BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Estella Wreede began recruiting members for a newly formed Waterville Historical Society in 1964, she called one of her former students.
“Thad Jones was very young then,” noted Phyllis Witzler, a WHS historian who has been collecting stories about the formation of the society. “He’s now the only charter life member left.”
Thad, whose ancestors came to Waterville Township in the 1800s, readily signed up when Wreede, his former junior high teacher, asked him to join the WHS.
“For five bucks a year, I thought I would become a member,” he said.
Those first years involved a lot of fundraisers. He dressed in period costume in 1966 and visited Waterville School to talk to students. A few years later, he led a tour of old landmarks and participated in the apple butter stir at the home of Anna Brown, a prominent WHS member.
“We squeezed a lot of apples for apple butter,” Thad said, explaining that the product was canned and sold to raise money.
Over the years, Thad and Barb have supported the WHS. For the past five years, Barb has worked at the Wakeman Archives alongside historians Verna and John Rose, Randy Studer and Stan Lepiarz. A few years ago, she wrote and published on the WHS website an article about how the Toledo Express Airport was at one time planned for the land between SR 64 and Bucher Road, Finzel Road and Waterville-Monclova Road. It was due to the protests of farmers – who didn’t want to see valuable farmland lost – that the airport site was moved to what is now Airport Highway.
Barb grew up in a farmhouse that still stands on Neapolis-Waterville Road. The land was settled by her great-great-grandfather in the 1880s. Bounded by fruit trees and 80 acres of land, it was farmed by her father.
Thad grew up on Noward Road, which his great-grandfather Noward had renamed from Utz Road after becoming a township trustee.
As kids living in the same area, Thad and Barb rode the same bus to the old Waterville School on River Road.
“I wasn’t the perfect student, but I stayed out of trouble,” he said. “Although I almost blew up Waterville School.”
Thad often helped out the cooks and custodian in order to get out of sitting in study hall, he explained. One day, the custodian, Bill Disher, had to go to a doctor’s appointment in Toledo, so he asked Thad to put some coal in the furnace at a certain time.
“I put the right amount in at the appointed time and I went to class,” he recalled. Then the principal came looking for him. They went to the boiler room and opened the door.
“There was steam all over the place. I had fired it enough to blow the safety valves,” he said. “I thought I was going to blow up the school. Then Mr. Disher returned. He said it was no big deal – that it happened all the time. He threw some switches and that was it.”
Thad graduated from Anthony Wayne High School in 1960 and Barb in 1961.
Thad headed to Defiance College for three years and Barb graduated from Miami University with a B.S. in education.
For the first two years after college, Barb taught art at Springfield High School. With the birth of their daughters, Heather and Shannon, she took a break but decided to take a job as a part-time page at the Waterville Branch Library once they were in school all day. During her 30 years with the library, Barb moved up to full-time clerk, then circulation supervisor, retiring 10 years ago.
“I still go to the library every week to pick up books I’ve ordered,” she said.
Thad started out his career supervising the bottling of nail polish at Cameo Inc. Later, he worked for The Andersons General Store, stocking and pricing housewares. Other jobs included selling and purchasing steel for two different companies, working for the Lucas County Clerk of Courts in the auto title department and then managing an auto title branch. His last two decades were in the sign department for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Retirement didn’t slow him down. While Barb and Thad lived on Noward Road, they watch as Browning Masonic Community was built. They attended programs at Browning and visited many of the residents. So, when Thad was asked to serve as a volunteer driver, he agreed. After a few years, a paid position opened, and he’s been there since – 13 years. He drives residents to doctor’s appointments, restaurants, the airport and activities – including wineries, the casino and even to Port Clinton to see the Tin Goose Diner.
“He’s joking with the residents all the time. They like him a lot,” said Barb, who sometimes accompanies him to help out.
“It’s a good time. They like having someone to talk to and I enjoy hearing the stories,” he said.
Some Waterville residents might only recognize him for his other volunteer gig – portraying Santa Claus.
It started in the 1960s, when members of the Waterville Fire Association looked for someone who wouldn’t be recognized by the children of firefighters.
“I walked in, and you could see the kids looking around to see whose dad was missing,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. And I got a six pack of beer for doing it.”
Over the years, he’s been Santa Claus for parties at Waterville Family Physi-cians, Zion Preschool and numerous private events. Barb played Mrs. Claus alongside him at Waterville Primary School during the years their grandchildren were in school.
“He’s purchased his own costume and better wigs and beards,” Barb said. “Those first few years, he needed to add a pillow in the belly – now he doesn’t have to.”
“I think my picture is in everyone’s house in Waterville,” he laughed.
While the couple has since moved to Whitehouse, Waterville is still home.
“And we’ve been blessed that our daughters graduated from Anthony Wayne and live in the area. Three of our four grandchildren have graduated from AW as well, and the fourth is at the high school,” Barb said.