Remembering Kathleen Erwin

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Both Kathleen and Joseph Erwin were beloved friends for nearly all of the 34 years of my retirement. I probably met Joseph when he played a dedicatory recital on one of the Steinway pianos donated by Polk County citizens to the high school and the community college.

Fran and I were invited to the Erwin home on Rondo Road many times. There we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast, a music recital, or both. On one such occasion, there was a whole room full of people and Kathleen appeared on the balcony to play her Stradivarius violin for us. The piece was by a contemporary composer, and received only polite applause, followed by some comments.

I piped up with, “It was all over our heads!” There was some laughter, and Holland Brady thanked me for my irreverent comment. Kathleen followed that with a beautiful rendition of the “Meditation” from Thais, to now thunderous applause. Well, it certainly seemed thunderous in that small space!

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Kathleen was the “green thumb” who took care of the grounds of their abode. We often found her in yard working garb when we arrived for visits! 

Kathleen was my faithful Secretary during my eight–year tenure as President of the Polk County Historical Association. We usually met at our house for our monthly business meetings. We sat at our dining table with the Treasurer and the Board of Directors were seated comfortably on our big leather sofas. I had finally achieved a county-wide representation on the Board to make it a truly “Polk County” Association. Seth Vining Sr., as a founding member, had made it a point that we should be an “Association of common folk, rather than a high-falutin’ Society.”

Friend Jim Vining sent me a long article about the demise of Oak Hall. The article provided the names of the waiters: two of whom, Ted King and Nonie Robinson, worked at the hotel for more than 40 years.

I can also use the article to flesh out some of the memories. Notable guests besides Mrs. Marshall, include Lady Astor, David Niven, Grace Coolidge, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Unfortunately, Miss Clara fell in trying to get out of bed, breaking three ribs and cutting her head. So she spent the day of the auction of the hotel furnishings in St. Luke’s hospital. There were many priceless treasures for lucky buyers to give a new home. And probably some things were valued by their buyers simply because they had been in the hotel.

The Polk County Historical Association has a place setting and other mementos of the hotel. It was indeed a well-known and loved local institution. I wonder how many residents in the condos that replaced it know anything about the magnificent hotel . . .

Here is a good place to remedy an oversight from “My Forty Years Away” book. Pete Brien served in WWII as the gunner on a Douglas SBD dive bomber and in various design groups in the years since. Pete always thought “outside the box” and his utterances usually brought laughs. 

Pete often planned the luncheon get-togethers to honor people leaving the workforce to retire, often early. Some folks did not want a gathering of their peers, but Pete always went ahead anyway, with the observation that “attendance by the guest of honor is NOT necessary.”  

R.I.P. Kathleen, Clara, Ted, Nonie and Pete! Y’all enriched a lot of lives while you lived.   

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