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Mary Theobald, Ken Kercheval and Lois Tichenor.

While talking with a young friend last week I asked her if she remembered the day when Ken Kercheval came to town. She said the name was familiar, but she really didn’t know who he was. Sure, she was just a kid when that happened, but my goodness, what a day it was when the actor who was Cliff Barnes on the television show “Dallas” came to Greensburg! And wait until you hear where he ate a meal, why he ate there, and what the hostess prepared for him!

Yes, even though there are some who may have no idea who Kercheval was, he was a pretty big name in Hollywood and on the stage not many years ago. He acted on Broadway and was in such plays as Young Abe Lincoln, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret and was in a lot of television shows including Search for Tomorrow, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, Walker Texas Ranger, I Still Dream of Jennie and many more of the popular shows at the time. It was, however, the TV show Dallas that ran for about 20 years that really made him a highly recognized name all over the country. He played Cliff Barnes, and he and Larry Hagman had many a run-in on the show.

His visit to Decatur County was sponsored by WTRE and the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company. His visit wasn’t only for pleasure, either; he made several appearances and anyone who wanted to could purchase an autographed photo of Kercheval with all of the money going to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. With the photos going for about $2, the BBBS organization made more than $600. Mayor Shel Smith gave the actor a key to the city and proclaimed the whole day”Ken Kercheval Day.”

It really all started when Lois Tichenor wrote to Kercheval about seven years earlier to learn if the actor was related to the Kercheval families who were born and lived here at one time. Dr. Clarence Fay Kercheval was her family’s doctor and, in fact, delivered Lois and her sister. He stopped at Lois’s home for a visit after he met with the mayor. Lois had really started something because it turned out that Dr. C. F. was Ken Kercheval’s grandfather, so he and Lois began corresponding which, after a few years, resulted in his visit here in the spring of 1983.

Ken’s grandfather C. F. was born in Rush County, but the family moved to Decatur County. He taught school here for several years to pay for his medical school education at Illinois Medical School in Chicago. I checked Lorene E. Shirk’s book “School in Decatur County, Indiana 1820-1978” that she wrote for the Rural Couples Club and found that C. Fay Kercheval taught at the St. Paul School in Adams Township and Nellie Kercheval taught at the Adams School and White Oak School. After he became a doctor he practiced in Harris City, a large community at that time, and in Greensburg. He died in 1947 and is buried in the South Park Cemetery Mausoleum. Lewis Harding’s 1915 history of the county has a story about Dr. C. F. Kercheval.

Ken’s father John Marine was also born here, graduated from Greensburg High School in 1916, joined the Army when World War I started in 1917, made it home, graduated from the Indiana University Medical School and practiced medicine with his father for several years. He eventually moved to Indianapolis and then to Clinton where he practiced medicine for years. J. Marine died in 1967.

Mary Theobald, who will be 99 years old on June 14, well remembers that day when Ken Kercheval came to town. She and husband Bill lived on Jackson Street, which just happened to be the very house that Ken’s grandfather and father lived in when they lived here. In her usual gracious way, Mary invited Ken and Lois Tichenor and a few others for lunch. And what did she serve this celebrity? Simply a fine traditional Hoosier meal that included pork loin roast, ham and beans, cornbread and gooseberry pie. Not a word was said about how Mary found out that gooseberry pie was a favorite of Ken’s. It was a fine day in Decatur County that April day in 1983. Ken died April 21, 2019.

Decatur County resident Pat Smith may be contacted via this publication at news@greensburgdailynews.com.

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