Monday, May 02, 2011

Ellouise to "Bring Gus Home"

That's how our indefatigable Ellouise Diggle Schoettler describes her upcoming performance in Anderson, SC on Thursday.
 Here's how it was headlined in the  Anderson Independent Mail:

National storyteller to bring her grandfather and genealogy to life at Anderson library  

   Ellouise Schoettler was a child when the image of her grandfather, Gus Keasler, found its way into her memory through a single photo.

Gus Keasler
It’s a black-and-white photo of him wearing some of his football clothing, from the days when he was a player for Clemson University and then later for North Carolina State University.

For years, that picture sat in her grandmother’s Charlotte, N.C., home, on a table in the living room, near the front door. Now, the picture sits in the same room in Schoettler’s Maryland home.

“That picture was the first thing you saw,” Schoettler said. “For years, I knew him simply as my ‘Mama’s daddy.’”

She didn’t know much about him for years because Gus Keasler — a center for Clemson College’s Tigers in 1904 and 1905 — died when he was 32 after a sudden illness. He died of kidney poisoning. So she didn’t know that he grew up as his family’s hero because he was a football player and a college student.

What she did know was that her grandmother grieved her whole life for this man, and would visit his grave at Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte, N.C., once a week for years.

 “I only knew Gus as a dead man, as a man who stopped dead in his tracks,” Schoettler said.

It was partly the lure of that photo that pulled her into genealogy and then eventually into storytelling.

For 20 years, she has been traveling the nation, performing as a storyteller.

She will bring her stories and her knowledge of genealogy research Thursday to the Anderson County Library. She will present a genealogists’ workshop at 2 p.m. Thursday. Then at 7 p.m., she will perform stories in a presentation titled “Flesh on Old Bones.”

In that evening presentation, Schoettler will bring her grandfather, Gus Keasler, back to life. She will share stories of how Keasler grew up on a farm, the fourth of nine children and of how he went onto to become a player for the Clemson Tigers — even playing a year under the famed John Heisman.

“I wanted to come to Anderson to tell Gus’ story,” Schoettler said. “One day, I got this bee in my bonnet, and I decided I was going to bring Gus home.”

She wants to tell about how she began threading together Gus Keasler’s life in the late 1980s after she found his half-sister, Annie Laura Keasler Moore, who still lived in Sandy Springs.

“Annie was born the year Gus entered Clemson, and she had clear memories of her ‘big brother Gus,’” Schoettler states on her website.

That meeting with Moore was the first time that Schoettler heard stories about her grandfather, from a time when he was a young, healthy boy, she said.

“She remembered him playing football at Clemson,” Schoettler said. “I will never forget that first call I made to her. When I called her and told her who I was, she started crying on the phone. She said, ‘You are Gus’ granddaughter.’ It was wonderful. She wrote me a four, five page letter about her memories.”

Later, she would meet more of the Keasler family, many whom still live in Sandy Springs and the Clemson area. She has talked to her third cousin, Sam Blackman, who works in sports information at Clemson University.

Blackman has also been fascinated with stories of Gus Keasler, his great uncle. “When I came to work here, one of the first things I did was I looked to see if they had a picture of him,” Blackman said.

He looked for his great-uncle Gus because he was a man of legend in his family.

Blackman said he’s found records of where his great-uncle played as a freshman member of the Clemson team in 1903, the last year that John Heisman was their coach. Keasler then played on Clemson’s varsity team from 1904 to 1905, before he moved on to North Carolina State, where he was offered a larger scholarship.

“My family — my father and my uncle — they looked up to him like a hero because he played football and had gone to college,” Blackman said.

On Thursday, before Schoettler comes to the Anderson County Library, she and Blackman will meet in person for the first time. They will begin the process of completing their family trees, Blackman said.

Schoettler said she hopes that “Grandpa Gus’” story will help inspire others to find out the stories in their own family histories.

“I started all of this so I could pass on these stories to my children,” she said. “All family stories of some kind. And I think these stories are so important. People need to know who they are and who they came from.

“The names and dates in a family history are just steel scaffolding. Then you have to recreate the life. You have to refresh them in the time and place in which they lived.”

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