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History buff has always enjoyed hearing stories about the past
Rusty Lovelace

F orget, Bing, Google and Yahoo!Search. When people in Thomson are seeking facts about local history, they call Rusty Lovelace.

"Rusty is just Mr. McDuffie. That's just his name," Mary Anne Coussons said several years ago when she organized an Oral History Training Session in the McDuffie Museum. Mr. Lovelace not only was a student in the class, but was one of those the class interviewed, according to a story in The McDuffie Mirror .

During the class, he told of "years ago," when he received a pocket-sized tape recorder for Christmas, and went around the county interviewing friends.

"They have since died, so that information is very valuable now, because it's about an era that's no longer here," Mr. Lovelace said. "They were born between 1880-1900. ... It's wonderful to hear about how the streets of Thomson looked, and the different homes, how they prepared dinner, how they dressed, how they bought groceries. It was a different place."

But, he was learning Thomson's history long before he got the tape recorder.

As a young boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mr. Lovelace said he would sit on his grandparents' screened porch and hear oral history at it's finest every night. When it was hot, Mr. Lovelace said his grandparents would open every window and door in the house, and then sit out on the porch until 10:30 or 11:00 at night, when the house had cooled down enough for them to sleep comfortably.

"I sat in my little chair on the porch and listened to the older people talk," he said. "It was just like magic to hear them talking about the old days. They'd say 'dark ages,' and I thought they meant it was really dark."

Mr. Lovelace lived with his grandparents on Lee Street in Thomson. He remembers a path that ran behind the houses where "everyone would walk back and forth and visit and share our vegetables."

"Thomson wasn't so big in those days," he said. "Of course, it's not big now. But, it was smaller then, and everybody knew everybody. ... I had a close relationship with all my neighbors. Life seemed so much simpler back then. But, maybe it's because I was younger and didn't worry about stuff."

Although it's been many years since the Lovelace family has lived in that house, they recently acquired it again and are remodeling it to replicate how it was when they originally had it. Mr. Lovelace now lives there with his mother, niece and nephew-in-law. Mr. Lovelace said he enjoys gardening, and many of the plants growing around the house - irises, daylilies, perennials, dahlias and jonquils - came from his grandparents and great-grandparents.

He also still has a night-blooming cereus that his grandparents had in a flowerpot on the side porch in the summer. The cereus is a desert cactus that blooms only one night.

"The whole neighborhood would come and sit on the porch in the dark and wait for those blooms to open up," Mr. Lovelace said, adding that the next morning, the spent blooms resemble a chicken neck.

"The night I was born, it had 24 blooms on it, which is the most it's ever had," Mr. Lovelace said. "Everybody missed it because they all went to the hospital. When they came back, all the chicken necks were hanging there."

Living in the old home place brings back many memories for Mr. Lovelace, which brings that era back to life as he reminisces.

"Grandmother would give me a can of paint and say 'All my fence needs painting,'" he said. "She must've had 20 gallons of paint. So, I'd paint all summer."

After painting, Mr. Lovelace remembers his family spending a month at the beach every year at Sea Island.

"We'd go crabbing and fishing and flying kites," he said. "And I'd love to walk around the St. Simons Cemetery and see where the famous people were buried."

And he remembers family members who lived in the Lincolnton area before Clarks Hill Lake came into being.

"There was no lake back in those days and we would ride out to the country where the lake is now, and visit relatives. In those days, seems like everybody was a relative," he said with a laugh. "If you talked about anybody, you talked about somebody who was a relative."

As a youth, Mr. Lovelace stayed busy in the Boy Scouts and in the Royal Ambassadors at First Baptist Church of Thomson, where he's been a member since he was in third grade.

"Our lives centered around church," he explained. "And we always went to White Oak Campground. Whether you were Baptist or Methodist, everybody went to White Oak."

Ironically, Mr. Lovelace has been teaching third graders in Sunday School at First Baptist for the past 33 years.

Yet, the passing of time has a way of changing things.

"I grew up in a rose-colored world. There was no TV to broadcast everything that happens like it is now," he said. "My first inkling that it was no longer a rose-colored world was when I went to basic training. The drill sergeant came in at two o'clock in the morning and threw a bucket at me and said 'the floor has got to be mopped.'"

While serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnamese War, Mr. Lovelace said he and his friends, Don McNeill and Bob Knox, Jr., would come home on weekends and "make our own fun."

Mr. Lovelace attended Augusta College and also took a Gemological Institute of America certification course in Los Angeles and ran a jewelry business in Thomson for 43 years.

He also has traveled to Europe, the Middle East, Scandinavia, Hawaiian Islands, Canada, South America and Cuba. But Thomson is where his heart is.

"I really don't have any interest in going back anywhere," he said.

In recent years, Mr. Lovelace has been, or still is, on the Board of Directors of McDuffie Regional Medical Center, the Thomson-McDuffie Historical Committee, McDuffie Museum, SunTrust Bank, Partners For Success and a deacon at First Baptist Church.

"We were brought up to be a good citizen and give back to the community," he said. "I like it because it keeps you in tune with what's going on in the community."

His current job administering work keys tests at the Work Force Development Center also enables him to help the community by assisting the unemployed in becoming better qualified for work.

And true to his nature, he was instrumental in the beginning plans for the McDuffie Museum, which opened in January, 2009. Mr. Lovelace is a self-proclaimed pack rat who has saved everything his whole life long. But the stash has its advantages -- it enables him to surprise his friends with gifts of something from the past in relation to a significant current event in their lives.

He's the Thomson Rotary Club historian who weekly provides interesting trivia from the past.

And, much of what's on exhibit at the museum was donated by Mr. Lovelace.

"I donated a truckload," he said. "And since we've moved, I've found enough stuff to fill another truckload."

But his richest treasures are the stories heard on his grandparents' screened porch.

"You can read and read in books, but it's so interesting when you have someone who can tell you things you wouldn't find in a history book," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010

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