Stories of friends that have come and gone

By: Rich Tarrant

Several years back I was shocked when I opened the local paper (VPJ 05/12/2013) and found that an old buddy of mine had passed on. “Cripes”, I thought, “He was only 68.” His name is Stuart White.

When we were kids we attended Ginny Hain-Osberg’s kindergarten class in the room above the old A&P Store on the corner of Liberty and Division streets (background photo). I didn’t know it then, but Stu was Ginny’s nephew. Stu’s mother, Elizabeth / Betty, was an Osberg. I make some note of this herein because the Osberg family – who were, incidentally, of German descent – always seemed (at least to me) to be exceptionally gifted.

To digress momentarily: Stu’s uncles Karl and Leonard Osberg were gifted musicians (among other things). Both men were members of local bands – including the old G.A.R. band – that played and sang in local dance halls (e.g. Ruggles, Elberta, and Crystal Gardens, etc.).

Stu’s Uncle Leonard was also Mayor of Vermilion back in the 1940s. I’ve written of him several times. The townsfolk called him the “Singing Mayor” because he always sang at local gatherings. He was also recognized nationally for his skills as an archer. While serving in the Army during WW2 he met and married a French girl named Anne Marie. Their only child, a daughter Nadine Furgason, was born in France.

At one time the family ran a cosmetics manufacturing firm in Vermilion. It was located above the old Glen Martin Pontiac Dealership on the northwest corner of Liberty and Grand streets where Friendship Park is today. When Leonard was Mayor his office was also in the building. In the late 50s the entire building was destroyed in a fire. But back to my friend Stu.

His given name was actually John Paul Stuart White. Why all the names I never knew – because everyone including his mom and dad called him Stu or Stuart. One of the first things I remember about him is that while we were still in kindergarten he showed me how to smoke driftwood. Funny, what things one recalls about their friends.

During our pre-teen and early teen years I spent a good deal of time in the basement of Stu’s (the White) home on the southeast corner of Main and Ferry streets. I recall with much wonder that one time he shot a 22 rifle into a target on the door of their fruit cellar. I also recall a day when his parents were away he placed a pile of gunpowder on the floor and went outside and tossed a lit match on it through the cellar window. [Think about it.] Wow! What a mess. Everything in the cellar was coated with a black residue. I never knew how his parents handled it because, nice guy that I was, I  quickly left the scene of the crime before they returned home. But don’t get the wrong idea. Stu was not being intentionally malicious or reckless. He was simply and honestly curious about cause and effects – even if it wasn’t (as in the gun powder case) beneficial to his backside. Nonetheless, most everything was always well planned and executed.

In addition to all this his quick wit was hard to ignore. For instance, occasionally his mother, while busy with some task in the main part of the house, would call to him, “Stuart, would you please help me out?” And without blinking or thinking he’d reply, “Which way did you come in?” Then there were times where she would ask him to draw a glass of water for her – [her mistake being never to ask him to “pour” a glass of water.]. He’d immediately take a piece of paper and a pencil and draw a glass of water and give it to her. This could’ve been a vaudeville act. But my it was an interesting place – and Stu’s quick wit made it all the more entertaining.

Then there was the time he attached a long piece of fishing line from a basement window to a wallet that he’d placed on the walk in front of his house. Someone would come along; see the wallet, look around to see if anyone was watching and bend down to pick it up. Stu would yank the line pulling the wallet out of reach, and the person (embarrassed) would look around and walk away. He was, as should be obvious, an exceptionally clever person.

I lost touch with him after high school. He attended Miami State University, graduated with an engineering degree and married his high school sweetie, a Vermilion girl named Carol Lima. I think I saw him a few times after I returned from Vietnam – but eventually we drifted in other directions in our lives.

He would later tell me that while living for some time in Nokomis Park in Vermilion back in the late 1960s his shenanigans continued. He and a friend (another story for another time) made some hot air balloons that they let drift up and over the lake. The balloons, it is said, caused a small uproar in the area when folks saw them and mistook them for UFOs. But that was something Stu would do – not because it would cause uproar, but because he actually wanted to see how the balloons would appear in the nighttime sky.

The last time I saw and spoke with him was at his brother Bruce’s house here in Vermilion. He and his brother had taken up the hobby of Western style fast draw competitions: ergo his appearance in the lower right photo. Speaking of fast, one of the things he told me at that time is that he still had the lock we’d used on a locker we shared in Junior High School. He recalled that I could open the combination lock in a snap without looking at it: (One of my few and also long forgotten talents). Anyway, it was a short visit and that was the last time I saw him. He was healthy and happy because he was about to retire. I thought I’d be seeing more of him. But I never did. And then I opened the newspaper.

Sixty-eight. That’s far too young to leave this world. But I must admit (with some consternation) that as I get older everyone – both older and younger persons – seem younger. I guess it’s a relative concept. In any case, I’m certain that somewhere in the universe Stu is there, placing another wallet attached to a fishing line on a heavenly sidewalk – waiting for some trusting soul to come along…

Ref: Special Thanks to: Carolyn Hill and J.P. Stuart White.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com

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