Finding & honoring the past: Longtime Prescott resident locates grandfather's grave; shares family memories
Prescott's Mountain View Cemetery is the final resting place of many people, including Ruth Duccini, the last of the female Munchkins who appeared in the Wizard of Oz, and Tex Ritter's widow, Dorothy Fay Southworth Ritter (also mother of the late actor John Ritter).
Leslie Thomas, however, couldn't find the grave of the less well-known James O. Waugh, his maternal grandfather, no matter how carefully he searched for the headstone.
He found his paternal grandparents' marker, Leola and Willie Keene - even though Willie's remains are actually back east somewhere - but he couldn't locate Waugh until he found Toby DeHerrera Jr. Herrera helps manage the grounds at Mountain View, along with his father and brother who work at several cemeteries through Heritage Memory Mortuary.
When Thomas found him this past month and asked about Waugh's gravesite, the two of them checked the log and map in the office and eventually located the grave and marker nearly obscured with overgrown bushes from an adjacent gravesite.
"Over time, with storms, dirt and mud washed down and had covered most of the marker," DeHerrera said. "I told him we would take care of it right away."
Thomas said he was impressed with how quickly DeHerrera trimmed back the bushes and cleaned off the marker.
So who was James O. Waugh?
"He lived in Virginia and West Virginia most of his life. As he got older, he came here to be with family. He was here for less than a year and then died," Thomas said.
Waugh also worked as a cook in a Virginia hotel. "Maybe that's where my interest in cooking came from," Thomas, a retired technical illustrator, said.
He was living in Phoenix at the time, and had come up to Prescott near his mother's birthday on Feb. 9. Waugh, born in 1901, was in the hospital after suffering several strokes. He died Feb. 6, 1977.
The last time Thomas ate anything his grandfather cooked was in July 1964, when his family visited West Virginia.
"The last impression I had - he had cooked yellow squash - was at the table eating it. Pop took out his teeth and set them next to his plate. As a 15-year-old, I thought it was funny," Thomas said, who still laughs about the incident. "It was just a meal, but it was always a treat to eat his food."
Thomas' mother and an older sister, Ann, moved to Prescott in November 1950 in hopes that Ann's health - she had asthma - would improve. The plan was to stay in the boarding house, located on Granite Street, for six months, and then return to Newark.
"She was a city girl. The train from Ash Fork to Prescott arrived in the middle of the night, and she had on suede shoes. She stepped out of the train into the dust. She wasn't used to it," Thomas said. "That was her first experience in Prescott. But she was easily adaptable."
His mother, Bernice, decided to stay. His father, William, had driven cross-country once or twice during the previous six months - he was a taxi driver and loved to drive - and he and Leslie soon joined the family permanently. Odd jobs, such as hand digging the swimming pool at a local motel in the middle of winter, were soon followed by steady work in an egg hatchery on Miller Valley Road across the street from the current post office. Thomas' mother was soon killing and plucking chickens for the family's dinner table.
Later, his father worked more than 20 years as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Affairs Health Care Services, then in a position that was a precursor to school security with the Prescott Unified School District.
"I remember his dad from junior high," DeHerrera said. "He always had a suit on. I never got in trouble, but plenty of kids did."
Thomas said if his father put on his "serious face," he could be quite intimidating.
Bernice had both her father-in-law and her father living with her at the time of Waugh's death. Thomas said it was tough on her because she also held a full-time job as supervisor with Morris Maler Manufacturing on North Washington Street. Beginning as a seamstress, she worked for the Shirt Factory, as it was known, for nearly 30 years when it closed in the late 1980s. Bernice passed away in 2006; her husband died in 1992. Both graves are a few feet from Waugh's and next to Leola Keene.
Thomas said he supposes he has the pick of the empty Willie Keene grave next to his grandmother or the vacant space next to Waugh's double gravesite.
But before that need will arise, his next project is to find the gravesite of Baby Sister Thomas, stillborn on Jan. 11, 1957, at either the Oddfellows Cemetery near Acker Park or the Citizens Cemetery on Sheldon. He and his two sisters called the baby "Robin," but the death certificate indicates she had no name. He said he has yet to find where she is buried, as most infant sections in cemeteries remain unmarked.
Follow Sue Tone on Twitter@ToneNotes. Reach her at 928-445-3333 x2043 or 928-642-7867.