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A lifetime of memories, friendships

Book highlights summers spent in Martins Ferry

July 4, 2010
By KIM LOCCISANO, For The Times Leader

Of what value is a bright summertime memory to a child? To a woman who spent many summers of her youth as a guest of family members who lived in the heart of Martins Ferry, they are still among the life memories she holds most dear; making them well worth including in a written collection she recently completed for a very special target audience: her grandchildren and their descendants.

"Memories of Growing Up and Samuel and Van Valkenburgh Family Histories" is the book JoAnn Van Valkenburgh Whitacre has crafted, and recently has seen come to life through a limited number of copies for exclusive distribution to a very special readership group her family members.

At age 10, JoAnn Van Valkenburgh, now Mrs. Sam Whitacre wife, mother, grandmother, and retired registered nurse, saw everything about her many childhood summer adventures to Martins Ferry as part of a great adventure designed solely for her enjoyment.

Article Photos

JoAnn Van Valkenburgh Whitacre was a regular summer visitor to Martins Ferry from age 10 to 17. Memories of those annual visits continue to be so highly treasured by her that several
sections of a family
history and select
childhood memory book are filled with memories of those experiences. Many of her summertime
vacation memories reflect special
friendships made during those special times, such as her lifelong friendship with Martins Ferry native Martha Weber.

The trips to the Ohio Valley were rich in experiences to be remembered for a lifetime. There were so many wonderful memories she has of time enjoyed visiting in Martins Ferry that she decided to dedicate several sections in the recently finished family history book to those events.

"Trips to Martins Ferry were times I looked forward to every year. I was free to run around town with my friends here, and visit with lots of family, as everyone lived pretty close to downtown," recalled Whitacre, who recalled deciding that while in the Ohio Valley she would be known as "Pat" not as JoAnn, noting the fun of "reinventing" yourself - a habit that remains popular with teens yet today.

"It was quite an adventure itself. The bus trip from Texas to Bridgeport took three days and two nights to complete," she said during a recent conversation about the newly published family history project and how her mother made her feel secure and safe on the lengthy trip she often made alone between the ages of 10 and 17.

She said summer did not officially start for her until she had both feet firmly on the ground at the Bridgeport bus station and her favorite aunt, Mary Samuel, had scooped her up and was whisking her off to see more family and friends in Martins Ferry.

During a trip to Martins Ferry in late June, Whitacre enjoyed spending time at Martins Ferry's City Park with her lifelong friend, local resident Martha Thompson Weber.

The two had met during one of Whitacre's trips to Martins Ferry.

Sitting near the military memorial in the popular site discussions between the two women spanned such memorable elements of their everyday life as teens during war times including such things as having had a family victory garden; taking part in mock air raid drills for the local residents; seeing the popular performers Abbott and Costello when a War Era Bond Tour brought the national entertainers to Wheeling; seeing signs posted in the windows of family homes of those who had sons then serving in the military; and life with ration books.

"Every person had a ration book and that went to the store with you," offered Whitacre. "Those ration stamps were precious and I always had my book of stamps with me when I went to Martins Ferry."

Not wanting to paint a picture for her family members of today that as a youngster she was a "perfect angel," Whitacre decided to include her memories of how she and several others marked the day on which the end of World War II was celebrated. Details of the celebration include admissions of dropping small balloons filled with water out of windows from a second floor window of a family residence in the business center of town onto unsuspecting revelers gathered on the street below in Martins Ferry.

"But we were very careful to only drop them on men," she said during a recent conversation with Weber and others.

Though Whitacre brings to these pages the personal experiences of a person living at a very significant time in the nation, World War II, it is equally filled with memories of excitement and anticipation at seeing what was on the agenda for tomorrow when her Aunt Mary Samuel, the first woman ever elected to Martins Ferry City council, was in charge of the schedule for the two teenagers.

The mere mention of those adventurous times is quick to bring a smile to the faces of both Whitacre and Weber.

While young people were expected to help with work at home, there were plenty of opportunities for the two to enjoy local swimming pools, social events, watching movies at the former Fenray Theater in downtown Martins Ferry, riding street cars, taking the bus, and even joining a senior member of the family on treks to local horse racing venues.

"Everything seemed to be just a short walk from one of my family members homes in downtown Martins Ferry. We could always enjoy a full day of fun, because there was so much to do and see in Martins Ferry then and it was almost all in what we called downtown," offered Whitacre.

She noted many relatives came to Martins Ferry due to the growing industry, many having moved from Pittsburgh to Martins Ferry after immigrating from Wales.

College and her adult life took her to destinations and adventures to many points around the world, but none hold the special attraction Martins Ferry did and continues to even today.

After working with two grandchildren on a school project centered on lessons meant to increase their understanding of "where we each have come from what brought us each to where we are today in life," Whitacre said she saw the value of sharing her family information in book form.

The family history book has been a labor of love which spanned three years and began life as notes being scribbled on small pages of paper pads gathered while on various treks across the country and around the world.

"Three years later I was ready to put it all together," she said, of the process that took the story of her family both in good times and in tough times from notes to finished product.

She gives much credit for its final transformation to the skills and loving care given those notes by her daughter, Laura Whitacre France. The mother-daughter team not only worked together on the copy to be included in the 78-page book, but France agreed to provide original illustrations for the book sections of the book.

Getting her daughter deeply involved in pulling the project together into its final book form could not have made the genealogist and family historian within Whitacre or her Martins Ferry based longtime friends - happier, as she too has become well acquainted with the lives and experiences her mother has so lovingly shared through the birth of this book.



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