The Life of Summit Centenarian, Paul Kavanaugh

The Life of Summit Centenarian, Paul Kavanaugh

November 4, 2016

Childhood Home in Woodstock, Virginia

John & Lucy Kavanaugh
Minor, Evva & Paul Kavanaugh

Army, 1941

Paul W. Kavanaugh, Army Staff Sargeant 

Brothers, Paul and Minor, worked at Minor's Drug Store in Arlington, Virginia.

The Saumsville String Band, 1935 Guitar Members of the band were (front, from left) Ernest Copp and Earl Plauger and (back) Ford Pifer and Paul Kavanaugh

Paul and his wife, Willie Mae

Recent Family Photo

One hundred years ago, Summit citizen Paul Kavanaugh was born November 7th, 1916, on a small farm near Woodstock, Virginia.  He was born at home with his grandmother attending his mom.  She named her baby Paul after a friend in Harrisonburg, Judge John Paul. 

The Kavnaugh home had no in-door plumbing, no electricity, and the family transportation was a horse and buggy.   Their lights were kerosene lamps and lanterns.  On their 10 acre farm, they grew most of their food in a large garden and on fruit trees of all kinds.    They usually had a horse, 2 cows, a couple pigs, and 50 or so chickens. The cows provided milk for the family, and at times, they would have enough milk to sell some to neighbors. Everyone in the family helped care for the cows.  The chickens provided eggs for the family and enough to sell when they had extras.  Most years, new chickens would be hatched from eggs and raised to replace the older ones. 

World War I began in 1918, and it affected most American families.  The Kavanaughs were industrious and self-supporting and did not feel effects of the war as much as most people because they grew most of their groceries and the family planned and saved for the winter months.  In fact, they purchased their first car, a model “A” ford.

The winters in Woodstock, Virginia, were very cold.   The Kavanaugh home had a large wood stove in the kitchen and a coal stove in the living room.  There was no heat in the second level of the house, but a ventilator over the stove provided some warm air to the second floor. For wood required in their kitchen stove, Paul’s father would cut trees on their property with a cross-cut saw.  These saws are about 6 feet long with a handle on each end.  A person would then man each end and pull it back and forth to cut timber.  The tree lengths were then hauled on a wagon to their yard.  A neighbor would bring in a larger gasoline-powered saw and saw the wood into usable lengths for the kitchen stove.  For kindling wood, Paul remembers walking through the woods with his father looking for pine knots for kindling.  These are joints of pine which are the portion of the tree where limbs joined the tree trunk.  These knots are especially flammable and have been used for fuel wherever wood stoves are used.

The family had a large garden and raised many vegetables.  They ate the vegetables fresh from the garden. In the summer, Paul’s mother canned vegetables, jams, jellies, and fruits for them to eat in the winter. A three-foot pit was prepared to use as a root cellar for preservation of vegetables such as turnips and carrots.   

For water, the family relied on rain rolling off of their home’s tin roof into a cistern which was about eight feet into the ground.  They allowed the water to come off the roof to the ground to clean the major dirt and then divert the water into the cistern.  Then, as the water was needed, a wheel on a chain was rolled which brought up water in buckets.  A grape arbor was over top of the cistern which provided shade that helped keep the water cool.   A cistern was also used at the barn to collect enough water to feed the farm animals.

The fall was time to butcher pigs.  Paul’s mother canned the pork and made sausage.  Other meat was salted or smoked in preparation to last through the winter.  The large cuts of meat such as hams, shoulders, and sides would be hung from the ceiling of the smoke house.  A fire would be made in a pit below the meats and smoked for several days.     

Paul’s school was a building with a room for each grade.   The school had no indoor plumbing, but an outside privy complete with plenty of Sears and Roebuck Catalogs available for toilet paper.  Each day the classes had a recess time, and the most favorite game was “Prisoner’s Base,” a running game in which each student would get exercise. When lunch time arrived, the students would eat from their bags brought from home.   Many of their lunches were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with fruits and maybe, a thermos of milk.  The school carried all grades in the same building.  While in high school, Paul was a guitarist in a local string band that played for events throughout the Woodstock area.   He graduated in 1928 in a senior class of 40 students.

Paul was the third child with a brother 12 years older named Minor and a sister 9 years older named Evva Irene.  As a young child, Paul was often cared for by Evva.  She became his second mother. 

While Paul was growing up, his brother, Minor, was attending the Medical College of Virginia and graduated as a pharmacist about 1922. Minor was able to work at a drug store in Waverly, Virginia, for about 8 years.  In 1930 he went to Middleton, Virginia, where he met his wife, and they eventually moved to Arlington, Virginia to open his own drug store.   When Paul graduated from high school, he went to live with Minor and Mildred to work in his store.   Minor influenced Paul’s life in many ways.   Minor began to discuss Paul’s future with him asking what Paul had in mind.  When Paul indicated that he felt very strong working with numbers, Minor suggested that he consider going to Benjamin Franklin University to study accounting.

Paul entered Benjamin Franklin University in 1937 and continued working at Minor’s Pharmacy at the same time.  After he graduated from Ben Franklin in 1940, he worked at People’s Drug until he was inducted into the Army in August 194l.

Paul’s military life began with training at Ft. Lee, Virginia.  After boot camp, he rode a troop train to San Angelo Air Field, Texas, where he was assigned as a dispatcher to coordinate the training for students being trained to fly a BT13 plane.  After 3 years, Paul had received promotions to Staff Sergeant.  He was then sent to Shawnee, Oklahoma, where he helped students get settled and attend classes at Oklahoma Baptist University.

During Paul’s Oklahoma assignment, he met the love of his life Willie Mae Erwin on a blind date.  Willie Mae’s coworkers arranged the date.  Paul was very interested in this lovely girl and would see her as often as possible.  However, that was difficult since neither of them had a car, and on most of their dates they relied on public transportation.  Willie Mae was a legal stenographer for local attorneys. 

After another year or so, Paul was transferred to Waco Air Base, Waco, Texas, where he was assigned to the personnel portion of the Headquarters Office.  He continued to keep in touch with Willie Mae, and they soon started discussing wedding plans.   Willie Mae and a girlfriend rode the bus to Dallas, Texas, where she and Paul got married in a Christian Church near Dallas.  One of Paul’s buddies was Paul’s best man, and Willie Mae’s friend became her Maid of Honor. 

Paul’s military life continued through assignments to Denver, Colorado, Sioux Fall, South Dakota, and lastly to Greenville, South Carolina.  At each of these cities, Willie Mae was immediately hired as a stenographer. 

Paul left military life in Greenville, S.C., and they decided to return to Arlington, Virginia, where his brother and his sister lived.  As they became settled in their civilian home, they attended a Christian church.  A friend at the church remembered Paul and knew that Paul had accounting experience.  The friend told Paul, “We need you at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).” 

Paul’s first position at the IRS was in the “Offer and Compromise Section” in which he would discuss problems with IRS clients. In most cases, he looked at the client’s future and their resources and then would offer them a settlement.  Most people accepted the decision because that was logically their only way out of the problem.

In 1947 Paul was assigned to IRS Agent School.  These classes formalized his knowledge of IRS codes and compliance procedures. The classes lasted about 6 months. Paul and Willie Mae’s first child Pamela was born during Agent School on December 15, l947.

When he finished the school, IRS had two openings in Virginia for agents – one in Staunton and one in Lynchburg.   Paul accepted the Lynchburg position and most of his job required him to go into Lynchburg’s larger corporations to review their books for compliance with IRS Codes.  In 1948/1949 Lynchburg was a large industrial town and required at least 2 agents to cover the jobs required by the IRS.  During this time in Lynchburg, Paul and Willie Mae’s son Paul Wesley was born on August 3, l953 in Richland Hill Subdivision, Campbell County, Virginia.

Paul and Willie Mae’s first home in Lynchburg was on Taylor Road in Richland Hills.  There, Pam and Paul Wesley grew up.    While living there, the family would go to Oklahoma to Willie Mae’s family reunion.  They often had memorable incidents happen during these trips.  On one trip, the family packed and began their trip down through Virginia.  The children in the back seat heard a kitten meowing.  They heard the meow for several hours and after convincing Paul that it was indeed a cat meow, he stopped in Wytheville, Virginia.  When they opened the trunk, a cat jumped out and ran away from them.  They realized that it was a neighbor’s cat.  When they arrived back home from their journey, they told the neighbor about their cat.  After a few weeks, they were all surprised when the cat appeared back home in Lynchburg! 

Paul retired from IRS in 1975 after working for them a little over 27 years.  His mother was still living in the Woodstock area, and he felt that he would have more time to help care for her if he retired.  He and Willie Mae started going to Woodstock every month to take care of weekly meals, cleaning, and prescriptions for his mother. 

After both children left home, Paul and Willie Mae’s next home in Lynchburg was on Farfield Drive.  Paul and his friends, Ronald Hooper, a former IRS agent and Bernard Chumbey, a former state policeman, formed a real estate corporation and named it Gladysbrook Properties, Inc.  They purchased 9 acres of wooded property which is now Candlewood Court just off Timberlake Road.  They then cut some of the timber to pay off the mortgage.   The acreage was developed into several business lots.

In 1984, the Gladysbrook Properties, Inc. formed a partnership called Sunburst Hills Apartments.  After building the apartments, they managed and rented the complex.  Paul was the bookkeeper and finance officer.  After several years, the complex was sold but financed by Gladysbrook Properties.  The partnership is still in the process of closure as of 2016.

For all of their adult lives, Paul and Willie Mae have been involved in religious and civic organizations.  When they arrived in Lynchburg in 1948, they became members of Euclid Avenue Christian Church.  Throughout his association of 68 years, Paul held various positions of service including treasurer of the church for 25 years, deacon, and Sunday School class member. Also, Paul and several other members of his church established a permanent investment fund which would annually provide 5% of the year-end balance to the church.

His primary civic involvement was with the Ruritan Club, an organization which raises funds for local endeavors.  Interestingly, he was a “regular” at the Ruritan concession stand at Brookville High School football games until he was 93 years old.

Another large part of Paul and Willie’s adult life was involvement with all the activities of their children such as all of Wesley’s sports and later, they spent much of their day caring for and enjoying their 5 grandchildren.

The Kavanaughs moved to The Summit, a Life Plan Community for seniors of Lynchburg in August 2003 as one of the first citizens.  After settling in, they maintained their previous lifestyle as much as possible. The most important thing to both of them was continuing to go to Oklahoma and Woodstock for family reunions.  Also, about twice a year, they would join friends, John and Edith Adamee for a vacation to Myrtle Beach.  John continues to join Paul for lunch every Wednesday.  Willie Mae played bridge with friends from Farfield Drive.

Paul was on the first Resident Council of the Summit and served as treasurer.  He opened the first bank account for the Summit.  He was also in the Spiritual Life of the Summit.  They both attended Euclid Christian Church as long as possible.  Paul was also a member of the local Ruritan Club from 1976 through 2010.  With the Ruritan Club, he met for meal meetings once a month, helped support Brookville High and Campbell City, and Meals on Wheels.

Willie Mae’s health began to fail about 2010.  Paul cared for her in their home as long as possible but had to send her into long-term care a couple of years later.  He would go to her bed to feed her breakfast. In the evening, he ate in the dining room and left as soon as possible to walk over and feed her dinner.  He took excellent care of her until she passed away in 2013.

So many people marvel at how Paul will celebrate his 100th birthday in November.  He wants to share with the readers of his story that his lifestyle is the primary factor of his age.  For instance, he limits his intake of food to small portions at each meal.   This is especially true of sweets; however, he really loves strawberries and ice cream – probably his favorite dessert.

The following prayer helps him begin his day each morning:

“God created me.  God redeemed me.  God knows me by name.  I am God’s.  Because I am God’s, I need not fear.  I will face difficulties.  I will face trials.  But I will not be alone, for God will be with me to guide and protect me.  And all this is because God loves me – totally and completely and forever.”

He is still active in the senior group of Euclid Christian Church.  And, lastly, he looks back on his life with Willie Mae and children with profound, compassionate love and memory.