Jim Gredy’s Time

by Bill Weaver
photo by Bill Weaver

“I think you get the same story from anybody that grew up in Brown County,” says Jim Gredy of his lifelong home. “It was a good place to grow up.”

Except for a few years in Nashville Gredy has lived within a mile of where he grew up in southern Brown County. A friendly, conversant, energetic man, Gredy, a teacher, politician, and farmer sips iced tea in the dining room of his rebuilt civil war era home.

“Grandfather Gredy came to the States from Switzerland about 1917–1918,” Jim says. “He spoke French, high and low German, Italian, and English. Even though he was an alien, he was drafted. Our name was G-r-e-d-i-g, Gredig, but when he signed his name, the ig looked like a y so the old army sergeant sitting there typed it out as Gredy. Grandpa told him that wasn’t right but the guy said, ‘This sounds more American. Move on!’” Jim laughs. “That’s why ours is spelled with a y instead of an ig.

“My grandfather ran the old Stone Head grocery store from the 1920s until about 1962,” Gredy continues. “Stone Head just had the store and two or three houses. The house was pretty well destroyed by a tornado—I shouldn’t say tornado…awful strong winds. They snapped a great big old white pine off and slapped it onto the roof. The store stood there for a few years empty and then it burned.

“This area of the county was isolated but as a kid I never looked at it as being isolated at all. There was always traffic on State Road 135. My grandfather would sell quite a bit of gas on weekends. The roads were all gravel except for 135. You could look up this valley on a Saturday or Sunday evening and there was a layer of dust from one ridge to the other ridge just hovering. They used to use a lot of the native gravel from out of the creek, which made the dust brown.

“The New Bellesville Phone Company serviced all of this area. My grandfather bought the phone company in the ’50s and as soon as he bought it he started negotiating with Bell Telephone to buy the system. We went all around on these back roads, up and down, running telephone lines, tacking them up to sassafras trees, posts, and everything else because part of the agreement was that everywhere there were phone lines Bell had to put their lines.

“We always managed to keep busy,” he remembers. “We worked, helping farmers bale hay in the summer, planted Christmas trees in the spring. I’d hate to think how many thousands—hundreds of thousands—I helped plant from the time I was seven or eight years old until I was out of college. Those old pine trees helped put a lot of guys through school. We planted them on gullies, eroded old fields, things like that. Whether they cut a single Christmas tree or not it did a lot of good. They were good for the soil and kept it from washing out. When the old pines died it gave the native hardwoods a chance to get established.”

There were still one-room schools when Jim was growing up. “I went to school in Pikes Peak. At Van Buren our graduating classes varied between eleven and seventeen, give or take. In a way I think there were some advantages to the old one-room schools. You were sitting in the room with the first through the fourth grade so when you were in the first grade you got to pick up on the things the fourth grade was learning. But consolidation probably works out a lot better,” he allows. “You can offer so much more to the kids that way. Brown County was the first county to reorganize into a county-wide school system. It’s been a consolidated school system for close to sixty years.”

Gredy taught social studies at Brown County High School for 25 years. “I retired early from that and farmed for a few years. At one time I had eighty or ninety head of sheep. That meant a hundred to two hundred lambs every spring to work with so that kept me busy. Eventually I got out for a couple of different reasons and then I was county commissioner for eight years. I guess the voters got tired of me and they retired me again,” he laughs. “I stay up on it a little bit, what’s going on,” he continues, “but anymore I don’t miss it at all.”

County commissioners take care of county property, buildings, roads, and bridges. Ordinances go through the commissioners to be effective. “It wasn’t a full time job but it was just busy enough. It ties you down. The phone was ringing all the time.

“Now I jump out of my chair if the phone rings.”