Roger and Peggy Gray reunited with Jim
At age five in 1965, Jim Flynn was uprooted unexpectedly from a comfortable family life in a farm house southeast of West Jersey by a series of tragic events—never to return, until this past weekend.
Jim is a 56-year-old bank executive from Saratoga Spring, NY. Life has been good to him and his wife and twin boys.
Yet more than half a century ago, life was wrenched upside down for Jim and his six-year-old sister Terry, who at the time were staying temporarily with Roger and Peggy Gray in the West Jersey farmstead the Grays have always called home.
Jim’s young mother had returned to her native Germany for a visit. Jim’s father (Jim Linthicum) was working long hours as an air controller at the Peoria airport and had asked dear friends Roger and Peggy to care for his children until wife Eva Marie returned home.
Then, on December 14, 1965, Jim Linthicum was killed in an auto accident as he returned coming home from the airport.
What to do when nobody knows anything?
Word reached the Grays of the tragedy. What to do?
Eva Marie was unreachable and the Grays knew of no other relatives.
The Grays decided not to tell the children until relatives had been located.
Jim’s sister Terry was at the West Jersey Grade School the day of the fatal accident. Principal Oliver Wilson was notified by the Grays, and he promised to keep word of the father’s death away from Terry.
While airport officials searched for relatives, the Grays kept word away from the children that they no longer had a Dad.
The second day: “Terry, you have a fever and so you can’t go to school (where other kids would tell her of the accident).”
“I don’t have a fever,” said Terry. “I feel fine.”
“No, you have a bad fever and will stay home,” said Peggy firmly.
Roger and Peggy—a warm, loving couple, as folks around here have known forever—had their own young family at the time. Roger was working fulltime with the Army National Guard in Galva, and also farming. Things were hectic.
When friends came to the door at the Gray place, on Route 78 north of Jersey, they were shushed from saying anything.
Then, Roger and the Stark County Sheriff found a letter with a return address in the Linthicum mailbox, from a brother of Roger’s deceased friend. The uncle came up for the children, who were then told.
Roger recalls: “Young Jim was sitting on my lap. He looked up: ‘Since I don’t have a Dad anymore, would you be my Dad?’”
“I put Jim down on the sofa, and went into the bathroom, so he wouldn’t see my tears.”
That was the last time young Jim ever saw Roger and Peggy, until this past weekend.
A world upside down for Jim and Terry
Life in the country had been great fun for a tyke like Jim.
“I remember the mud!” recalls Jim. “I loved playing in the mud. And I remember the corn fields and the tractors driving by.”
Then it all went awry, at least for a period.
“Mom took us to Germany,” recalls Jim, “where we lived in a big city apartment. My sister and I couldn’t speak the language, and I came down with a burst appendix.” Traumatic change for a five-year-old.
Jim’s Mom remarried and the family moved back to the states, to New York state.
Life got better. “My new Dad (John Flynn) has always been great,” says Jim. He and Terry are successful, with handsome families.
But Jim has for more than 50 years had a desire to find that farm house where he spent three years of his early life. Finally, with his twin boys now out of college, he decided to start his search.
Jim contacted the Toulon Public Library, which good folks directed Jim to Floyd Ham and the Stark County Genealogical Society. The Genies found a clipping of a story in their volumes of obituaries—which mentioned, critically, that the kids had been staying with Roger and Peggy Gray.
As Jim Lithicum and Roger had been fishing buddies, Roger remembered the farm house where the young family had lived.
And so, this past weekend it all came together.
Banker Jim had been in Chicago on business. He came down to Stark County, met the Grays as well as members of the Genie Society, led in this case by Floyd Ham (who probably led the search that found the key clipping).
They visited the farm house southeast of West Jersey, now occupied by John and Sue Flatman, who were gracious in allowing Jim Flynn to look all around.
“It’s been amazing,” Jim Flynn told The News, as we joined all at a hog roast Saturday afternoon at the home of Jeff and Stacy Gehrig, Floyd Ham’s daughter. “Everybody has been absolutely wonderful,” declared Jim.
“It has been my fantasy for 35 years to find the farm house. It provides me closure about a time in my life that had become almost blank.
“My sister Terry could not make it this weekend because she was hosting a charity event in Erie, Pennsylvania, but we plan to visit the Grays together in October.”
This writer could tell, over great whole-hog pork and potato salad, that Roger and Peggy and Jim will once again be fast friends.