If your parents had siblings and the siblings had children, you are fortunate to have cousins in your life. One of my cousins was Doyt Grandstaff. Since our dads were brothers, and they had two other brothers, all four families got together at least once a year for Thanksgiving at each other’s homes. The earliest Thanksgiving I can remember having with Doyt was when we got to sit on the stair steps to eat our meal. (That’s because, with so many people, there weren’t enough chairs.) But, our cousin, Doyt, wasn’t sitting on the stairs, he was in a wheelchair. Over the years that followed, I learned a lot about him, and I admired him greatly.
When Doyt was in high school, he played football, basketball and ran track. But that all ended when he had a terrible accident that caused him to be paralyzed from his neck down. It happened on the last day of summer vacation after football practice was over, and he and some other guys on the team had gone to the Glengary pool in Westerville for a swim. He had just pushed off from the side of the pool into the water and ended up severely damaging his spinal cord. This happened on Aug. 31, 1943. He wasn’t expected to live more than two months, but he lived for 46 more years. This all happened long before there were any of the handicapped facilities we have now. At that time, there were no large rehab centers to take care of persons in his condition, except in California and New York City. But, there was a place in Cincinnati that oversaw his care while his devoted mother took care of him.
Two years after the accident, Doyt was able to graduate from high school. Because he was a country boy at heart, he then took some agricultural correspondence studies through Ohio University. He learned about Soil Improvement Conservation. He ended up purchasing three different neglected farms, improving each one, and selling them at a profit. Later, because he enjoyed teaching a Bible class for adults in his church, he chose to pursue a teaching career. He entered Otterbein College and began the long process of taking enough classes to be certified to teach learning disabled children. During that time is when he was listed in “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.” One memory of mine is from his very first day as a student at Otterbein. When the person who was helping him go down the steps in his wheelchair lost control of it, down they went, wheelchair and all.
Eventually, he was certified to teach elementary children who had learning disabilities. An article I kept from an old Columbus newspaper shows him with a child sitting in his chair with him as he was taking her down the hall to tutor her in his little office. He once told me that he always tried to teach a lesson that hadn’t come up yet in the regular classroom, so that when it did come up, the child would already know something about it and would do well. In fact, Doyt was chosen to receive the honor of being “Teacher of the Year” for several times during his years in Westerville elementary schools. He was much loved by the students and the faculty.
Shortly after starting his teaching career, he married Charlotte, who was the youth director of Minerva Park Church of Christ. (This was where he also served as an elder and a youth sponsor.) I always thought that since his wife, Charlotte, was a registered nurse, she must have met him while he was in the hospital and was swept off her feet when she saw him. I also thought his voice was just like the actor Henry Fonda’s. But I was wrong about how they met. Charlotte told me they had met at church and were good friends for 12 years before their marriage.
Having a wonderful voice, he did a lot of speaking in churches. Once I heard him speak at the Church of Christ in Croton, Ohio. He talked about eternity. He gave an example of how long eternity would be. He said that if you pick up one grain of sand from the beach on the ocean, take it with you and cross the ocean, and deposit it on the beach on the other side, and then come back and get another grain of sand, and take it to the other side of the ocean, and keep that up until you had every grain of sand from this side of the ocean on the other, that would give you an idea of how long eternity would be.
While I was working in the Education Department at Ohio Wesleyan University, Doyt came there to speak to the education majors. It was videotaped by the department. Years later, I remembered about that tape and asked the department if I could copy it as a gift for Charlotte. But, sorry to say, it wasn’t to be found. It would have been priceless, because there he sat, a certified teacher who was a quadriplegic, speaking to future teachers who would be teaching students with similar handicaps, as well as those with learning disabilities. When they left that afternoon to go to their handicapped parking place, they found a parking ticket on the windshield of his van. He was ticketed in spite of the fact that his van had the usual handicapped license plates, as well as being evident that it had a chair lift. His wife brought the ticket back to my office, and I saw that it got to the right department.
Just six months before time for his retirement from teaching, as he was getting ready for school one morning, he told Charlotte about feeling pain in his jaw. Then he asked, “What does it feel like to have a heart attack?” Those were his last words. The EMS took him to the hospital, and he was put on a ventilator, but, in spite of that, he died just 12 hours later. It has now been almost 30 years since his death, but anyone who knew him will always remember the impact he had on their lives and the lives of his students.
So, because our dads were brothers, we were cousins. His name was Doyt Grandstaff. And, I am pleased to have this opportunity to have his story published in the Delaware Gazette.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.