These ‘Dear John’ messages were welcomed
WINTERSVILLE — A “Dear John” letter typically doesn’t bring good news, given it generally involves a note that a woman would write to a serviceman, ending a personal relationship.
But these notes beginning with “Dear John” and written to a local serviceman during World War II from hometown family and friends were instead ones of encouragement, advice, we miss you and wishes for a Merry Christmas.
They came in the form of an autograph book that Wintersville resident H. Lee Kinney recently discovered in a desk he had inherited from the late John and Nancy Allensworth of Amsterdam. It was an autograph booklet that John’s parents — John and Alice Allensworth — had sent to him at Christmas when he was serving in the Army.
“His mother wrote that food of any kind could not be sent at the time, so the parents asked mostly Amsterdam residents to write a message of encouragement to John in this autograph book,” explained Kinney, a Richmond native who noted he especially enjoyed seeing a Richmond name in the book. It was that of Peo Clare, who was chief mechanic at the Chrysler dealership in Amsterdam. Clare wrote “Hello, John, I can’t see your face, I don’t know where you’re at, but hope to see you back in the same old place. — Peo”
“In the front it says ‘Uncle Sam’ will not allow us to send sweets this year, so we asked many in Amsterdam to write a Christmas greeting,” Kinney noted of its contents. “They are lovely, sweet, heartwarming messages,” he said of his find in the desk that he’s had for nearly 10 years — a working desk, home to “everything imaginable for efficient secretarial duties.”
How Kinney found the book and his reaction to it follow.
“One day last month I was searching for a small envelope, and my hand found its way into a small ‘secret’ shelf,” Kinney explained. “I felt something, and there was an autograph book. These were popular when I was a boy in the 1940s, and how much before I can’t say. When you met someone special or hadn’t seen for ages, you asked them to write something in your autograph book,” he said of a custom/tradition of the past.
“The book I found was a Christmas gift to John Allensworth from his parents, while he was serving overseas with the U.S. Army during World War II,” said Kinney. “Because my dad, three uncles and thousands upon thousands more were ‘over there’ during the Great War, and then I went overseas to South Korea during peacetime, tears welled up when I upended the little book. The expressions of friendship and hometown camaraderie are wonderful. And, so many mentioned God — advising John to trust God to bring him home safely.
“I loved reading them all, especially his relatives’ (notes),” said Kinney, a retired local banking executive who shed insight first on who the Allensworths were and how he came to inherit the desk.
“In the mid-to-late 1960s, under the leadership of then bank President Charles W. Edwards, Esq. the Union Savings Bank and Trust Co. in Steubenville, was the first ‘community bank’ in the Great State of Ohio to computerize. Not long after, John Allensworth, president of the Amsterdam State Bank, contacted Mr. Edwards, a native son of Amsterdam, to see if the Union Bank’s new computer also could process the accounts of the Amsterdam State Bank,” Kinney said.
An agreement was reached, and the accounts conversion took place.
“I was working afternoon and evening shift in Union’s computer department. It was a different time in that Greyhound buses ran like clockwork. So, Amsterdam would close, balance and bundle their items and put them on the bus for Steubenville. Union then met the bus in Steubenville, processed the work, and before midnight, returned the work and printouts to the bus station. Amsterdam collected the bundle first thing before the bank opened next morning. A slick schedule. During this time I became aquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Allensworth,” Kinney explained.
“In Texas, Nancy May vs. Mae (because she was born on May Day) Bell’s mother died in childbirth. Before she was in first grade, her dad died. What to do with Nancy? She had a childless uncle and aunt in Scio who wanted Nancy, so her vitals were pinned to her clothes, and off went this darling child on the long train journey to Ohio,” Kinney continued the story. “Nancy told me she knew things were going to be fine when her uncle and aunt met her at the train station in Scio with a pony just for her.
“Nancy graduated top of her class from both Wheeling and Steubenville Business Colleges. Somewhere along the way between Scio and Amsterdam, Nancy and John Allensworth fell in love, married and had a son, Lee. Before Lee was old enough for a driver’s license, he wanted to go in the car with a buddy who had just passed the driver’s test. The drill at our house was — ask your mother, she said ask your dad, and eventually permission was usually granted. Well, that’s the way it was at the Allensworths’ that day,” he continued.
“Tragically, heartbreaking and life changing, both boys perished that day in a car crash. No family gets over the loss of a child, and maybe an only child lost is harder still. The Allensworths threw themselves into work. They had two stores in Amsterdam — furniture and hardware. John ran the businesses while Nancy managed the bookkeeping, personnel and investments. They regularly bought stock in the Amsterdam Bank, and in course of time gained controlling interest, and John was named president.
“Years pass, and UniBank was chartered in Steubenville. The Allensworths were getting on in years, so we negotiated the purchase of the Amsterdam bank by UniBank, with the agreement that John would take a seat on the UniBank board of directors. A stronger friendship developed, and the Allensworths asked if I would be trustee and power of attorney for Nancy, in the event John did not survive, and a time came when Nancy needed cared for,” continued Lee, who said his mother, the late Mildred “Mid” Kinney, always thought John and Nancy Allensworth gravitated to Lee because his name was the same as the little son they had lost so many years ago.
“A few years later John passed away and in time, Nancy sold their large home in Carrollton and moved into a beautiful property in Holmes County, which provided care through end of life. After 10 years, there she was in assisted living with few furnishings, which she left to me. Thus the desk in question came to me,” Kinney said.
And ultimately, Kinney would find the autograph book.
Some of the messages in it include:
We wanted to remember you boys at Christmas and since Uncle Sam’s mailing regulations forbid us sending the boxes of “sweets” we usually send, we thought probably you would enjoy this little book of greetings from friends and neighbors at home.
Though we’re far from you today
Every inch of all the way
Is paved with wishes bright and gay
For a happy Christmas Day.
Woman’s Society of Christian Service — Zetta Gotschall, Mary Turvey, Clarice Buchanan, committee
Oct. 30, 1942
Just happened by in time to say “Hello.” We trust that Army life is not too bad. This place isn’t the same without the old “gang.” We all wish you well and hope that you have a pleasant X-mas, even though far from home — Best of luck, Allen Polen
It’s a long way to you but our hearts and thoughts fly across the distance to think of you often. Hope you enjoy all the strange sights and get to come home soon. We’ll be waiting to welcome you. — Good luck, Ethelyn Buchanan
Oct. 24, 1942
We certainly wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We are proud of the fact that you are one that is serving America. We hope that you will be back with us soon. — Sincerely, Susan Smith
It is too hard to write much at a time like this. Words can not express our true feelings but you are often in our thoughts for the grand work you boys are doing. Best wishes for a very, very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, though it will not be the same with you away. Take good care of yourself and we hope you will be back with us real soon. — Bernice
Since men generally prefer blondes, I won’t write too long a note in your book. However, I will take enough space to wish you a fine Christmas and to wish us all victory and a short war.
Did you hear about the little moron who took the yardstick to bed with him so he could measure how long he slept?
Be good! — Maxine
Here’s just a cheery little message from your neighbors wishing you just as merry a Christmas as can be and sincerely hoping that the new year will bring you back home safe and sound. We miss the red coupe bike everything and also your wave and smile as you went by. But one of these days, God willing, everything is going to be like old times again, and all of us will be together in peace.
Good luck and God speed — Mr. and Mrs. Walter Dinger and Bette Anne
In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your way. I still have the bead flower you gave me long ago. Here’s hoping for a speedy end to this war. I know you will do your best. — Your old school teacher, Clara Hersh
There’s more than just affection in this greeting meant for you. For it holds appreciation for the thoughtful things you do. And it carries Christmas wishes for your happiness as well. Onward then in battle move, more than conquerors ye shall prove, though oppressed by many a foe, Christian soldiers onward go.
God bless you – from your dearest loving Mother
Dear friend John,
We really miss you at church and Sunday School. You have a place in our daily devotions. I trust that God will keep you and that after this thing is over, you may come back to us and become a leader in our church.
May God richly bless and keep you in my prayers. — Rev E.C. Brooks
You’re doing the job and you’re seeing the world. Here we’re stuck at home! If bonds and scrap will help, though, we’re in it, too. I’m carrying your passengers to Steubenville this year. They say that I don’t “fly” as you did. I also have trouble getting about a dozen in my coupe as you did.
We’re trying to keep the home fires burning brightly. We’ll save our Christmas festivities and celebration til you come home. We’ll sing a carol for you though so be listening. — Leona
Though many miles of ocean separate us, we still think of you. May health and happiness go with you in your journey abroad. Your friend — R.J. Matheny
Dad and I are having a heck of a time getting bacon and pork chops. Wonder if perhaps you could grab a few and send us. Know the difference between a bicycle and a Democrat? There is no difference — both make your neck tired. Take it easy — Arda
Kinney noted the autograph book gave cause for reflection on his own military service and his appreciation for hearing from back home.
“While in the U.S. Army, music as an avocation saved me,” he began. “Because I had claimed on my Army questionnaire that I could play the piano and organ and type roughly 25-30 words a minute, after basic training I was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., to be trained as a chaplain’s assistant. One Wednesday evening, six or eight GI’s, in the back of an Army Deuce-and-a-half, with the bed covered by a tarpaulin to shelter from the rain, were dropped at a missile base in South Korea. Our housing was eight-man tents with a fuel oil heater in the center of each one. An electric line ran from tent to tent with naked light bulbs scattered along the line. It was ‘monsoon’ season — rain like I had never seen. I sat on my foot locker and cried,” he noted.
“I thought I’ll never see mom and dad again, I’ll never be in Richmond again. It was a real pity party. But, the next day was Maundy Thursday, followed by Good Friday and then Easter Sunday. I was on the organ bench in our chapel Thursday and Friday, and in a helicopter with a fold-up Army field organ, flying to several different Hawk missile sites, out in the middle of nowhere, manned by a dozen GI’s all wanting an Easter Sunday church service. We raised the roof with ‘Let Us Sing of Easter Gladness.’
“After that there was never again a thought of weeping,” he said.
“My family was great about writing — Mom (dad usually added a line), both grandmothers, etc. Thankfully, I always had letters at mail call.
“Sadly, many guys didn’t hear from home.”
(Kiaski can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.)