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Dyer packing sheds, dime stores & WWII

Frances Powell grew up in the heart of Dyer in the 1930s-40s


by J.D. Pinkerton

In the Poplar Grove neighborhood resides a delightful 91-year-old lady by the name of Frances Mathis Powell. She is the daughter of Thoyce and Maple Cunningham Mathis. Both are buried at Oakwood in Dyer. Her grandparents were W.P. and Della Russell Mathis. W.P and Della are buried at Poplar Grove. Her great-grandmother was a King from Watertown, near Lebanon in Wilson County, Tennessee. Her grandparents came from Wilson County when her mother was very young.

The Cunningham family called her ‘Fannie’ as a nickname whilst the Mathis family called her ‘Sis’. Frances was born February 15, 1925 on Green Valley Road. She attended Keely Mill Church which is now located in Dyer. “We have Sunday morning services out here at Poplar Grove but my friends attend First Baptist in Dyer so I go there at night.”

Frances’ first home was where the Dyer Junior High School is now. She has one brother and one sister. Her sister, Donna Faye Bates, is still living on College Street in Dyer, the widow of Ralph Bates. Her brother was Thomas Mathis. He worked and traveled extensively for Brown Shoe Company and passed away while in Dixon, Missouri.

She recalled as a child, one day her parents were talking about cutting her hair, but she had long pretty hair and she didn’t want it cut: “I got the scissors and hid behind the door and cut it off myself!”

She recalls her father going to work for Swift driving a truck, so the whole family moved to Fulton, Kentucky. “I went to school in Fulton for about a month till my daddy got laid off and we moved back to Dyer.”

“In 1937 when I was in the 6th grade, Daddy put me to work helping out at his packing shed which was behind Doug Duncan’s drugstore business by the railroad tracks. Brooks Cummings from Rutherford and he owned the business but Daddy ran it and Mama worked in the office, so when I went to work there I guess you could call it a family affair.”

“Daddy would go out and buy these green tomatoes from the farmers. They would inspect them and run them down different chutes by their sizes. These women would take paper and wrap each one. My job was to keep them supplied in the paper. Each packer had a number and they would put their number on the paper and the size of the tomato, then they would load it into the freight car on the tracks.”

Lloyd Oliver ran a canning factory down below the box factory. They would steam the tomatoes and bring them out to us. I worked some down there. They steamed them so we could get them peeled easier. I worked down there and got my first watch from Sears and Roebuck. I was so proud of it!”

At about age 16, Frances went to work at the dime store in Dyer. Mr Starnes ran the dime store and she liked working up there. The dime store was behind the barber shop. They had several stores up there at one time.

“I started working there in 1941. I remember I was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I was just working there after school and on Saturdays. Mama would give my brother and sister money to go to the show and they would stop at the dime store and get money from me for popcorn and drinks”

“Only thing I had to do that I didn’t like was a chore at home; we had a garden and I had to pick pole butter beans. My brother and sister got the outside row and I got stuck with the inside row, I didn’t like that.”

“I liked all my teachers at Dyer High School but my favorite teacher was my 7th grade teacher who was Miss Hilda Smith. She was from Kenton. Every morning at school we would recite Psalms 19:14. ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’ That says a whole lot when you stop and think about it.”

She remembers her first date being with Thomas Ramsey. He lived at Medina. One of her aunts married his daddy. He was living with his sister in Medina. Asked if this was a love affair, she said, “Well, I guess. He went in the service and we lost contact.”

“I went with another boy named Jim Goad. He always took me to the show in Dyer.”  She remembers seeing Gene Autry and Shirley Temple at the show.

“One night we was going to a dance; they used to have dances at people’s homes. Jim brought Connie Powell along with us that Saturday night and the next Saturday night I had a date with Connie. We dated for two, maybe three years before we got married. Connie was from the Poplar Grove area.”

She never had a dance at her house as her Mamma and Daddy wouldn’t allow it. They would have live music at these dances. She recalled that some of the Flowers family hosted some of the dances in those days.

“We are just a little bit kin to some of the Flowers,” she added.

She recalls they had a big flood in Dyersburg, maybe in 1937, and a lot of people from there moved to this area. They would sleep wherever they could, on pallets, or whatever they could find.

“We married April 17, 1944, at Corinth Mississippi. We were both 19 years of age. My husband, Connie, went into the service. He was stationed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in Nebraska, El Reno, Oklahoma and in Kansas. He went to Texas and Florida on maneuvers. My husband’s job in the service was in the U.S. Cavalry and he trained horses and pack mules.

“His captain called him when he was at home on furlough and he was on the call list to go overseas. His captain said not to bring your wife back with you. I had a 4-month old baby, Ronnie, and my parents and his were upset that I went back with him to Oklahoma. I just didn’t want to lose all the stuff we had. We were tore up pretty bad thinking Connie would be going to fight overseas. We didn’t have a car and we took the train back to Nebraska.”

Then came the news. “Some soldiers got on the train at Omaha and they told us that a peace treaty had been signed!”

The most amazing thing that ever happened to Frances Powell?  “I was named Mother of the Year in the 1970s! Funny thing was my grandmother Cunningham also won Mother of the Year.”

“My favorite vacation spot where we took the kids was up at Kentucky Lake. Going to Paris Landing and up to Springville we enjoyed so much.”

“I have four children, and I raised a niece and nephew.” Ronnie was the oldest and he retired from the post office at Humboldt. He attended Draughon’s Business College, was drafted and spent two years in service as a lieutenant. He retired with 40 years service in the post office. Daughter Carolyn took a business course in Chicago. She had two children and stayed six years in Chicago. Her husband was a truck driver, driving for Central Southern. The next oldest was Elaine who graduated from Dyer High School in 1965. She and her husband work for Lynn Point Engine in Bradford.  Pam is the baby, she graduated from Dyer in 1966. She is Pam Grady now. She is a teacher’s aide here in Dyer.

“Some of my classmates when I graduated at Dyer High were Martha Lynn Knott, Arlene Knox, Bonnie Burns, Christine Ramsey, and Jillian Keas.”

“I taught Sunday School at Bethlehem and Keely Mill. I wrote for the Tri City Reporter for the Keely Mill community news. I have lived at Poplar Grove since 1955 when we moved here,” Frances Powell said.

“I did everything at Kellwood in Rutherford. I worked there for 20 years. I worked there from 1955 to 1975.

“Connie passed away on June 8, 2014 of emphysema. We were married 70 years in April and he passed away in June.”


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