Jeanne Griffin

Jeanne Griffin, 94, volunteers regularly at The Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville. 

ASHLAND -- Jeanne Griffin doesn't recite Loudonville's history from a book. The 94-year-old volunteer at the village's Cleo Redd Fisher Museum has lived it since 1939 when her family moved to the area from Connorsville, IN. 

Griffin graduated Loudonville High School in 1943 amid World War II and wrote letters to her junior prom date Myron, who she'd later marry. She's met the renowned Loudonville inventor Charles F. Kettering and his friend Orville Wright. She worked at The Flxible Company before it closed in 1994.

As visitors enter the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, located along Loudonville's Main Street, Griffin is often the first to greet them. With a wide smile and bright eyes, Griffin marches herself in their direction and offers a cheerful welcome. 

"Where are you from? What brought you here?"

She's met people from across the United States and finds almost all are impressed by the museum. 

"They say it's big for a place like Loudonville," Griffin said.

She starts her tours with The Flxible Company's exhibit, located directly left of the entryway. She explains how the company opened in 1913 as a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars. Later when transitioning to buses, it seemed cemented as a leader in the transportation industry.  

Griffin took a customer service job with Flxible from 1964 to 1988. What she enjoyed most the chance to talk with people from all over, to build friendships and to hear other people's stories.  

Sometimes she worries she bores people, that she talks too much. If she did then, she doesn't now.

She is a wealth of knowledge, living history book -- the kind anyone should want to read. She's quirky, funny and sharp. Her passion shines through with every story and keeps listeners engaged. 

Loudonville whistle

The whistle is best known as the shift whistle from the Flxible Company, where it was used from 1940-1996.

Every day at The Flxible Company, Griffin would hear a whistle blow outside the building at 7 a.m., signaling the start of the day. It'd sound again at noon and 1 p.m. for lunch and at 4 p.m. for the end of the workday. 

"And if it blew twice at 7:30 in the morning, there was no school for the kids," Griffin said.

Now part of the museum's Flxible exhibit, the steam whistle was built in 1917 by Issac Hunter and later modified for Flxible. When the bus manufacturer closed in 1996, the whistle wasn't used again until Nov. 11, 2018.

Griffin and others from the museum's board had an idea. They learned the whistle had blown for Veteran's Day at 11 a.m. November 11, 1918, and set out to replicate that moment 100 years later.

"On Nov. 11, 2018, at 11 a.m. -- exactly 100 years later -- the whistle was at the same location. It blew for one minute," Griffin said. 

It's clear she's proud of that moment. She pulled out her smartphone, which she often uses to text her two sons, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren. She scrolls until she comes across the video of the whistle. 

"Here it is," she said, holding out the device. 

She watches it, too. She anticipates the sound of the whistle going off and lets the video play through the entire minute. 

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Following the remainder of the first floor tour, Griffin goes upstairs. She takes her time and holds the rail, but at 96-years-old, she's certainly not slow about ascending the steps. 

Upon reaching the top, she is immediately back to the tour. No need to catch her breath.

She points to a room, where the museum holds regular programming. However, larger events might be taken to a larger venue. 

"This past year, we had a fellow who survived the Holocaust speak. He was 7-years-old, and he was telling about his experiences trying to get away from the Germans when he was living in Poland," Griffin said. 

During that time, she was attending Loudonville High School. She remembers families gave up sugar and had to ration gasoline. Her class -- the class of 1943 -- didn't go on a senior trip or have senior pictures taken. They were giving it up for the war.

Some from her class joined the war effort before graduation. Even more joined afterwards, including Griffin's husband, Myron. They married in 1946.

He had taken Jeanne to her junior prom. They lost touch for a short while, but reconnected in 1944 when he was on leave. When he went back overseas, the couple stayed in touch via letters.

"There were a lot of other women doing the same thing," Griffin said, "so if we wanted to go out and dance, us girls would go together to jitterbug and dance together.

"Life was easy. We didn't realize. What we thought were hardships were nothing compared to what other people had to do." 

She remembers meeting the Holocaust survivor in early 2019.

"I looked at him, and I felt so bad because I was going to high school, and I had no idea that there were these camps you were going through over there," Griffin said. "We young people weren't aware of how much suffering was going on." 

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In another room on the second floor is an exhibit recognizing Charles F. Kettering. The nationally known inventor and Loudonville native died with well over 100 patents to his name. He was the director of research for General Motors and the mind behind the electric self-starter for the automobile.

Working as a bank teller at that time, Griffin and a few coworkers received invitations to his 70th birthday party. Of course, they attended. And while there, she mingled with not only Kettering, but his good friend Orville Wright, too. 

"Charles Kettering, he's given so much to the world and was so generous to Loudonville," Griffin said. "But at that time, I had no appreciation for what the man had done." 

At the bank, she made $60 a month, which "was easy to live on." And after six years there, she was able to become a stay at home mom to her two boys, Gary and Bill.  

Jeanne Griffin 2

Jeanne Griffin.

Now, just six years shy of a century-old, Griffin has experienced good times, bad times and everything in between. She's known love. She's known loss. Immense joy. Crushing heartbreak. All in Loudonville. 

She's watched sunsets at nearby Pleasant Hill Lake, learned to water ski and once rode an elephant. Still, she's willing to try new things. 

"There's always room on your bucket list for one more thing," Griffin said. "I think it's important to enjoy life." 

Her husband passed in 2009. And now, Griffin is among the few remaining members of Loudonville High School's class of 1943.

It could be lonely, but Griffin doesn't let it be. She's found community by volunteering at the museum and at her church. When asked to describe herself, she said, "I'm a professional volunteer." 

She's the treasurer for the museum's board and had previously been the president.

She remembers as the president of the historical society in 2014, she served on the Loudonville Bicentennial planning team and was in the parade with a couple grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"We buried a time capsule with letters to all four of them to be opened in 2064," she said. 

Griffin has been in Loudonville since 1939. She remembers years that most weren't alive to experience, but she admits she could have done more.

"I missed so much. I thought that I knew a lot about Loudonville's history, but I was wrong. I've learned so much from being here (at the museum)," Griffin said. "Maybe I wouldn't have appreciated it the same way. 

"But I would say, if you have any time at all, don't sit at home. This is living history." 

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