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Feature Article on Gold Star Mothers. TOPIC: WAR, WOMEN, ORGANIZATION, LANDMARKS
Written by Rich Wallace in October, 1999


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The local chapter of the Gold Star Mothers formed in the early 1930s.  The photo above is believed to have been taken in the 1930s or early 1940s.  The members are (L-R/seated): Mrs. John Sherman, Mrs. Godfrey Kah and Mrs. Julia Heiland; (standing) Mrs. Anna Nettleship, Mrs. D.W. (Minnie) Williams, Mrs. Walter Pence, Mrs. Richard Hayner, and Mrs. H.A. (Buelah) Fogt.  

A few motorists heading south of Sidney on County Road 25 A take the suggested detour across the Great Miami River past the jail, but most elect to continue southward and go up Sulphur Heights Hill, bypassing the rapidly concluding construction project that will result in a new bridge over the river. To most the site is but another construction nuisance to be left in the rearview mirror, amid a cloud of dust.

Few realize that the ceremony marking the opening of the original bridge in 1933 caused over 5,000 people to march from downtown Sidney there to pay tribute to a group that always pays the ultimate sacrifice in wartime, but is now largely forgotten: the Gold Star Mothers. Many will remember this Veterans' Day on November 11 at the bridge, when the new structure is rededicated, and the surviving Gold Star Mothers recognized. This is the story of the Mothers and how the bridge came to bear their name.

When the battlefield sounds of The World War (as World War I was then known) faded away, numerous veterans groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were organized to commemorate the memory of those who had died in the great conflict. Formed of those who survived, these groups honored their comrades in arms routinely on such occasions as Memorial Day and Armistice Day. The healing process for them had begun. For another group, the broken hearts would never heal.

Those mothers who lost a son in the World War formed a bond in each town and hamlet across the country, sharing their hurt. It was not until June 4, 1928, that an organization was organized that would be their own. The nonprofit corporation was called the American Gold Star Mothers of the World War, Inc. Although a state organization in Ohio was not set up until two decades later, a group of Shelby County Gold Star Mothers formed soon after 1928.

Membership was not a coveted reward. It began with the receipt of a telegram or the knock on the door: " We regret to inform you that your son..." Minerva Snapp, the mother of Simon Peter Snapp, received the first notice. He had enlisted with the 13th Canadian Battalion in 1914. His death on April 9, 1918, brought the reality of war home to all Shelby Countians. His notice was followed by 36 more received by mothers in Shelby County before the war ended.

It is apparent that the pioneers who established Sidney around 1819 never imagined that the surrounding hills that gave this valley shelter would become huge obstacles during the early years of the auto industry. Getting out of town in a horse drawn vehicle was difficult, but Sidney's first cars could not make the steep incline on such streets as East Court or Fair Road. Going south was worse, with the steep grade and the curves on County road 25A up the hill across the Great Miami River presenting a real challenge. As 1930 rolled around, greater power made the hill easier to ascend, but the steepness of the grade and the curves were still problems. Serious consideration was given to constructing a new bridge, thus reducing the grade and eliminating the curves.

Local historical references establish that there was a Shelby County Gold Star Mothers group was formed here about the same time as the idea of a new bridge was being conceived.. Shelby County Gold Star Mothers met regularly, and also played the key role in establishing a state organization for Ohio. The president of the national group, Mrs. Burling of New York, nominated Mrs. Waldo Pence of Shelby County in 1937 to be the principal organizer of the Ohio Department of the Gold Star Mothers. Mrs. Pence not only established the Ohio chapter, but wrote the state song for the group, entitled "The Gold Star Mother's Song."

The leadership role filled by Mrs. Pence in forming the Ohio Gold Star Mothers chapter was emulated by other local members in later years. Mrs. Mabel Ferguson was the president of the state group in 1951. Sidney was the site of the second state convention, with the Ohio gold Star Mothers meeting at the Hotel Wagner that year for a three day convention. Sidney was again the center of state-wide Gold Star Mother activity when Mrs. Anna Neer took over as the Ohio president five years later. The state convention was again held here at the Hotel Wagner in 1956. Mrs. Iva Bunker, Mrs. Thomas Fair and Mrs. Herbert Bell were also state officers during the 1950s.

The Gold Star Mothers existed not to grieve for their lost ones, but to make a difference for those veterans who survived. The Gold Star Mothers in Shelby County focused their efforts on the vets in the V. A. Hospital in Dayton. Typical was the surprise package they assembled for delivery to the soldiers in the TB ward in the Dayton V. A. Hospital, and the veterans in the Old Soldiers and Sailors Home in Xenia. Each contained 18 different kinds of homemade cookies, Easter candy, chocolate, and other items. The ladies also provided transportation for veterans to attend football and baseball games. They are perhaps best remembered for their annual participation in Memorial Day ceremonies and the dedication of the monuments to veterans on the courtsquare. The members wore a black arm band with a star on it in the early years. The regular dress was modified later on to the now familiar white uniform.

Below, members of the Gold Star Mothers unveil a new plaque that was placed at the new Gold Star Mothers Bridge on
County Road 25A at the south edge of Sidney.  The bridge was re-dedicated in a ceremony on
Veteran's Day, November 11, 1999.  There are seven members of the Gold Star Mothers in Shelby County, Ohio. 
Photo by John Hemp of Hemp Imagery.

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  [PLEASE NOTE:  the picture above is copyrighted; Hemp Imagery has authorized the Shelby County Historical Society to publish in this location only. 
Contact Hemp Imagery for information regarding any other usage].

Perhaps it was this record of service, made by mothers who had already paid such a high price, that inspired the planners to dedicate the bridge to their them in perpetuity. It was to be quite a bridge. Part of the redesign of the Dixie Highway, its construction was considered at the time to be an engineering feat. The bridge, built on a seven percent incline, was one of the first of its kind in the nation. Its design was a three span, continuous steel plate girder structure. The total length of the bridge was 360 feet. The $60,000 project involved removing 33,500 cubic yards of rock and dirt from the hill, and pouring over 24,000 yards of concrete. The 1999 reconstruction project carries a price tag of $1,400,000.

The ceremony was a memorable one. Over 5,000 people walked or rode from the courtsquare to the new bridge. The Gold Star Mothers of Shelby County sat in a place of honor while the ribbon cutting took place. The American Legion's Singing Soldiers entertained along with the Piqua Drum Corps, the Shelby County Boys Band and the Sidney Merchants Band. Fireworks concluded the special program, but the most memorable moment of the evening occurred when the guest speaker stood to address the crowd. He provided a fitting summary of what the Gold Star Mothers are all about when he concluded: "The sacrifice of American Motherhood during war time is the greatest thing in the history of the nation. The suffering of war is not all on the battlefield. These mothers have no armistice."

Seven members of the Gold Star Mothers of Shelby County remain today. These mothers lost sons in Vietnam. They will take their seats in a place of honor this Veterans' Day, as their predecessors did 66 years ago, in a ceremony when the rededication of the new bridge occurs. The bronze plaque installed on that August day in 1933 reads: "Dedicated to the Gold Star Mothers of Shelby County, 1933." A new plaque will be unveiled commemorating both the Gold Star Mothers and the bridge as important parts of our history.

Wording on the Plaque:  The Gold Star Mothers' Bridge. 
The original bridge was built in 1933 and dedicated to the Gold Star Mothers on August 23, 1933.  The Gold Star Mothers is an organization composed of mothers who have lost sons or daughters in military conflict.  The bridge was one of the first ever constructed on an incline.  The bridge was replaced and rededicated to the Gold Star Mothers on November 11, 1999.  Erected by the Shelby County Historical Society.
Photo by John Hemp of Hemp Imagery.

  goldstarmothersbridgehistoricplaque.gif (218489 bytes)

[PLEASE NOTE:  the picture above is copyrighted; Hemp Imagery has authorized the Shelby County Historical Society to publish in this location only.  Contact Hemp Imagery for information regarding any other usage].


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