles northwest of Alto on FM 752. The first families settled on the banks of Bowles' Creek in 1845, these Methodists initially held brush arbor meetings. Shiloh, a Biblical name, is a favorite among rural churches. In the Old Testament it's referred to as the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant.
Walking old cemeteries as I do from time to time-I'm reminded grave stones evoke the past. They are visible signs of our early Texas pioneers, symbols of our ancestors buried there.
Learning history by reading these old tombstones is more interesting than reading any text book-so is answering the phone!
1. Photograph of Ida Lee Derrett, age 23.
2. Framed photograph of Shiloh Church. Note a huge tree casts a shadow on the front of the building.
3. Photograph, Ida Lee 96 years, taken by Burkett during interview, August 2016. She is holding a copy of Tree Talk.
4. Allen Drug Store, Alto 1940s -- Ida Lee seen far left behind counter.