Happy 100th Birthday, Robert Earl Ley, Jr.
I’m a bit late to the show with this one.
One of the joys of digging into genealogy is, for me, not just discovering the names and dates and wheres and whens of ancestors back, back, back, back up the family tree, but the stories. Nothing seems to crystallize all of that information in a personal, intimate way than discovering photographs of our relatives from long ago.
I’ve been able to gaze upon great-grandparents, dead long before I was born, and in some cases barely a memory to my parents, and feel that connection.
But there’s a similar tickle in collecting photos of your familiar grandparents and parents from a time before you were even a glimmer in their story. To see their familiar faces as infants, or teenagers, or off to college. To imagine their thoughts and hopes and dreams at a moment where they can’t see the future we are only too well-versed in as our family’s history.
Some interesting ways I’ve drawn those parallels have been in projects that snapshot my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lives when they turned 60 as a birthday present to my mom and dad. And I turned the camera on myself, in a way, when I shared the pictures of my male ancestors growing into men up to the age of 40 in the year I turned 40. (Hint: it was 2016.)
How much more poignant it is, then, to gaze upon photos in order chronicling an entire life. On the 100th anniversary of my grandparents’ births, we did that, first for grandpa Don Foutz’s birth, then for Grandma Sue Weible Ley.
We’ll have to wait a couple years for Grandma Erma Johnson Foutz, the youngest of the bunch, born in 1920. But Grandpa Robert Earl Ley, Jr., is up this year, a few months later than Grandma, and now, a few months after the fact.
Maybe it’s because I was blessed to grow up just down the road and across the town from my mother’s parents: I was used to seeing them in so many daily situations, and at holidays, and birthdays, and just ordinary Saturdays, that the collection below seems so skimpy. That I ought to have more words to say. Though, I guess I have said them in this space many times.
And I’m well aware of albums and slides and troves of photographs that exist elsewhere, which leaves me to wonder and worry about this selection being incomplete. Not really a chronicle, then, but a collection of images that capture the way Grandpa was throughout his life.
From the remarkable infant portrait of him with his mother, Zula, to the shot a short few years later with his father, Robert Sr., knowing that they both had already lost that remarkable, dynamic mother and wife when Grandpa was only 2 — and the sister that might have joined their family portrait.
Grandpa would spend a time with his Fisher grandparents while his father rebuilt a life and remarried. Snapshots of grandpa in the 1930s show him after rejoining his father and stepmother, and, for a time, a little half-brother, Dickie, who would tragically succumb to illness before age 6.
He followed his father’s path into dentistry and public service, and early shots from college yearbooks capture him in the band and on the football team at Ohio Wesleyan as an undergraduate, then transitioning from OWU’s Delta Tau Delta fraternity to graduate school for dentistry at Ohio State, where he’s a fixture on the Psi Omega fraternity page.
Grandma and Grandpa, who’d known each other since their days as Dover schoolmates, were married during a busy time that saw Grandpa enlist in the Marines and serve in World War II. Upon returning home, he thrust himself into civic life, earning election as an at-large city councilman was he was still in his thirties (following a long line of Leys in politics), and working alongside his father, Robert Sr., in their dental practice, by then longest standing in Tuscarawas County.
Snapshots from the 1960s record his civic life (happily, I was able to see these shots in the archives of the local paper), and by the 1970s, his family had grown to include daughter- and sons-in-law, and grandchildren. Some of my first snapshots, on a Kodak Instamatic camera I’d gotten for Christmas (with the disposable flash bar) are of Grandpa and Grandma at home on Parkview Drive, or vacationing with them at Sunset Beach, NC.
Life moves irrevocably forward, and it’s been years since I felt I could still drive up to their house, park by the big pines and walk right into their kitchen to find them sitting around their big, circular table on the other side of Grandma’s purple kitchen cabinets. A last photo in the series below is a poignant shot later in the year after grandma died, when we were able to introduce Grandpa Bob Ley to one of his namesake descendants, Jonah Robert Foutz.
Yeah, I guess there’s some magic in my small collection after all. And a lot of memories. Love you, Grandpa.
Bob Ley: 89 Years in Photographs
(Scroll to view the gallery below, or click any photo for a closeup slideshow.)