Putting aside—for the moment— such weighty subjects as the impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act on life as we know it, or what the city board may be up to these days, I’m switching instead to George Mertens, who 50 years ago was a genuine hometown hero, and Ralph Stroud, 85, a Great Depression survivor and story teller.
The April 21, 1963 Daily Siftings Herald headline and accompanying story still draws attention: Quick Action By Citizen Saves Baby
Thanks to his first-aid skills, the story tells how Mr. Mertens, an Arkadelphia installer-repairman, saved the life of 17-month-old Lesa Thomason. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Thomason of 175O O’Connell had fallen into a bathtub filled with water and bleach to later be used to soak clothes.
Before going outside to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Mertens, their neighbor, Mrs. Thomason had shut the door to the bedroom to prevent Lesa, who was asleep, from getting into the bathroom if she awoke. When Mrs. Thomason went back into the house and found her daughter submerged in the water and not breathing, she rushed Lesa outside where Mertens began giving her mouth-to-mouth respiration.
“When she brought the baby out,” Mertens said. “I was scared to death. I knew I had to do something and in a hurry since even a few seconds could make the difference between life and death in such a case.”
Thinking the respiration wasn’t doing any good, Mertens asked his wife to get their car to take Lesa to the hospital. On the way, Mertens was still giving her mouth-to-mouth respiration. “My main trouble,” he remembers, “was her jaws were locked and I couldn’t get any air into her lungs. It seemed like a long time but it must have been less than a minute before I was able to get her jaws open. After that she began breathing again I guess that was about the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Although she had begun breathing, George continued to use mouth-to-mouth respiration as a precautionary measure until they arrived at the hospital. After only a day, Lesa was released none the worse for her close brush with death.
”In my opinion, “ her doctor wrote, “Mr. Mertens saved this little girl’s life and for this we shall forever be grateful.”
Mertens learned his life-saving action from classes given to employees who work for the telephone company. All employees are given classes on how to treat victims in an emergency.
“ I never tried it before and was wondering all the time if I was doing it correctly. It must have been correct, thank goodness,” he concluded. Mertens was one of three Southwestern Bell Plant Men that year to receive the bronze Theodore N. Vail Medal.
Ralph Stroud shares Great Depression memories
My partner in writing the harrowing Charlie Hutson story last year, Ralph was born in 1928 in the Hammonds Chapel community 10 miles east of Gurdon where, he said, “I was raised on cornbread and molasses.”
“I started to school when I was five years old in a two-room schoolhouse. We had no electric lights and we kept warm by a wood stove. If you sat too close to it, you would get hot. If you sat over by a window, you would get cold, so the teacher would let us exchange seats for a short time on real cold days.
“The older boys would carry our drinking water from a neighbor’s house about a quarter-mile from school. We had more boys than girls so we sat in double seats. For two or three years. I had to sit with my cousin who was a girl, Faye Mills—she’s dead now—and I got laughed at a lot but she was a pretty tough little girl. I would take care of the problem with my fists in a couple of days.”
“From the time I was old enough to remember until I was about 16 years old, Dad was justice of the peace in our community and he would hold court in our living room. I would get me a stool and sit back in the corner and listen to them argue their cases. I enjoyed that very much.”
One of Ralph’s favorite stories is when the local game warden caught Perry Beals, one of his dad’s best friends, killing two squirrels out of season. “Dad went to his house to serve a warrant and I went with him. We drove up in front of the house and Mr. Beals come out on the porch, and said, “Come in! I got coffee on, fried squirrel and hot biscuits.”
My dad laughed and said, “I can’t come in, Perry, and help you eat up the evidence!”
“Hell,” Perry retorted, “this ain’t evidence. I ate them two days ago. I killed these this morning!”
The next time we had a justice of the peace meeting in our house,”Ralph said, “I think the game warden fined him $10. We thought that was pretty funny.”