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Alta Ruth Kemp Crittenden

Article from the Graves County Messenger,
Sat., June 13, 1992

Alta Ruth Kemp Crittenden is a professional historian... of sorts. She's never taught history in school, and she doesn't do any special research for specific topics other people might be interested in. But, she has lived through a lot of our modern -- and some, not-so-modern -- times. Mrs. Crittenden was four years old about the time Henry Ford rolled his first car off the line. She was about 13 when the Wright Brothers became briefly airborne at Kittyhawk. She can tell you her memories of first seeing and/or hearing reports about the sinking of the "Titanic" in 1912.

By that time, she was a 20 year-old woman, married, working on the farm, and raising three small children.

Now, Mrs. Crittenden is looking forward to getting on with her second century of life. Alta Ruth Kemp Crittenden celebrated her 100th birthday (May 1992), the event capped off with the second of her "Kentucky Colonel" awards, as well as a "Duchess of Paducah" title and a huge gathering of friends and family.

Born to Nathan Langley Kemp (her mother's name was Carolyn Josephine Paschall) at home in Leach Bottom, southwest of Sedalia on the old Paris Highway, Mrs. Crittenden first arrived in Graves County on May 1, 1892. With the exceptions of some time spent living in Lone Oak, and a stint in Detroit during World War II, she has rarely left.

She was always in a farming family. Mrs. Crittenden suffered a bout with cancer -- which required a couple of major surgeries -- way back in the 1950's, but 40 years later, she appears to welcome each new day of life with a bright, alert smile.

As one son, Norman Crittenden, a Methodist minister in Covington, TN, explains, "You can't get her down...she'll always bounce back." Mrs. Crittenden's late husband, Willie A. Crittenden, died in 1966.

Rev. Norman Crittenden is one of eight of the 10 children the couple had who survived infancy, along with daughters Emily Glover of Mayfield, Mildred Kay of Lone Oak, Reba Stewart of Mayfield and Helen Glover of Mayfield, with whom Mrs. Crittenden resides on Cuba Road, just south of the city.

Helen Glover's twin brother, Howard Crittenden, is the principal at Henderson County High School. He's the same "Howie" Crittenden who helped to lead the Cuba Cubs to back-to-back appearances in the finals of the Kentucky "Sweet Sixteen" High School Boys' State Basketball Tournament at the dawning of the decade of the '50s, the Cubs winning the crown there on their second try. Howard Crittenden then went on to star for what was then Murray State College.

Two other children, W.A. Crittenden and Lola May Brown, are deceased.

(Norman, himself a survivor of five beach-head landings with the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theather during World War II, recounted that his brother, the late W.A. Crittenden, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in WW II, and served time in a German POW camp.)

Mrs. Crittenden, who married on February 25, 1908 in Paris, TN, when she was then 15, was asked about her longevity. "We were poor, but we were honest," she said of her years of raising a big family. "I tried to raise my kids right...I never had to worry about 'em, but I did."

"She just took it one day at a time," Norman explained during a recent visit here with his mother. "She never lost her faith. her dignity, or her hope in a better day coming."

When the "Depression" hit," Norman continued, "she had six kids to feed, care for and educate. I don't know how she did it. She could cook more food with less grease than anyone I've ever seen. She had too... she didn't have any choice."

"Without God's help, I couldn't have done it, "she smiled.

To get a little better perspective of the times Mrs. Crittenden has lived through, some of her fondest childhood memories are the tales her father told her of his time in the service. Not an uncommon occurrence, except that he fought for the CSA in the "War Between the States" in the 1860's.

The fact is, her memory is nothing short of remarkable. She can still recite a lengthy piece of prose entitled "Whistling In Heaven," one which she heard and then memorized in the form of a speech when she was a school girl of "about 11, or maybe 13."

The story documents at first the trials and fear and joy of a young woman who is helped through a troubled time by a caring neighbor, one she hopes to again hear from sometime. "Whistling In Heaven."

The lengthy piece takes about 10 minutes to read aloud from a thin stack of neatly-type pages. However, she can still recite it, word-for-word, completely from memory.

Her neatly-combed hair is white, and she wears eyeglasses, but Mrs. Crittenden requires -- and asks for -- no special care. She reads and speaks with ease, and still goes to and fro when someone else drives her. Rinsing the dishes after a family meal, loading the dishwasher and helping to make the beds in the morning are all still part of her daily routine.  Burnett's Chapel is still her home church for the Kemp side of the family. It's where her mother and father (who came here from Cottage Grove, TN) are buried.

She proudly recites the many different family names of countless relatives -- both past and present -- and charts their connections with her own ever-expanding family tree. More than 230 friends and family attended a big bash here at High Point Baptist Church to mark the occasion of her 100th birthday. "Kin from 12 different states" were among those on hand to help celebrate, explained Rev. Crittenden.

Alta Ruth Kemp Crittenden May 1, 1892 - May 26, 1993