Remembering 100 years, a Wabash centenarianís story

Hensley Crum was surrounded by family as she shared her story with The Paper of Wabash County. Joining her at the interview were (front row, from left) granddaughter Angela Hershberger, daughter Carolyn Konrath, (back row, from left) daughter Sue McConniel, granddaughter Ronda Webb, daughter Judy Gale, granddaughter Georgia Wilson and sister-in-law Regina Monroe. Photo by Emma Rausch

By Emma Rausch

On Thursday, Aug. 17, Georgia Hensley Crum hit a milestone not many can claim.

She turned 100-years-old.

Throughout the last century, Hensley Crum, a former Wabash resident, lived through some of the United States’ most historical moments, watched technology advance from oil lamps to solar energy, and, most notable of all, worked hard to raise a family.

For this centenarian, age is only a number while her mind is still as sharp as a tack.

“I could tell you stories for hours,” Hensley Crum told The Paper of Wabash County. “I could talk forever and I remember it all.”

On Aug. 17, 1917, Hensley Crum was born to Frank and Virginia “Jenny” Monroe in the Lee County, Va. She was the fourth child of 13 with “six brothers and five sisters” and an unknown sibling who died at birth.

“I’d bow down and do anything for any of them,” Hensley Crum said. “I loved all of them. We got along really well growing up and made sure we had food on the table. We all pitched in. I loved each and every one of them.”

As a little girl, she grew up near Black Mountain and remembers a life much different than today’s.

“I remember when I was about 6-years-old really well,” she said. “I stayed at my grandma’s and she made apple butter and I stirred it for her. The pan was bigger than I was.

“I raised my garden, raised beans and potatoes, and dug coal out of the coal mine to keep warm during the winter time. We hunted for chestnut berries, cracked the chestnuts and took them home to eat them. … We didn’t have a horse and buggy, but we had a little pony and a cow. … I remember making mudpies and playing in a playhouse.

“I remember growing up and my hair came down (to my hips) and I rolled my hair in paper sacks,” she continued. “I turned and twisted and rolled up hair up and I went to church. I remember that. That was when I was growing out of my baby-hood, trying to be pretty. I had two dresses. We didn’t wear pants back then. We wore skirts and dresses that Mommy made.”

Mrs. Monroe, a Cherokee Native American, washed and ironed clothes while Mr. Monroe cut coal in a mine. Her father’s brother, Bill Monroe, was the famous Grand Ole’ Opry mandolinist, singer and songwriter.

Back then, Hensley Crum’s family had to boil water and dump it into a tub to bathe. Brown sugar would come to general stores in barrels, maple syrup at the Monroe household was homemade, the garden was the best commodity to feed the family and not everyone knew what money looked like, according to Hensley Crum.

“Never even dreamed of money (as a child) as we never had any,” she explained. “I found a nickel one time and didn’t know what it was. Mama washed and ironed for a doctor and they had a little boy. I went up to his house and played, and I found a nickel on the steps.

“I didn’t know what it was. I took it home and I said, ‘Mommy, I found this at Martha’s house underneath the steps.’ She said, ‘That’s money. That’s a nickel.’ She got me by the hand and made me take it back, said, ‘You don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you.’

“That lady said, though, ‘She can have it,’” she continued. “Mommy washed and ironed for them and used a washboard. I remember that from just when I was a little girl.”

At one point as a child, the Monroe family moved to Kentucky by walking across Black Mountain from Virginia.

During that time, Hensley Crum was a student. However, she didn’t remain one much longer afterward. She only made it through the third grade before she had to leave to help support her family by working. She never did learn how to read or write.

“I went to school in West Virginia and a little bit in Kentucky,” she said. “I didn’t go very far. I had to go to work, had to make a living. I worked in the gardens and raised food. I dug coal, chopped down trees and lived in a log house.

“We canned apples and berries, picked huckleberries, and worked. We just worked. If we didn’t work, we didn’t eat.”

Perishable items were bottled and stored in a spring since “we didn’t have a refrigerator,” Hensley Crum said.

“We didn’t have a T.V., didn’t have a radio,” she continued. “We didn’t have a lightbulb. We had oil lamps. We carried our oil lamps everywhere so we could see. … Mommy finally got an ice box (early refrigerator) where you put a big thing ice in the top. We only bought one. We had moved to Kenvir, Ky., when we got that 85-years ago. I remember it just like it was yesterday.”

The world has really changed since 100 years ago, according to Hensley Crum.

“Oh my gosh, it’s changed so much,” she exclaimed. “I wish I had (today’s technology) when I was growing up and when I was raising my family.

“I can’t believe how the world has turned around since I was born. I can’t believe it. My mind just can’t comprehend it.”

As time passed, technology went from oil lamps and outhouse restrooms to cell phones and electricity. People went from learning how to go without to enjoying “the land of plenty.”

“I’m glad my family has got it made,” she said. “You can reach up on the shelf and get just about anything you want. If you can’t get what you want, just use your own recipe and add something with it.”

Wife and Mother
In 1935, Hensley Crum met Noble Hensley at “a church up on a hill” in Mills Creek, Ky.

“I thought he was wonderful, great,” she said. “He was good to me. He helped me raise my kids and he worked in a coal mine.”

Together, the couple raised seven children--Ralph, Geraldine, Herald, J.B., Sue, Carolyn and Judy--in the hills of Kentucky before life brought them to Wabash County in 1955.

“I stayed home with them a lot,” Hensley Crum said. “When I went to work, my husband would be coming in to take care of them. I’d get dinner ready before I left so they wouldn’t go hungry and he would do the rest while I was at work.”

When the kids were born, she stayed home, but went to work hanging wallpaper and cleaning houses once they got a bit older.

As a mother and wife, life was not easy and finances were stretched thin.

In 1955, Hensley Crum was the first to arrive in Wabash, and only able to bring her youngest daughter, Judy, with her. Due to financial troubles, her husband and other children stayed with her siblings Frank, Willie and Tootsie in Kentucky.

She worked at Wabash Magnetics and sent money back to Kentucky to support the family.

“When I got a job (in Wabash), I was tickled to death,” she said. “That lady said, ‘That woman’s got seven kids.’ They didn’t believe me.”

Hensley Crum’s favorite memory to this day is when she was finally able to return to Kentucky and bring her family to Indiana.

The Hensley family rented homes in Wabash on streets including Mill Street, Washington Street, Hill Street and Main Street.

“I rented an old run down house in Wabash on Mill Street and when I got done with it, it was pretty,” she said. “Every time Wabash flooded, our house flooded.”

Approximately four houses the family rented from Jim Brooks.

“I liked him, Jim Brooks,” Hensley Crum said. “He passed away, but he’s a good guy. He knew I had it rough and he only charged me $12 a week for rent. I had little kids. He was so nice.”

In Wabash, Mr. Hensley poured concrete for buildings.

“Then he went to work at Midwest where they made lumber, or press wood,” Hensley Crum said. “Then he worked at Wabash County hospital. He shined and cleaned the floors and then he finally moved into the laundry room.”

For some time, Hensley Crum worked at the Wabash Cafeteria, a restaurant formerly located in downtown Wabash, before she started managing Town Cafe, which was formerly owned by her brother Frank Monroe and his wife, Regina.

Though she refused to ask for help, her brother’s family was always there to lend a hand at the most unexpected times, once to simply help Hensley Crum have a cup of coffee.

“(Frank) said, ‘You need some money, Geordy?’” she said. “I said, ‘Yeah I need some, but I can’t pay it back and I’m not borrowing (any.’ He rushed me $45 and said, ‘You don’t owe me nothing.’ I tried to pay him back and he wouldn’t take it. So I went and got me some coffee.”

For nearly 50 years, through struggles and happy times, Hensley Crum raised her family in Wabash. She now lives with her daughter in Florida.

“My grandma lived with us for a few years (as I was) growing up,” Angela Hensley Hershberger, Hensley Crum’s granddaughter, told The Paper. “I remember going to the ‘Passion (of the Christ)’ play in Marion with her and my sister. Wonderful times. She would give everything she had for family.

“She calls all of her grand, great grand and great-great grandchildren her babies and her angels, and she means it about each and every single one of them. Many of her grandchildren make trips to Florida to stay and visit. My sister and I are planning another trip down in November. She remains very close to us all. (She is) just a tremendous, respected woman of faith and strength.”

Good life keeps coming
Hensley Crum is proud of how the world has become, she said, and wants the ‘good work’ to keep going.

“Don’t change a thing, just add to it,” she said. “Just keep going and love everybody. Treat everybody nice. Just keep up the good work.”

On Saturday, Aug. 19, she celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by friends and family, including her youngest brother and last-remaining sibling Albert Monroe, 84.

As a woman who has lived through many trials and worked hard every step of the way, Hensley Crum said she’d like future generations “to keep up the good work.”

“Everything will work out,” she said. “Be good and love each other. Family is everything. Go to church and be good. I go to church but I can’t hear what they say.

“But He’ll help when I get to Heaven. I’ll hear everything. And I’m working on it. I do my best to be good. Life is what you make of it. You don’t take it with you.”

Posted on 2017 Aug 29