LILLY RIDGE – It’s likely that Linnie Ingram has put pen to paper longer than any other journalist in southwest Missouri.
For more than 80 years, the Ozark County woman has kept friends and neighbors informed of local gossip and goings-on as the Lilly Ridge and Tecumseh newspaper correspondent. Her first column of news “items,” as she calls them, appeared in the Ozark County Times in 1935 when she was 13 years old.
Her most recent one came out last week. She’s now 94.
“I really don’t know a place to quit,” she says. “People depend on me to do it.”
Ingram was born with printer’s ink in her blood. Her mother’s brothers — E.W. “Earle” and Harry Ebrite — got into the business locally after moving west from Pennsylvania. Their first purchase was the Democrat, one of Gainesville’s papers, on which they quickly left their mark.
“They changed the name from the Democrat because they were Republicans,” Ingram says.
That wasn’t unusual: In days those days, political parties often used newspapers to get messages across. According to a 2013 Ozark County Times article, a notice was even published warning folks of the change:
“Having purchased the Democrat plant, we have converted it into a Republican paper, published in the interest of the Republican party and the public in general, giving all local happenings and other news matter.”
Shortly after the newspaper acquisition in 1905, the family purchased a second paper — the Ozark County Times — and merged it with the Republican. That newspaper still serves the Gainesville area today.
The Ozark County Times, circa 1908. One of the men is thought to be longtime Times owner Earle Ebrite.
(Courtesy of the Ozark County Times)
By the time Ingram was born in July 1922, the family had been in the business for more than 15 years.
She recalls a childhood spent playing with cousins around the newspaper’s office; the old linotype machine in the back, which her cousin, Dewey Ebrite, would clean. The moments when her uncle would relax, feet propped up around the old wood stove.
“I grew up around the Ozark County Times,” she says. “In those days, they owned that whole side of the square there in Gainesville.”
But even though she has in-town memories, Ingram was a country girl. “I grew up at the Lilly Ridge community, three miles east of Gainesville, where my grandfather had homesteaded,” she says.
The youngest of four children, Ingram recalls her early farming life. There were fruit trees to tend, yielding plums, peaches, and even quinces, little-known, grapefruit-sized eatables. “You don’t eat them raw, but they make really good preserves,” she says.
Other farm work, now memories foreign to most, also kept her busy.
“I’m well acquainted with how to butcher and cut up a hog,” she says, noting that in her youth, there was no meat to speak of in stores. “The big reason for that is we didn’t have electricity in those days and had no way to preserve the meat. (Smoking) would furnish all the meat we had except for chicken in the spring, summer.”
Other times, rabbits and squirrels might become dinner; there was churning cream, and even coloring butter to give a more appealing hue.
Amid all that hard work, Ingram’s mother — Jennie Crawford — found time to be the Lilly Ridge newspaper correspondent. However, in December 1935, Crawford unexpectedly fell ill and died at age 51.
“We had four doctors come out and they more or less looked at her and left,” says Ingram, who today believes her mother suffered a stroke. “If it’d been later, they might’ve saved her life.”
For her family, Crawford’s death left a gaping hole. But Ingram, then only 13, sought to fill it in one special way. “When she passed away, that’s when I started doing her items,” says Ingram.
Lilly Ridge items
While correspondents are still part of some rural newspapers today, in Ingram’s youth they were a much bigger deal.
“At first she was one of between 12 and 20 correspondents who wrote about the happenings in their remote communities,” says Sue Ann Jones, editor of the Ozark County Times. “Now we have just a handful of correspondents.”
Long before social media, those writers offered locals a way to keep up on the latest happenings — and, though disappearing, are still popular.
“I wish we had more correspondents,” says Jones. “It is a beloved and longstanding traditional part of the paper, and here in Ozark County it’s common to hear someone say, ‘I saw in Linnie’s items’ or ‘Colene’s items,’ etc.”
Even though she was only a teenager, Ingram worked to share the news that she felt neighbors — farming folks in the 1930s — would be most interested in. “Our animals, having new calves, and maybe a trip to take our pigs to market,” she recalls of topics in her early writings. “Maybe a trip to West Plains.”
And it likely all began on Dec. 26, 1935, the first time Lilly Ridge items were published after Ingram’s mother died.
“Merry Xmas to all,” she wrote, continuing with commentary about the wintery season, and that Sunday School was well attended. Of Ruth, Orlen, Roy and Johnie Downard’s visit from Iowa. The fact that Monroe Blacksher was better. And more:
Dewey Moody visited with Geo. Crawford Saturday night.
Alva McGinnis may move his saw mill to Steve Pock’s.
Everett Blacksher’s, Clyde Smith’s and Geo. and Wess Crawford spent Sunday evening with Monroe Blacksher’s.
Rob Thompson is building a turkey house.
Linnie Crawford spent last Sunday with Leah Harris and Mr. Downard’s.
There will be a Xmas tree at Lilly Ridge Xmas eve night. Everyone come.
Mrs. Popcorn was at Hardenville one day last week shopping.
Joe Blacksher is going to move his swing in the house soon. The weather is getting so cool.
Alva McGinnis and Johnny Crawford made a trip to Blytheville, Ark., for Lue Crawford.”
Despite her age, the young correspondent didn’t seem to have trouble taking on the task — but, over the years, found she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed columnizing. “My items were in there, but there were a couple of ladies at Lilly Ridge who wanted their items in there, too, so occasionally they’d have both,” says Ingram. “They were … good friends and neighbors, so it didn’t bother me.”
Ingram’s notes reflected signs of the times; memories well-proven by past items. “Everyone seems to be busy with spring farming,” she wrote in May 1939, also noting the new baby born to Clyde Smith and wife, a local man’s “yarding” of staves and those who attended Grandma Crawford’s funeral.
Then — as now — folks reached out to Ingram when something noteworthy happened. “We didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have phones,” she says, looking back. “But we went to church together, and school. And we visited with each other on Sundays.”
And these days, folks still visit to pass the news. “Quite a few people call me with some items (to include),” she says.
Ingram’s cousins — Dewey Ebrite and his sister, Helen Ebrite Blisard — are pictured in the newspaper’s print shop in 1960. (Courtesy of the Ozark County Times)
Keeping it going
Much life has happened since Ingram published that first column in 1935. She’s been married and widowed twice, has borne four children and is a grandmother to 12.
She still lives in the same home that she built with her late husband, Eldon, in 1952. She’s still a member of the Lilly Ridge Friendly Neighbors Extension Club, which is 75 years old and one of only a few such clubs left in the state. She’s seen the Lilly Ridge community change, resulting in her coverage area now being referred to as Tecumseh.
She’s also seen time take news online — a place she says she doesn’t feel it should be.
“To me, and to our older generation, (the internet) is a bad thing,” she says. “It’s made up by people we don’t even know. Our local news was about local people and local happenings.”
But Ingram does her part to keep news local. Besides the Ozark County Times, Ingram also contributes Lilly Ridge and Tecumseh items to the Douglas County Herald in Ava, and the West Plains Daily Quill.
She still writes the news out by hand when she can. However, she doesn’t drop her items off at newspaper offices as in the past. Instead, editors — dedicated to including her items — call her, and she reads what she’s written over the phone. “I’m slowing down, but once a week, they call me,” she says.
Those years of experience have taught Ingram a few things. Number one: “I watch very closely and don’t use people’s names who I know won’t like it,” she says.
Another name she tries to avoid, however, is her own. “They can get to be old quicker,” she says of folks who focus on themselves. “We’ve got to keep things away from ourselves. Write about others.”
Just like she did last week:
The Eastern Star objectives for 2017 include serving a potluck supper for the Robert Burns Masons before their next meeting.
We will miss Karen N. Davis as she moves away to live with her daughter Kathy in Ohio. She has been very active as our president in the Friendly Neighbors Extension Club. She’s been good to collect and send off the Best Choice labels from canned goods for our club. Once a year, when we’ve collected 1,000 labels, she sends them in and we get a check for $60 from Associated Grocers.
Soon it will be time to look for wild mushrooms and the wild greens to make salads, but we must know what is edible and safe. One lady made a mistake a few years ago of eating the wrong mushrooms. She was in bad shape and nearly died.
Karen and Dave Davis enjoyed having their grandson Keith Davis of Udall and his daughter Jaycee from Lebanon visit over the weekend.
Can you believe heavy snow is in the mid-U.S.? In Wyoming and other states, they’re having blizzard conditions. Maybe we are fooled by our early spring here.
Leaf-raking is the order of the day around here right now. My daughter Kris and her son Allen were raking leaves in my yard today.
The two pear trees are in full bloom and have a spectacular aroma, and they’re beautiful. Hopefully the blooms will stay on, and we’ll have pears this fall. It is a little early for the peaches and apples to bloom.
Lilly Ridge General Baptist Church had a potluck dinner after services Sunday.
The cool weather and the wind have slowed down the birds that were busy preparing to build their nests. They’re hiding in the cedar trees around here now.
Anyone having any news please call me, 679-4148.
“A History of Ozark County 1841-1991,” Ozark County Genealogical and Historical Society, 1991
“Strong stuff, that printer’s ink!” Janet Taber, Ozark County Times, June 19, 2013