John Abraham Eyed
Looks Back at 90 Years
by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
Once you meet John Abraham (Abe) Eyed, you never forget him. He’s just that kind of person. His strong features and expressive eyebrows convey an equally strong and engaged persona, and he’s never been shy about expressing his wishes or opinions. Now approaching his 90th birthday, Abe will be the first to tell you that his life, so far, has been a pretty wild ride.
Abe’s Syrian parents, Wolf and Tamam Eyed, immigrated to New York in 1911 and then settled in Indianapolis, where Mr. Eyed worked for a marble and tile company. Abe was one of four children born in Indiana, including an older brother who died in infancy, a younger brother killed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack, and a sister who succumbed to tuberculosis as a young woman.
Following Wolf’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1922, Mrs. Eyed supported her three children working as a presser for an overall manufacturing company, “a job that killed her,” according to Abe. A child who suffered from Dyslexia before the learning disability was diagnosed, Abe had a rough time in school. His one savoir was his third grade teacher, Annie Lloyd, who took a special interest in him and mentored his progress.
In the early 1920s, Annie introduced Abe to Brown County. “She would get me up at around 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and we would drive down through Columbus. Those were the days when the roads had no bridges!” A friend of Dale Bessire’s, Annie would occasionally buy a landscape painting from Dale, keep it for a year or so, then return it to trade for a new landscape to hang on her wall.
Abe’s introduction to Brown County sparked a life-long interest in the arts as well as nature. The field trips with Annie Lloyd included long hikes featuring identification of flora and fauna along the way. And Abe’s appreciation for early Brown County artists later resulted in a close friendship with portrait artist Marie Goth, as well as a significant collection of work including that of V.J. Cariani, Will Vawter, C. Curry Bohm, and L.O. Griffith, among others.
Abe’s education at Arsenal Technical High School was interrupted by periods of work, including a year with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at Mount Shasta, California where his love of nature was reinforced during a grueling hike up the mountain. After graduating from high school he worked at a meat packing plant before becoming a police reporter for the Indianapolis Times. His boss, Hez Clark, hired him on the spot. “He had resumes from two journalism school graduates and he chose me,” Abe laughed. “I was always brash, like my father.”
Hez encouraged Abe to go to college. Although Abe had made the decision to attend the University of Arizona, when he hopped a freight to get there, he eventually ended up in Los Angeles. After working as a trucker, Abe saved some money to enroll in the University of Southern California. “I waited in line to pay the Bursar and overheard a girl in front of me telling him that her check had not yet arrived from her parents,” he said. Abe decided to use the same line, and managed to become a student without pre-paying. Later he admitted his sham to the manager of the Student Union and got a job peeling potatoes and squeezing oranges for the breakfast crowd. “During those years I worked as many as seven different jobs at the same time, but not all on the same days, to help me get through,” he remembered.
With World War II approaching, Abe volunteered to drive an ambulance with the American Field Service in Africa under the British Eighth Army for two years. He had already been deployed when he received his hard-earned diploma from USC.
At the beginning of the Italian campaign, Abe was drafted into the U.S. medical administration corps, where his assertive personality and refusal to pay adequate deference to his superiors made military life a challenge. “I had been disabled in the National Guard at Fort Knox,” he recalled. “My arm had come out of the socket when I was swimming. But the records didn’t get to the army until four or five months after I was drafted. I told them I couldn’t do some of the things—the obstacle course, swinging on a rope over the water, etc. They thought I was a ‘gold brick’—trying to get out of doing it.” Abe’s records finally arrived and he was hospitalized to repair the shoulder.
“The day Franklin Roosevelt died I hitch-hiked back to L.A. I got an honorable discharge and I knew a casting director, so he gave me and a few buddies ‘extra’ jobs for the movie, Cole Porter, Night and Day,” he chuckled. “Thanks to the smog and the G.I. Bill, I finally got to Columbia University and had five great educational years in New York City—and I don’t mean ‘educational’ from the University. New York City was an education in itself.” At graduate school Abe completed all the coursework for a major in anthropology, but departed for Miami before finishing his dissertation. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in the ivory tower,” he said.
Married to his first wife on Labor Day in 1948, Abe’s first “real job” was in her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. He lasted 17 months as the head of the public relations department for Pennsylvania Power and Light before quitting. “They liked me and gave me raises, but who in the hell wants to be tied up in a public utility all their life?” he asked.
Bolstered by his proven skill at public relations, Abe decided to open his own business in 1950. The marketing and advertising business was immediately successful, causing an overload of work and worries that eventually compromised his health. “I got ulcers,” he explained, “and my heart was enlarged to twice its normal size.” To deal with the stress, Abe would sometimes get away to Florida or California or Brown County. “I’d come to Brown County three or four or even five times a year…. I remember that, one time, I had at least 80 advertising and public relations jobs on my desk in various stages of creation and development when I just took off driving for three or four days in Brown County.”
Abe pursued several other vocations and interests while running the business, including founding and managing a commercial acting theater and owning thoroughbred racehorses. In 1968, Abe’s friend Mary Cox found some property on Lower Schooner Valley Road that he purchased. “As soon as I closed the deal on this place I went back to Allentown, found good agencies to pick up the work for my clients, sold my building that housed the agency and came to Brown County to stay.”
Settling near Peaceful Valley didn’t seem to slow Abe down much. After literally traveling around the world, he served as Chairman of the Hoosier National Forest Committee of the Sassafras Audubon Society Board, garnering the National Audubon Chapter Activist Award in 1984. In this role he tirelessly spearheaded fights against off-road vehicles in Hoosier National Forest and worked on issues such as the Lake Monroe watershed, wetlands and wildlife habitat. He’s always been active in the community, supported the arts and recently, with his wife Cheryl, endowed a scholarship fund to provide advancement opportunities for Brown County high school graduates.
Divorced from his first wife for several years, Abe met Cheryl in 1975. “I bought a weekend place down here on Creamer Road and the two properties next to me were owned by brothers from Beech Grove—they were weekenders also,” Cheryl recalled. “It turned out they had gone to school with Abe. My Mom and little sister and I were down at the cabin on Saturday afternoon and Abe comes bopping in—in bib overalls and long hair…. It was kind of a fascination.” The two eventually married.
As he ends his ninth decade, Abe continues to entertain, attend functions and tell a good yarn. “He’s never idle,” Cheryl says. “The man cannot sit and watch television. He always has a crossword puzzle going or is reading something.” Although his life is more settled, the wild ride is not over. Abe Eyed can be counted on to express his convictions and act on them, no matter what.