Friday, October 3, 2008

Beverly Ann's Baseball

I am an only child. My parents had been married over nine years when I was born, and my mother was unable to have any other children. Although my Johnson ancestors were as fertile as the Nile Crescent, the Rench/Hannah side was quite the opposite, at least during my mother’s generation. My grandparents, Jim & Alice Rench had three children; Audrey, Elizabeth (my mother) and William. Aunt Audrey and her husband Raymond “Kewp” Wilkin were childless. Uncle Bill and his wife, Kathryn (Summerville), had one daughter, Beverly Ann, born in Elnora in 1934, ten years before I came along, making her my only cousin on my mother’s side of the family.

Uncle Bill, Aunt Kathryn, and Beverly Ann moved from Elnora to Indianapolis around 1940, so I never really knew her and can only remember seeing her but one time. However, I was aware that she had some health problems, but until many years after her death, I never really knew what they were. My parents had intentionally kept the secret from me – Beverly Ann had polio at the age of 18 months. She died on July 17, 1949, just a few weeks prior to her 15th birthday.

Every year about this time, as the baseball season draws to a close, I always think of the cousin I barely knew. Beverly Ann was a huge fan of the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team. Shortly before her death, the following article appeared the Indianapolis Times newspaper: Baseball Game Dedicated to Sick Girl, 14Beverly Ann Rench, 14, has been a sick little girl for quite a while. But in spite of her illness she has managed to follow closely the Indianapolis Indians and their fight for the pennant. She hasn’t been able to attend the games in person but she keeps a close check through The Times and the radio. Her daddy and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William Rench, 14 S. Butler Ave., make sure the radio is beside her sickbed when the Tribe is playing. Last night Beverly Ann received one of those big thrills which helps a sick person keep fighting until they get well. Luke Walton, who broadcasts the games for WISH, dedicated the ball game to Beverly Ann. “That’s me, daddy. That’s me,” she cried when she heard her name over the radio. The Indians lost but Beverly Ann was happy. And she keeps on fighting.

It wasn’t long thereafter the Times reported:

Beverly Ann Rench lost a 13-year battle for life yesterday. The 14-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Rench died in St. Vincent’s hospital after a final illness which lasted several weeks. She would have celebrated her 15th birthday August 6.

Born in 1934 in Elnora, Ind., Beverly Ann was stricken with a deadly form of polio when she was only 18 months old. Her courageous fight against the disease enabled her to start school but after a year and a half, Beverly Ann was forced to drop out. From that time on, Beverly Ann was never able to return to school. Through the patience and kindness of her parents, however, she was able to continue her schooling at home.

Beverly Ann was an ardent fan of the Indianapolis Indians baseball team and followed the fortunes over the radio and in The Times. Just a few weeks ago, Luke Walton dedicated a home game to her and she was presented with a baseball autographed by the team. It was one of her prized possessions.

Last week, Beverly Ann went to the hospital for the last time. “She just couldn’t fight any more,” her father said.

Besides her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Rench, Beverly Ann is survived by her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. James Rench, Elnora, Ind., and Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Summerville, Bicknell. Funeral services will be Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in Shirley Brothers Irving Hill Chapel. Burial will be in Walnut Hill Cemetery, Odon, Ind.

I’d like to share a few additional thoughts. Beverly Ann died just four months after I was released from my own nine-month stay at Riley Hospital. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended. I don’t remember a thing about the actual funeral service, but I do remember the ride from Indianapolis to Odon. Like the June day I went to Riley Hospital only thirteen months before, Tuesday, July 19, 1949 was a sweltering, hot day. In fact, on the way to the cemetery, my parents stopped in Freedom and my mother went up to a house on highway 67 and asked if I could please have a drink of water. During the graveside service, I was told years later that my grandfather mumbled words to the effect that, “We just got one back and now we’ve lost the other one for good,” referring to his two grandchildren, both of whom had contracted the dreaded polio.

As for the baseball, Aunt Kathryn gave it to me following Uncle Bill’s death in February, 1988 after they had retired back to Elnora. She said he would want me to have it. Almost exactly one year later in February, 1989, Aunt Kathryn also died. The nearly sixty-year-old baseball is still encased in its clear plastic globe, both now somewhat yellowed with age. Two of the men whose fading signatures are on the ball have since been elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. Beverly Ann would be proud.

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