Tag Archives: Kenneth Earl Fair

Rhema Anderson Fair

Stuck on the Farm

I have written about my aunt Rhema Anderson Fair (1901-1996) before, but two events have inspired me to tell you more stories about her. Rhema, who was my mother’s (Harriette Anderson Kaser’s) half sister, has many, many stories, among them, her escape from the farm.

No doubt, Aunt Rhema’s experiences on the farm she and her husband Kenneth Earl Fair (1898-1994) lived on when they were married parallel those of many farm wives.  But you see, she didn’t quite bargain on being a farm wife to start out with.

In my previous story about Rhema, I explained a little of how, when her mother died, she was raised by relatives rather than by her own father, who married my grandmother after his first wife died. It is no wonder that she was a little restless and yearning for a family of her own.

Amy Anderson Roof. Foreground, Rhema Anderson (Fair)

Amy Anderson Roof. Foreground, Rhema Anderson (Fair)

The person who had the most influence on Rhema, her great aunt, Amy Anderson Roof, taught her to value learning and education.  Amy, as I have related before, had traveled widely with her husband Thomas Roof, who left her a widow when Rhema was five. Then Amy joined Rhema’s great Uncle Frank Anderson in taking care of the young girl. Amy was deeply religious and had plans for Rhema.

At sixteen Rhema met and fell in love with her future husband, who was then nearly twenty.

Rhema Anderson Fair

Rhema, in the white dress, and Earl on the far right. Their first meeting, 1917. Clark, Ohio

Rhema Anderson Fair

Rhema Anderson at 17, a student at Bethany College in West Virginia (1918)

The family, of course thought it was a bit young to be getting so serious, and Aunt Amy thought Rhema needed a religious education, so they bundled her off to college. But in less than a year Rhema was back in Killbuck, Ohio and by the time she was 18 1/2 she had married Earl.  The great aunt and great uncle who were responsible for her did not object strenuously to the marriage because Earl came from a prosperous farm family. And the fact that Earl was a teacher impressed the Anderson relatives who respected education.

The young couple moved into a small house on the large Fair farm near Clark, Ohio. Suddenly, Rhema, who was used to living in a large house in town with fine china and a laundress to take care of the wash, was living in a ramshackle two-bedroom house with a door that did not fit into the frame and a screen door that hung loose on the hinges, and an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing.

She was expected to pitch in and got up at 5 or 6 in the morning and milked 6 or 8 of the 16 cows. The barn was at the bottom of a steep hill, and the house at the top.  She carried the pails of milk up the hill and ran them through the hand-cranked separator, and then carried the pails of milk and cream back down to the barn where the dairyman would pick them up. All of this happened twice a day. This went on until her husband built a milk house near the barn.

Other farm chores included feeding the cattle, pigs, and sheep. Her mother-in-law, who lived in the big house, took care of the chickens, and an Uncle of Earl’s looked after the garden.  The farm grew corn and oats and so at harvest time, extra hands would appear for Rhema to cook for.

She also had to carry water up the hill to the house for several years until Earl had a well drilled for the house. In five year’s time, after the birth of Frank (1920) and Richard (1925) she was cooking and doing laundry for a family of four in addition to the farm chores. But there was also always a farm hand that lived with them–another mouth to feed.

Around the time that her first  son, Frank, was born in 1920, oil was discovered in the area and oil-well drillers came to the farm.  In order to raise a little extra money, Rhema took in oil workers as boarders, so she had more responsibility.  Three or four would sleep in one room of the 2-bedroom house.  In nice weather, one might sleep on the porch.

Why, you might be wondering, since this was a supposedly a prosperous farm and oil was found on the property, could they not have more improvements in their way of life?  Well, Earl’s father owned the farm, and the old man was not all that crazy about farming and even less enthusiastic about spending any money on improvements.

Earl kept teaching and went away to take classes each summer. In this picture Harriette–my mother, who had a teaching job in Clark, joins the family.)

Rhema Anderson Fair

Harriette Anderson, Earl, holding Richard, Rhema and Frank in front. (1925, Clark)

Finally, they made a temporary move to an apartment in an old hotel building in the town of Clark, just a mile or so from the farm. Although that was somewhat of an improvement, Rhema again took in boarders.  In later years, as Rhema told her story, she said with prize-winning understatement and her trademark grin, “You’re getting the idea that I didn’t  care for farming.”

Rhema Anderson Fair

Rhema Anderson Fair, in Kent, Ohio, circa 1940

Her boys grew up on the farm and in Clark, and finally, after 18 years, Rhema and Earl moved to Kent, Ohio, so that Earl could finish his schooling and get a better job.  In order to make the escape from the farm, Rhema had to be able to make money, and she got a job as a housemother for a bunch of unruly college boys. How she advanced from being a housemother to a University Director of Housing–and in her words “To BE somebody,” is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that she never had to carry water or milk cows again.

The Stories behind the Story

The first event that inspired more Rhema tales came in the mail. I received a package that is the kind of thing that family historians dream about.  As a result of the first article I wrote, grandchildren of my Aunt Rhema got in touch with me and one day I received four DVDs in the mail.  Three of them are a video of Aunt Rhema talking about her family history and stories. The fourth is pictures of the family. I hardly need to tell you what a treasure trove that is! I thank them for permission to use the pictures you see here.

The video was made in 1989, when Rhema was 88 years old, and yet I felt like it was the Rhema I knew from the 1960’s, with sparkling brown eyes, that slight tilt of the head when she gave a rather ornery smile, and her meticulous dedication to being sure that everything she said was correct. So the story of escaping the farm comes from Rhema herself.

52 ancestors logoThe second event arrived over the computer.  With a little time on my hands over the holidays, I roamed through some genealogy sites on the Internet, and discovered the wonderfully named No Story Too Small, written by Amy Johnson Crow. Amy started a blogger challenge called 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks and an army of genealogy buffs signed up, including Ancestors in Aprons. Each week in 2014, I’ll be sharing a story from one of my ancestors.

Rhema Anderson Fair, The Dynamo Who Inspired Me

Note: WELCOME all Fair cousins (and all fair cousins as well). I hope you’ll add your memories of Rhema and Earl and also hope you’ll poke around and find stuff about Daddy Guy Anderson, Vera Anderson, Telmar Anderson, and other ancestors we have in common. Make yourself known to me. Love to meet relatives. I’ll be sharing a recipe from Rhema in December.

Remembering Rhema Anderson Fair, (1901-1996), my aunt, she who made the gravy.

Rhema Anderson Fair

Rhema Anderson (Fair) in 1909, about 8 years old.

Rhema Anderson was the sour-looking little girl in the 1909 family picture.

Telmar and Rhema Anderson

Telmar and Rhema Anderson, Photo from the collection of Kenneth J Fair at Ancestry.com

In fact, she didn’t look very cheerful in other childhood pictures, like this one with her brother Telmar.



No wonder the little girl was a bit grouchy.  Her mother died when she was 2 years old. When her father, Guy Anderson remarried a year later, she was sent to live with Franklin Anderson, Guy’s uncle. And when Rhema was eleven, Frank Anderson’s wife Sarah  Jane died.

Although she had contact with her father, and briefly lived with him, she must have felt like something of an orphan. I hasten to add that Frank and his wife Sarah Jane who had no children of their own, made a warm home for the little girl. But maybe Rhema just wasn’t suited for farm and farm community life.

When she was 18, Rhema became Rhema Anderson Fair when she married Kenneth Earl Fair (1898-1994). They lived  on his family farm in Clark Township, Holmes County, Ohio. Earl, who had 3 years of college,  taught school in Clark, and that’s where my mother, Harriette Anderson, had her first teaching job.

While Rhema and Earl lived in Clark, they had two boys–their only children. Rhema’s affection for Franklin Anderson, the man who raised her, was expressed when she named her first son after him.

You can see in this picture how tiny Rhema was. Mother may be standing slightly uphill, but she was never more than 5’4″, so Rhema Anderson Fair is about five feet tall.

Rhema Anderson Fair and family

Harriette Anderson, Baby Richard (Dick) Fair held by Earl Fair, Frank Fair and Rhema Fair on farm in Clark, Ohio 1925

Some time around 1940, the Fair family moved to Kent, Ohio,  Rhema took a job at Kent State University  as a housemother at a dorm, and Earl finished his college education. (I assume he got free tuition since she worked at the University.) These two, who had always lived on a farm or in a small farming community, took to city life and the University milieu like they were made for it.

Earl went to work for one of the big rubber companies, and that’s where he worked until he retired, as Rhema climbed the administrative ladder at the University, winding up as head of Student Housing at Kent State University. She wasn’t just a good cook…it seemed to me was good at everything she touched.

She was intelligent and witty and cute, besides. She always had a beautiful home and she was one of my role models because like many of the women in our family, she had a career outside the home before it was a routine thing for women to do.

Rhema Anderson Fair at Kent State

Rhema Fair at Kent State unversity. Photo from the collection of Kennth J. Fair at Ancestry.com

Always smartly dressed, and coiffed, she seemed to be a whirlwind of activity, known for her high heels clicking down the hallways, carrying the  5″2″ powerhouse around the campus. Since I had the same small feet that Rhema had, she used to send me shoes she tired of from her enormous collection, and bred a shoe collecting mania in her niece.

I remember one time proudly showing her everything in my closet, and she oohed and aahed over each dress and blouse, although in retrospect, it was not a very impressive collection.  She sent me the BEST Christmas presents–always just perfect for me–a purse, a scarf–perfume. Maybe I was the girl she never had (she had two boys) and that’s why she enjoyed sharing girly fashion things with me.

Her sour look in her early pictures could not be further from the cheerful, laughing Aunt Rhema that I knew. I remember her as  always interested in the person she was talking to, focusing her soft brown eyes on yours sympathetically. As a teenager, I felt that she understood me better than most adults. And maybe she did, since she worked with young people all the time.

When she and Earl retired, they left the lovely home they had built in Kent and moved to northern Arkansas  where Earl could fish and swap yarns with the locals.  They later lived with their son Frank and his wife Ruth in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Earl credited his long life to smoking cigars and drinking bourbon and branch water, and Rhema credited hers to keeping up with Earl. Their younger son, Dick, who died in 1968, at 43, did not have any children, but Frank made up for that. Rhema and Earl were very proud of their large family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In December 1986 the family gathered in Pine Bluff for this picture.

Rhema Anderson Fair and family

Rhema and Earl Fair (Seated on gold chairs) and Family, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Christmas 1986

Rhema wrote a chatty letter to her half-sister Harriette Kaser (my mother) along with the picture.

“How’s this for progeny.  We even look sort of ‘smirky?’ But really aren’t they a good looking bunch?….Earl and I just ‘muddle’ along–We are well considering Earl is 89 yrs old and I will be 86 in July…”

She told where all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are living and working and talked about some minor medical issues. But, really, hearing that Earl was 89 and Rhema is 86 made me look at the picture again.  Really?? 89??

Rhema passed away in 1996 at the age of 96, two years after Earl, who also had lived to 96.  Those are some genes to have in the family tree.

Oh, one more thing. In that letter to my mother that came with the picture. Rhema, known for giving fancy dinner parties and hobnobbing with the University set, says “I just made mush.  Earl wants mush and sausage gravy for dinner.”  There’s that gravy again. You can take the girl and boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of their cooking.