This is the final article in a four-part series about the properties on Jackson Avenue sold to USD 257 to build a new science and technology building at the Iola High School campus.
Like many a young man, John Foust dragged his feet when it came to settling down and marrying his sweetheart, Ruth.
In a series of letters discovered recently by their children, Ruth pressed him about whether they would get married and when.
The Fousts weren’t an overly sentimental family, their daughter Donna (Foust) Elliott recalled. They didn’t easily express emotions or say “I love you.”
Not surprisingly, Ruth’s letters kept her emotions under cover, focusing either on the mundane or world events, especially during the World War II years.
“My mother had a pretty good sense of what was going on in the world,” Donna, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said.
And Ruth was persistent about the topic of marriage.
“I guess my father was being wishy-washy,” Donna said.
She and her brother, Kenny Foust, read only a few of the letters, which with other documents were stored in four wooden footlockers John had brought back after serving in the U.S. Navy during the war. John, who died in 1994, was an attorney like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. The footlockers have been taken to Arizona with other items from the family home in Iola.
The letters were Kenny and Donna’s favorite discoveries when the family gathered on Memorial Day weekend to clear the house at 426 E. Jackson Ave. The property, along with three others in the block, was sold to USD 257 to be demolished and replaced by a new science and technology building on the Iola High School campus.
THE ATTIC had collected 118 years of Foust family memories: furniture, china, war memorabilia, the footlockers and love letters, along with letters from other family members and other documents, including the original deed for the property from 1901.
It had been decades — if ever — since anyone had cleaned the attic. Donna thought the family had gone through the attic when Ruth died 12 years ago. But she found things there she thought had already been removed, like a delicately cut glass bowl.
Kenny believes no one had ever gone through the attic. Certainly not in his lifetime, anyway.
The attic isn’t large, probably the size of a bedroom. It didn’t even run the full length of the house; part of the upper floor had been converted to bedrooms where Donna and Kenny grew up. But the small attic still was crammed with items long forgotten.
Many of the items they discovered, like outdated furniture, weren’t worth anything but memories, Donna said. And they found more china dishes than they could find people willing to take them. The china was mostly for display or special meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But for Donna, the china evoked memories of family dinners with her parents, Kenny and their late brother Danny. The family gathered in the dining room every night to share a meal and talk. Those are her favorite memories from childhood.
“It was nice,” she said. “Families don’t do that very much anymore.”
Neither Donna nor Kenny planned to take much from the attic. Donna, newly retired, has a lifetime of her own collectibles and no room for more. Kenny calls himself “a vagabond” and travels the country in a converted van. He believes in minimal living.
Still, Kenny ended up taking a truckload of items back with him, mostly woodwork and kitchen cabinets from other parts of the house. He can modify the cabinets for use in one of his van conversions.
Donna’s daughter, Kellie Elliott, and her fiancé filled a trailer with items to take back with them to Arizona. Kellie loved the house and spent quite a bit of time there before her grandmother died. She took things like doors and woodwork; she and her fiancé plan to build a house and she hopes to incorporate some of those items.
Other family members who helped clean the attic took whatever items they wanted. They invited friends to come through the house and take their pick. Donna gave the cut-glass bowl to a friend who unpacked a box, saw the bowl and fell in love with it.
“The attic was stuffed full. I was surprised with what was up there,” she recalled. “I think we got most of the good stuff out.”
“It was a cool thing to dig out a trunk full of letters and pictures,” Kenny said. “There were all kinds of odd things. That was the fun part of digging through the attic.”
THE FOUST siblings left Iola many years ago. Neither plans to move back to the area, though they visit frequently.
“It was a great place to grow up, right between the junior high and high school,” Donna said. “I really loved that house.”
Since their mother died, the children have rented the house and expected to sell it eventually. The school district’s offer was a welcome opportunity to sell, though they are sad to know it will be demolished. But Donna and Kenny, like the other affected property owners, support the school district’s plans to build the science and technology building, along with a new elementary school at a site near Kentucky and Monroe streets, and replace aging heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school.
“I’m really proud of Iola for approving the school bond,” Kenny said. “I’m glad to see the things that have been done to enhance the community. I like the idea of forward-thinking vision and people who want to see the town become a better place to live.
“Progress doesn’t occur without change.”
His appreciation for the school board’s vision comes from an appreciation for his own family’s legacy. The Fousts were an early Iola family. His great-great-grandfather, Oscar Foust, moved to Iola in 1883. He bought the property at 426 E. Jackson in 1901. Kenny and Donna believe Oscar built the house that same year, supposedly for his daughter, Donna said.
Oscar was an attorney and judge who decided many of Iola’s most historic cases around the turn of the century. Kenny remembers visiting the former Allen County Courthouse on a class trip in junior high. His classmates saw a portrait of Oscar Foust and immediately bestowed Kenny with the nickname, “Oscar.” When he returns for class reunions, some still call him Oscar.
“I’m just lucky to have those family connections and the memories,” Kenny said. “The memories are more important than the physical reality of a house.”
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