Faces in the Crowd: Abe and Nora Ashby

August 9, 2018

By Aaron Michell
Correspondent

Sometime around 1950, Nora Overholt met Abe Ashby.
Nora, the daughter of Warren and Pearl Overholt, was curling her mother’s hair at the family’s 5th Street Marion residence when Abe first laid eyes upon her.
Abe, the son of Elmer and Linda Ashby, had driven up from his home in Flint to see his sister, Virginia – a friend and co-worker of Nora’s sister Beatrice – but as soon as Abe met Nora he was smitten.
So he spent the next year chasing her all over the state.
Eventually, after Nora graduated from Marion High in 1951, the couple married and set off on their new adventure together and never looked back.
From the auto industry in Flint, to the pipeline in Montana, to their hometown of Marion and their winter home in Tularosa, New Mexico, the Ashby family has kept busy with this adventure called life.
And with 7 kids, 24 grandkids, even more great-grandkids, and now a great-great-grandchild in the family, it’s fair to say that they have a lot to show for it.
We caught up with Abe, Nora, and their oldest and only daughter, Vivian [Doran], recently at the Ashby-Johnson homestead on M-66. We spoke about Abe’s penchant for reading western novels and mowing the lawn; we talked about Nora’s love for genealogy, shuffleboard, and cross-stitching. We spoke about the early days of Marion, and their winter home in Tularosa.
But the conversation always came back to family. Always.
What we learned from Abe and Nora is that the two of them are much more than just a couple of faces in the crowd. But we also learned that when you have a really big family like they do, there’s going to be a lot more to talk about – we learned that too.

Nora and Abe Ashby hold family close to their hearts.

Nora and Abe Ashby hold family close to their hearts.

Marion Press: What brought you to Marion?
Abe: [Points at Nora]
Nora: It wasn’t me. It was to come and see his sister, and I just happened to be there.

MP: Okay, so let’s talk about the Overholt family. You had a big family, right?
Nora: I had four sisters. Beatrice [Ashby] was the oldest; then Dorothy, Linda, and Ruthanne.

MP: I know this farm has been in the family for a long time, did you grow up here in this spot?
Nora: No. When I was little – when Bea and I were little – and Dorothy was born, we lived in Saranac, Michigan. On a little farm down there, a little dirt farm. It didn’t amount to much. Then, around 1940, after my grandpa died – probably the summer of ’41 – my folks moved up here and my dad found work up here. So we’ve lived here ever since I was in the 3rd grade.
My grandparents [the Sharp family] lived up here. I was actually born in Marion, in my grandparents’ house; the Sharp’s house. You know that little house on the river there behind Buckey’s [Diner]? That’s where I was born. Right there behind the restaurant on Clark Street. My mom came up here so she could be at my parents’ house when I was born, I guess – instead of way down there in Saranac.

MP: Do you remember moving up here in 3rd grade?
Nora: Yes, I do. My dad got a job working for Doc Carroll peeling pulpwood, over on M-115. And there was a little trailer over there and Uncle Amos lived here, and he had an old shed – and I can remember him hauling it with his tractor, down M-115 and adding it to that little trailer. And that’s where we lived.
And then I had to walk all the way down to Pete’s Place, and up to the Pisgah Heights Country School. I went to that country school for half a year.
Then we moved into town; we lived on South Blevins Street, right close to the entrance to the park there – we lived across the street from Emily [Crozier’s] grandma. And we referred to it as the black tar-paper shack.
So we lived there for two years. And then we lived on 5th Street, Helen [Michell] bought the house later on, but my dad bought that house when I was in the 5th grade, and that’s where I grew up. I never lived here [on M-66].
After we got married in ’51, my dad bought this place in ’52. My sister, Linda, said it was like moving from riches to rags. They didn’t have an inside toilet!

MP: When did you two meet?
Abe: Her sister [Bea] worked at what they called Flint Park – it was an amusement park with rides and concessions. And my sister [Virginia] went to work at the same park. And [Virginia] and [Bea] got to be friends, and when the park closed in the fall, I’d come up to see my sister, and I run into [Nora].
Vivian: They worked at Riverside Electric factory together. Aunt Ginny [Virginia] was staying at the Hulliberger’s house.

MP: Do you remember the first time you two met?
Abe: She was doing her mother’s hair when I first met her, and I immediately fell in love.

MP: Love at first sight!
Abe: I never stopped coming up here – but she wished I hadn’t, sometimes. Her parents didn’t like me because I grew a beard. Even once in a while – although I’d never gotten my ears pierced – I wore an earring. I was just an oddball.

MP: So you were a bit of a rebel?
Abe: I tried to be! Sometimes it didn’t work out well… I went to a parochial school until the 5th grade, and then I went to the Beecher School in Flint in the 6th grade and then I just quit school all together. I just run away; nobody knew where I was at.
Nobody knew about it. I was big enough that I looked old enough to be out of school; nobody ever questioned it. And I was making 15 dollars a month!

Abe and Nora Ashby with their children.

Abe and Nora Ashby with their children.

MP: What were some of your first jobs?
Abe: A used furniture store; just rousting around, mostly.
Vivian: When he was younger he had a mail route.
Abe: I was a newspaper boy – I had built up a newspaper route from 100 to 300, and I was getting busy. And then my brother had a route in the morning, and he got tired of that, so I had to take it over. So I’d get up and peddle papers before daylight, and then in the evening I’d [deliver] the Flint Journal. Detroit Times [delivery route] was in the morning.

MP: So you met when you were doing your mom’s hair?
Nora: Yeah, I was curling my mom’s hair.
Abe: You could say that we were school sweethearts because she was in school yet. I used to go over to the school at noon, before I drove back to Flint; I’d have to go back to Flint and work Monday night, because I worked nights, and I’d see her in school before I took off.

MP: What year did you get married?
Nora: In ’51. As soon as I turned 18. I would not get married until I was 18 because I wasn’t going to get my parents’ permission, because they weren’t going to give it to me anyways!
Abe: Me neither; they didn’t like me.
Nora: After I graduated from high school [in ‘51], I went to Grand Rapids and got a job down there in a drug store – at Grant’s Drug Store – and stayed with my aunt and uncle and worked down there. Then he came down there to visit me from Flint.

Abe and Nora Ashby with their grand children.

Abe and Nora Ashby with their grand children.

MP: He just kept chasing you all over the state!
Nora: Yeah, and so we eloped. I never told my parents I was married for three months. I was too afraid! He was living in Flint so I went and stayed with his sister and we ended up getting married and renting an apartment.

MP: How many years did you live in Flint?
Abe: I had ten years in at Buick. I was a lift truck driver; worked some on the motor line, and different lines. Worked some for Chevrolet. My dad was in the big rumble with the unions [in 1936-37]. He was in that sit-down strike with Chevrolet – that was a long time ago.

MP: So you were in Flint for ten years. At some point you started having some kids.
Abe: [Sarcastically] No…

MP: Tell us about your kids.
Nora: Well, [pointing to Vivian] she’s the oldest.
Vivian: The one and only!
Abe: Took [Nora] to the hospital and went to my mother’s [place] right there in Flint and went to bed. Nurse tried to get her to call me, and she wouldn’t – not until the baby was born. So I wasn’t even there.

MP: Oh boy. Are you mad at your dad for that?
Vivian: There ya go – that’s why I don’t like him!
Nora: Dennis was our second child – they’re a year and four days apart.
Vivian: We used to have to celebrate our birthdays together, because mine was July 9th and his was July 13th.
Nora: Tim was our third child. Then Rick was our fourth child. And then Pete, then Jim, then Tony.
Vivian: There’s 13 years difference between me and Tony.

MP: 7 kids in 13 years – I’d say that’s pretty good.
Nora: So I was busy…

Abe and Nora Ashby with their great grand children.

Abe and Nora Ashby with their great grand children.

MP: And what did the Ashby boys – and Vivian – what did you guys like to do as a family?
Nora: When we come back to Marion, we lived out on 10th Avenue, where Dennis [and Claudia Ashby] lived recently. We bought that property from Bernard Crozier’s mother and stepfather. And when we moved there, we were the only house on that road. And Bea and Jack bought that place on 17 Mile Road and so our kids played back and forth all the time. And the Nowland kids – they’d all get together at Bea’s house because she had a big yard.
Abe: We didn’t know if they were playing football or baseball; they’d mix the two up.
Nora: I just opened up the door and let them out in the morning!
Vivian: And Rex Opper lived out there and we’d play basketball at his house. The boys roamed more than I did. I wouldn’t roam with them that much, but I remember grandpa calling over and asking mom if she was missing any boys, because they went out back and ended up over here [at the homestead on M-66]. It’s almost a straight shot [two miles away] and they took Tony with them and he was maybe a year and half – and they walked him over a log across the [Middle Branch] River to get here!
Nora: Our farm [on M-66 just north of M-61] has been here in the family since the early 1900s. This has always been in the family, because my great-grandfather bought this place from his sister. It’s just always been our family farm here. Birge was my grandma’s maiden name, then she married a Sharp, and then my mom married an Overholt.
Vivian: It was a Birge farm, then a Sharp farm, then Overholt; and then from Overholt to Ashby and now it’s the Johnson farm – Nicole [Ashby] and Mike Johnson live in the main house and own the farm now.

MP: Tell us about the Ashby Fireworks show – how long has that been going on?
Vivian: Well, Nikki and Mike [Johnson] got it going pretty good.
Abe: I don’t know why you’d call it the Ashby fireworks – the Johnson’s put up the money!

MP: Okay, we’ll call it the Ashby-Johnson fireworks.
Nora: Well, I think where it started from was a cousin of mine who’d come up and bring fireworks on the 4th – and I didn’t like it very well. He doesn’t come anymore, but the kids got into it.
Vivian: It started over at Jack and Bea’s place, and now it’s over here. PJ [Pete Ashby Jr.] liked it and it went from there.
Nora: He works every year on making them safe.
Abe: PJ, Pete, Re-Pete, as I call him because he’s so much like his dad [Pete Sr.] that it’s hard to tell them apart – PJ likes to touch ‘em off for the grand finale.
Nora: I tell everybody that they have more money than brains.

MP: I heard you had a really big turnout this year.
Abe: About 300 people this year. Emily [Crozier, the neighbor] was saying that they had cars lined up and down the road on M-66.

MP: Everybody has what’s important to them in life. What would you say is important to you?
Abe: I’d say it’d be my kids. I’ve gave up on material things. You don’t die rich, you know; there’s no way to take it with you, so why bother. Just try to be as honest as you can and help people when they need it.
Nora: I think it’s our relationships with each other that’s the most important. How we treat people.

MP: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Who have been your role models over the years?
Nora: For me, it’s been the quality of people who I’ve been acquainted with through our church. I don’t know that they gave me any good advice, really – and if they did I didn’t follow it anyway – but I knew their quality: they were good, moral, upstanding people and that meant a lot to me. That gave me a good foundation to follow.

MP: And you’ve been going to the [Community of Christ] Church for a long time, when did you start going to it?
Nora: From the time I was born, I guess. My mom was converted to the church when she was a little girl. And she named me after her Sunday school teacher. And I never liked that name because I couldn’t pronounce my R’s. And when I was a little kid, people would ask me, what’s your name? And I’d say: ‘Noah.’
Just growing up in the church, and the teachings I’ve learned – that probably gave me my stability in life.
The one lady in church who impacted me the most was Pearl Austin. She lived just down the street from us on Blevins Street. And she would ask us to come and do little jobs around the house, and then she would give us piano lessons. And she was always nice to us. She was the one lady that I felt really cared about us.
Abe: My Uncle Al [Patterson], he was like my second father, I guess. The one piece of advice that I remember, now that I’m thinking about it, is: “Don’t go with a girl who you wouldn’t marry.”

MP: Well, there ya go.
Abe: And I finally found the right one.

MP: How many years has it been now?
Abe: 67 years.
Nora: He reminds me every year.
Abe: The only reason is because she’s never drug up on me.

MP: Never drug up?
Vivian: Yeah, she never quit him. No divorce. That’s a pipeline saying: if you quit a job, it’s called dragging up.
Nora: Where you gonna go with 7 kids!?!
Abe: Welders have an extra tank on their rigs – that’s their drag up tank. You keep that full at all times!



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