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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gray Matters: "Amherst to Amherst"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It was a privilege to spend a recent morning with a delightful couple who were in Cherokee County on a most unusual mission. Robert "Bob" and Jackie Tuthill of Amherst, Massachusetts, had contacted Linda Burkhart of the Sanford Museum some time ago explaining their mission which was to visit all towns in the United States named Amherst.

Their on-line search had indicated that there was one in our county. She told them that we have an Amherst Township and a Marcus-Amherst Cemetery, but no town by that name. This still satisfied their requirements so we were on their itinerary.

I had advised Linda that our ultimate authority on the cemetery, as well as on most all else historical, would be Fred Wilkens, current Cemetery Association Secretary. As a result, our visit took place on the Wilkens' charming patio.

Dr. Tuthill is a Professor Emeritus from The University of Massachusetts at Amherst whose field was epidemiology, the study of diseases. His doctorate is a Ph D rather than an MD, and his major emphasis was on environmental issues, determining their adverse effects, particularly on children.

Wife, Jackie, had retired from her position as Administrative Assistant to the Faculty Dean of Hampshire College. Despite these impressive titles, they were extremely down-to-earth and easy to visit with. To begin, Bob told us that having lived in Amherst, Mass. all of their lives it had never occurred to them that there were other towns bearing that name.

Then, in 1994, they decided to travel up the Ontario River Valley, across the Canadian border, to Amherst, Nova Scotia on their vacation. To their surprise, the route took them through Amherst, New Hampshire and Amherst, Maine. This piqued their interest so they went on-line and foound that there are sixteen Amhersts in our country. A few years later, by the time they had both retired, their goal was set. They were determined to visit all of those sites and to write a book, titled "Amherst to Amherst."

Their first trek took place in 1998. Now, after several other such jaunts, they have only one site left to visit--Amherst, Ohio. It will be their destination in 2010. They usually fly into a major airport, rent a car and proceed from there.

This time they flew into Minneapolis, visited Amherst, Wis. and Amherst, Minn. which is in the scenic, southeastern corner of that state. What had once been a thriving little town is no longer viable. In fact, it was referred to as a "Sleeping Village" marked by a sign bearing the name AMHERST with a bullet hole through it. How better to indicate that the town is "shot?"

They found that Amherst, S.D., which is located in Marshall County in the far northeast corner of that state, is also unincorporated. But there again the Tuthills were able to garner some intriguing stories. From there, they came to our Amherst Township.

Here are a few of the items of information Bob and Jackie seek at each Amherst. 1) How it was named. 2) When it was founded and by whom. 3) Noted persons from that Amherst. 4) Anecdotes from the town's history. Their list is comprehensive. It is going to be hard to wait for their project to be finished and their small volume, "Amherst to Amherst," to be published. They warned us to be patient so we must try.

A footnote: I want each of you who know Fred Wilkens, to join me in pleading with him to record his stories. He claims he has too much to do to write his "Memoirs." Granted, he's a busy man, but we mustn't lose his recollections. Like the Tuthill's stories of Amhersts, his tales of Marcus and Cherokee County are priceless.