This is a tribute to my grandparents, Jay and Nancy Dunn Yelton. I am the daughter of their daughter, Susy. I have very few memories of my Grandpa Yelton because he died when I was four years old. I used to sit on his lap at the kitchen table and he called me “Peaches” because it was one of my favorite things to eat. I don’t know if I actually remember this myself or recall it because I’ve been told the story through the years. As for my Grandma Yelton, I was 31 when she died and we were always very close. I have so many memories of her. I combined this tribute just because of this. Following you will find biographical information about my grandparents with stories and memories.
Nancy Deaton Mullins
James Blades “Jay” “JB” Yelton was born on May 4, 1917 in Pendleton County, Kentucky to George Everett and Neva Mae Loomis Yelton. His siblings included brothers, Charles Elbert, Carl Hubert, Clifford, and sister, Lenora (Mae) Marie Yelton Ashcraft Norton. He wed Nancy Caroline Dunn on July 31, 1937 in Grant County, Kentucky. They had three children: Danny Joe Yelton (6-3-1938/5-18-1939), Donna Sue “Susy” Yelton Deaton (4-28-1940/4-17-2004), and James “Jim” Elbert Yelton (4-9-1944). Jay was a World War II veteran, serving stateside because of asthma, a lifelong medical condition that, coupled with other factors, would lead to an early death. One of my mom’s earliest memories of her dad is when he came home from the war. They lived in Falmouth, Kentucky at the time and she said that she was outside playing and looked up and saw a soldier walking down their street in his uniform. He called out to her and that’s when she recognized him. She told me that was how she always remembered her dad, as that handsome young soldier, hugging and swinging her around the street that day.
In their early years together, my grandparents were sharecroppers, moving around Pendleton and Grant counties from farm to farm, trying to make a living. It was a hard life. I can remember in later years driving through Pendleton County with my Grandma and her pointing out various places where they had lived and farmed. In the 1950’s, they moved to the city, Newport, Kentucky. Financially, things stabilized for them once my Grandpa took a job at Newport Steel. This move didn’t make them wealthy but it provided a more predictable income than farming. Because of his asthma, the work in plant was physically hard on Grandpa and contributed in a decline in his health. That, along with smoking, led to his death from a heart attack on November 21, 1968. He was only 51 years old.
My Grandpa loved to fish. While I don’t have specific memories of this, my cousin, Jay, does and other people have told me this as well. I have been told by numerous people that my grandparent’s home was always full of people. Even though they didn’t have much, they shared what they had. There was always room at the table for anyone who dropped by at mealtimes. I have been told that I provided daily entertainment to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, always willing to sing or repeat some commercial I had seen on tv, usually for a nickel. I do know that my grandparents cared for their parents at their home. My great grandpa, George Everett Yelton (Jay’s dad) and my great grandma, Cora Agnes Fornash Tucker Dunn (Nancy’s mom), lived with them until their deaths.
From here, I will give a brief biography of my Grandma and then continue the story…
Nancy Caroline Dunn was born on January 16, 1921 in Pendleton County, Kentucky to Joseph Richard and Cora Agnes Fornash Tucker Dunn. Her siblings included brothers, William Hubert, George Elbert, David Franklin “Buck”, and sisters, Cora Elizabeth “Midge” “Sissy” and Betty Loraine. From her dad’s first wife, Martha Abercrombie, who died, she had half-brothers, Russell and Brod, and half-sisters, Gertrude, Lucy Ruth, and Susie. Her mother’s (Cora) first marriage to Ovie Tucker, who died of typhoid fever just two months before his sons were born, produced stillborn twins, Obie and Ovie Tucker as known as Joseph and John “Jack” Tucker.
My grandpa died when they were moving into a home in Silver Grove, Kentucky. If I remember correctly, this would be the first home they would have ever owned. They had always rented. Fortunately, for my grandma, the realtor let her out of the contract. In a few short months after Grandpa’s death, my grandma, at the age of 48, got a job, learned how to drive, and bought her first home in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. The house was just two doors down from my parent’s house and was in terrible condition. My dad, Johnny Deaton, and my Uncle Jim Yelton (Nancy’s son) worked to make it livable. During this time, my Great Grandma Dunn moved in with her youngest son, Buck, however, she died a few months later in August, 1969.
Grandma’s first job outside the home was at the old St. Luke Hospital in Fort Thomas. She worked in Housekeeping. Back then, the job was much different than it is today. She not only cleaned the rooms but also changed sheets and emptied bedpans. Her first car was a little Volkswagen Beetle, which she drove over the hill at the hospital. Before it was remodeled, there was a steep grassy hill behind the hospital by Grand Avenue. The employee’s parking lot was by this hill. One day my grandma accidentally parked too close to the edge and the Beetle went over the hill. The watchman on duty was amazed as he watched my grandma glide the car to the bottom. He ran down to help her and asked if she was okay to which she promptly replied, “Yes but I have a run in my stocking!” Although this was the only accident my grandma ever had, she never cared much for driving after this. She eventually sold the Beetle and bought a Dodge which deteriorated from lack of use.
In the early 1970’s, my grandma sold her home in Fort Thomas and returned to Pendleton County. She purchased her second and final home at 307 Barclay Street in Falmouth. This is the place that always comes to mind when I think about Grandma’s house. She also quit her job at St. Luke and went to work for the Dr. Scholl Shoe Factory in Falmouth. She glued “cookies” into shoes—something similar to a cushioned arch support. It was also during this time that my Uncle Jim and my parents as well bought homes in Pendleton County. Although we lived outside of Butler, we were only about a 15 minute drive from grandma.
I spent nearly weekend at my grandma’s house. We would spend Saturday mornings cleaning the house and doing yard work and then the rest of the day was for us. While we cleaned, we would play country music and sing Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and George Jones’ songs to the top of our lungs. I also thought my grandma was a “snazzy” dresser. Following the fashion trends of the 70’s, she bought First Edition polyester suits from JC Penneys with the coordinating “swilky” shirts. She always got her hair done and wore makeup and costume jewelry as well.
During the late 70’s, grandma started developing problems with her eyes. She was diagnosed with acute angle closure glaucoma and later, Fuke’s Corneal Dystrophy. I was 12 or 13 when she had her first glaucoma surgery. She was in the hospital for three or four days because she had to lie perfectly flat to keep all pressure off her eye for so many hours after the surgery. The doctors implanted a triangular shaped filter into the iris of her eye to help fluid drain and keep pressure off her eye. It was the first of several over the years, not counting the corneal transplants she received as well. Much of grandma’s later years were consumed with eye doctor visits, eye surgeries, and doctoring her eye with all the daily medications she had to take. So rare was her eye conditions that her eye doctor, Stephen Meyers in Fort Thomas (who is also my eye doctor as of 2012) still remembers her. Even as she was dying of lung cancer, she was still worried about losing her vision.
None of the difficulties my grandma went through in life made her bitter. I always remember my grandma as being fun to be with. Whether she was chasing me and my cousin, Jay, around the house with her false teeth in her hands after we watched “Dark Shadows”, or if we were at a Bingo game, or even if my husband, Billy, and I were at her house playing “500 Rummy”, we laughed and had fun. She taught me how to do so many things—make a bed with hospital corners, clean like you should clean, make a complete Thanksgiving meal (in fact, this was about the only thing I knew how to fix when I got married—I could barely boil water but I could roast a turkey!)—but probably, more than anything, how to continue on in the face of difficulty and do it with grace and a sense of humor.
There are so many more things I could say about my grandma but for brevity’s sake, I’ll just try to sum up the most important things about her. Grandma loved her family above all and was fiercely loyal to us. She maybe could say something to you but no one else had better do it! I know I always felt loved beyond measure with her. Just like her mother who was also widowed young, my Grandma Yelton was a strong and courageous woman. During the middle of her life, she had to learn, after so many years of caring for others, how to take care of herself. Given that she had only an eighth grade education, I think she did extremely well. She owned a car, owned a house, paid her bills, and had a little “pin” or fun money besides. And she loved life, even when it was difficult and sometimes harsh, and she tried to encourage those around her when they faced difficult times as well.
My grandparents were special and they are still missed by so many people whose lives they touched and influenced.