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Conversation with Kenneth "Kenny" W. Propst

Interviewee: 
Propst, Kenneth W.
Interviewer: 
Foley, Fran
Date of Interview: 
2001-11-20
Identifier: 
LGPR0150
Subjects: 
Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Cultural Identification; Stories and Storytellers
Abstract: 
Kenneth Propst talks about his aunt Mary's life. He discusses his interest in geneology and his great-grandfather's letters from the Civil War.
Collection: 
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Fran Foley interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
KP (Kenneth Propst): My earliest recollection is with my Aunt Mary. Um, Mom and Dad were married on August the ninth, 1937, and that was my mama's birthday. That's when my mom and dad were married and they both are from here. My dad was Earl Wilson Propst and he was born and raised, uh, downtown Concord. If you remember the sign, it was down next to the Red Pig, right on Corben Avenue.
FF (Fran Foley): Uh-huh.
KP: They just tore that old building down where the house was. My mom, uh, grew up on, in an area near Blackwelder's Toyland. Do you remember that?
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: I don't know if you remember that or not.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: But, uh, she grew up where the 7-Eleven is now. There's a real pretty, old, two-story clapboard house and that's where she grew up. Um, but they were married in 1937, and had, uh, my three brothers and I. But, uh, and my dad died in 1969, died January 1969 of lung cancer. Uh, died in Madison, Wisconsin. The Mayo Clinic up there.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: My mom never got over that, um, just really, really close to him. And she just, after all those many years, she never got over it. Uh, but she did an admirable job. I think so far. She is still living and, uh, somewhat healthy. She does have Alzheimer's.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: But other than that, she's a lot of fun and has a wonderful personality, but my dad and she both came from big families. My mom came from a family, she had six brothers and sisters and she was a Calloway. Her mother, my grandmother on my mom's side was a Howell and that was Howell Baptist Church down towards Monroe on 601, down towards Monroe. So that's where they were from. Um, and my dad came from a big family. He, he had 10 brothers and sisters. And, uh, as I said he grew up in town but his parents, my grandparents originally lived out on the eastern part of Cabarrus County, which is, uh, they lived out Gold Hill Road and Irish Potato.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: Uh, probably sometime around the turn of the century, just prior to the turn of the twentieth century, they did move into town [cough] and they built an old house and lived [cough], excuse me, where, uh, Heilig-Meyers is. I think your church just did a thing with, uh, Concord.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: But there was an old house there next to the Brown Livery Stable. That's where my great-grandfather William Propst and his wife, my great-grandmother Etta, Caroline Etta Ritchie Propst lived. But as I said, what I'm getting to my Aunt Mary. My dad had a sister [cough] had several sisters had three had four sisters, but there was one, her name was Mary Propst, Mary Elizabeth Propst. She never married and lived to be, she was born in 1901, August tenth 1901, August ninth rather. My mother was the tenth and she was the ninth. She lived to be about 95 years old, never married, was a schoolteacher, I like to say, all her life.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: As most teachers are, uh, which is, I guess, the first thing that I learned to admire about her. And, uh, that's where my respect for all teachers comes from, from her. She was also a principal. She was a schoolteacher and a principal at what was Clara Harris.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: A school near town, and, um, but--.
FF: It's hard to believe that somebody could be \\ both a teacher and a principal. \\
KP: \\ And she was. \\ There's a story. I guess probably some 10 to 12 years ago. We had one of many bond referendums, school bond referendums, that I was really working hard on. And Mary, uh, read in the paper one day about the bond referendums. It was 22, 23 million dollars, an incredible amount of money, and she asked me to come down. She wanted to talk to me about this bond referendum. She wanted to know all about it. You know, "Why are we doing this?" "What do we need the money for? How is it going to be spent?" She genuinely--.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: She was a voter. Although she was 92 or 93 at the time, she was going to get in her car and go vote one way or the other. And so, I would try to explain to her how it was very important, with all the growth we were experiencing in Cabarrus County, to keep the, uh, the number of kids in the classrooms to less than 30 if we could, and we weren't meeting that with the growth. So we needed to fix up some buildings and try to keep that. And she said, "I understand. I understand," and I went on further to say, you know, just, just, I gave several reasons that she, she agreed with. And I went a little bit too far I said, uh, "And besides, you know, when kids get up to around 30, a classroom size of 30, these teachers could never do it without an assistant." [Laugh] She said to me, she says, "An assistant with 30!" She says, "My, when I was coming up, you know well I, I had 40 and 50 students, and I didn't have an assistant and I was principal." [Laugh] She didn't say it that way she didn't mean it that way. I said, "Yes ma'am." [Laugh] But the kids didn't come prepared like they did then. They didn't come disciplined, uh, now as they did then. And, um, and I believe that. But, but my Aunt Mary, again, she was a very instrumental part of my life. I love history and I love genealogy and it is because of her that I do. Um [pause], her, her grandfather, pardon me, yes, my great-grandfather, was William Propst. I forgot now that when he was born, probably, uh probably sometime around 18, 1828, 1830, 1831. He served in the Civil War as a captain, 57th Regiment out of Cabarrus County and he didn't die, uh, until the early 20's. Lived to be almost, almost a hundred. And as I said Mary never married.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: And she lived in the house there at Corben and, and Church Street. Um, and when my great-grandmother died, sometime in the early teens, my great-grandfather came back with, to live with my grandparents and Mary. And she took care of this man. And to this day, it's, it's phenomenal, it's a fantastic story. My wife, initially, Annette really couldn't understand why I would get so excited about it. But here I am, I knew and became very close to someone, my Aunt Mary, who in turn took care of my great-grandfather, and knew well, was old enough to recollect, you know, his stories.
FF: Right.
KP: Not only of the Civil War, but of his childhood.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: And it is fascinating. It's fascinating some of which I've got on tape. Um, she would never allow me to video. But I got a good bit of that on tape and, uh, just interviews similar to this, uh, fascinating.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: I recall her talking about how she cared for him once he did come back from the war and he had a smallpox scar that he always had problems with, which I understand there was a lot of that. But, especially through the war years, he would write her and talk about, you know, his arm and she knew exactly what it was. But, uh, uh, or, or she didn't know at the time, but later he, he described that, and she recalled taking care of it even, even in the later years of his life. Just a lot of different stories. But she, he had, my great-grandfather had written a lot of letters, during the Civil War, home to my great-grandmother. And, uh, fortunately, Mary kept them all those years, and then when she passed away, just a few years ago, she left them to me. And so it's amazing reading the history of those letters, not just, not just the history of the war, but the letters, what they talked about. They have a plantation, probably five or 600 acres out at Irish Potato Road at the time, and a lot of what the letters talked about to my great-grandmother were ideas of what to do.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: If you could imagine and, and let me say this, some of the letters that I have, that I love the most, that are dearest to me are some of the letters that, that she wrote him. And he were, he was able to get.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: And to know that he kept them and then brought them home. So these are some of the dearest letters. And in reading her letters to him, wherever he might be, a lot of the letters come from, obviously in and around Fredericksburg, VA in 1862, 1863. And, uh, she would ask, "What do we do now about the wheat? What do we do about the oats? What do we do about the cattle? What do we do about this? What about this timber?"
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: You know, "You always talked about doing--. So and so has called me. Do I trust this man?" You know, you think about it, uh, probably prior to the Civil War, she, she didn't have this information.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: You know they probably, she, if you think about it, she, not that he kept anything from her, it's just that, uh, she probably took care of the house, if you will.
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: And he, in turn, took care of the other affairs. And all of a sudden he's up and gone for four years, for three and a half years. Similar situation happened with my parents, uh, just, you know, WWII. But, uh, then he would respond, you know, "Well you can trust this man or you can't trust this person," or, "I would suggest that you do this." But always to a "t." He would always, you could see the respect building in him for her. "But you do what you think is right. Here's, I'm trying to answer some of your questions, but, and this is what I think maybe you might want to consider doing."
FF: Uh-huh.
KP: "But you, and I will support you. Here I am not knowing if I'll ever come home."
FF: Right.
KP: And so it's just, it's just a wonderful history. So Mary established, I guess, what I was getting, she established the love I have for family.
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