October 22, 2009


Interviewed by: Mike Robinson

Note: This is Gene Shook’s life story as he told it:

I was born in 1918 in the same house as my father, in Champaign County west of Christiansburg, but moved to Troy in 1924 in the middle of the First Grade at the Old Forest School. A cemetery formerly stood on the site of the school. Then we moved to South Mulberry Street, continuing at Forest, then completed high school at the Van Cleve building in 1937. Following High School, I attended Miami University in Oxford, graduating with a business degree in 1941. An eye injury suffered in high school precluded my service in World War II.

I was one of five brothers, Garnard, Gene, Victor, Paul, and Bob. All graduated from Miami University except Garnard, who attended Sinclair Community College, serving as a tool and die maker. My family operated two grocery stores; the first was located at the corner of Canal Street and South Market in Troy with the second one near the telephone building. My brother operated a clothing business on the Public Square known as “H. K. Bothe’s & son”, working as an employee in 1942 and later purchasing the business in 1960. While at times I worked in the family grocery, my first career job following college was with Aero Products in Vandalia as labor relations director, probably my favorite job. When Aero products dissolved in 1960 due to litigation involving an alleged propeller defect, I began work with Troy Sunshade, as initially in labor relations and later as Plant Manager until my retirement in 1984. While at Troy Sunshade, the product lines included outdoor furniture and bank bags for the transport of money- any bags out of cloth such as tobacco bags, etc.

Turning attention to my life in Troy during this period, the most impressive development was the formal expansion of the Troy school system as it evolved in the aftermath of World War II. We used to play football- I was a halfback- in the field next to the power plant, changing the location from what is now the golf course. During one of the games, I sustained the eye injury, which forced an end to my playing days but I continued as team manager.

During the depression I maintained a Cincinnati Enquirer morning paper route with 244 customers and in the afternoon delivered a summary sheet of all baseball scores. These were difficult times for Troy people; my parents “carried” many Troy families with credit extended for groceries; many such bills were worked out through the barter system, a common practice during the depression. This was during the days of “Horseradish Charley”, a local character on the square who sold freshly ground horseradish so hot it would burn your mouth.

He had three movie houses in Troy at various times during the 20’s and 30’s- the Colonial in the first block of West Main and the Jewel in the first block of East Main.

The Mayflower was built in 1927 replacing the Colonial and featured live music with a Wurlitzer organ and piano. The organ was played daily even after talkies came in and continued until 1937. The Shook family owned and operated a roller skating rink in Culberson Heights during this period as well. Ice skating in Troy was allowed on city sidewalks and people could and did skate all over town.- fun, but a little un-even.

I married upon graduation from Miami in 1941 to Gathel Loop who ran a beauty shop in Troy for many years; her father and mother were both chiropractors. We had one daughter, Connie Jean, born in 1948. During these early years of my marriage, we lived at 21 North Oxford Street and later moved to Concord Township, my present home, an area developed by Mary Colwell and the Shroyers. I now have three grandchildren- two girls and one boy.

War rationing- had all the ration coupons I needed since I worked for a war production plant. My eye injury in high school precluded my service in World War II. Low unemployment in Troy after the war- local businesses with local managements fared better than the large corporations in major cities.

In order to assist local children, mostly boys, I managed Camp Chaffee operated by the local Kiwanis Club for over twenty years; band camps were also held at Chaffee. In addition, I was involved with Children’s International Village during this period at Sugar Grove Camp near West Milton. I was also a member of several organizations and service clubs such as the Moose, Elks, Kiwanis, and Masons, and Shriners.

One of my fondest memories was playing Santa Claus in Troy, Piqua, and Dayton. I traveled to churches, schools, stores, anywhere there were gatherings of children. As I had naturally white hair, I didn’t need much make-up! I worked every Christmas season for over fifty years, playing Santa. I was honorary chairman of the Strawberry festival ten years ago, in my Santa suit!

Interviewer’s note: At this juncture, Gene shared photos of his family and different work sites and co-workers. 

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