Honoring Dad

Lisle V. Roberts with flower arrangement

Lisle V. Roberts with flower arrangement

In her tribute to Dad during his funeral service on June 16, 2008, my beautiful niece said "Gramps loved by doing." In the picture at left, Dad is doing one of his favorite loving tasks -- arranging flowers for his beloved church.

I took this picture in June, 2007, when Lisle V. Roberts -- aka "Dad" or "Gramps" -- was 95.5 years old. One year later he died peacefully at home, in a house where had lived for 86 of his 96 years.

I took a break from Savoring Kentucky starting May 29, 2008, because of Dad's growing weakness. I will never want to take a break from Dad's way of living, though. He had a wonderful time, right to the end, and that's at least partly because he chose for his life to be wonderful.

I learned to love home-grown, home-cooked food, small farms, Kentucky's beauty, and family from Dad and Mother. Dad spent all his life farming, gardening, and teaching others to farm and garden. In addition, he was a master cultivator of warm and loving relationships with his family, friends, work colleagues, and church community.

Known for his stature (short) and his humor (quick), Dad leaves many unforgettable lessons for his family and friends. The most important of those lessons: Love God, love and serve each other, make fun for others as often as possible, and never, ever worry.

I dedicate my ongoing work on Savoring Kentucky to Dad in gratitude for his life lessons, which I intend to keep on trying to learn! For starters, I've posted the Molasses Crinkles recipe that Dad made hundreds of times for the delight of grandchildren and other visitors. Mother gets the credit for finding this recipe in the first place, and for baking it often enough for family to fall in love with it. Dad, though, made Molasses Crinkles and Outrageous Chocolate Chip cookies as ongoing assurance that life is sweet. We put the Molasses Crinkles recipe on the little info card at Dad's visitation, hoping the many visitors who took one of the cards might start Crinkles-as-love traditions of their own.

If you want to read a short version of Dad's life story...

Lisle Vickery Roberts December 21, 1911 ' June 13, 2008

Rhodes and Rona Roberts's sixth son, Lisle Vickery, was born in their log home on December 21, 1911. Five years later, after the birth of younger sister Joyce, the Roberts family moved down the hill into a house where Lisle was to spend 86 of his 96 years.

Lisle and his brothers and sister farmed, hunted, gardened, and played through the woods and fields of a farm that their grandfather had owned. Lisle and his brothers ' Hobart, Ottis, Mack, Harry, and Kermit ' went to Oil Valley Elementary School, sometimes on horseback, sometimes in a buggy. From the school building, Lisle and other students could see workers making and firing bricks for the new Monticello High School, where Lisle graduated in 1932.

Encouraged by his brother Mack, Lisle entered Berea College in the fall of 1933. He recalled that he weighed 117 pounds when he got to campus, and could easily handle 100 pounds sacks of corn or feed. Like all Berea students, Lisle worked at a job the College assigned him. Lisle's job in the College Dairy required that he get up at 3:45 A.M. daily to carry the milk buckets from 40 cows to a cooling tank and then wash the buckets and equipment. He had to run fast most mornings to get to the dining hall for breakfast before the cooks stopped serving.

Near the end of his first year at Berea, Lisle found himself a bit tired and out of sorts because his necessarily early bedtime of 7:30 P.M. caused him to miss all the evening activities at the College. Lisle considered dropping out. Instead, Mr. Benton Fielder, head of the College vegetable gardens, asked Lisle to stay in Berea during the summer of 1934 to help grow the acres of vegetables the College canned for later use in the dining hall. Within a year, Lisle became the student manager of the garden, a position he held year-round until he graduated from Berea with a Bachelor's of Science in Agriculture in 1937.

In 2007, Lisle and eight other members of the Berea College Class of 1937 enjoyed visiting at their 70th Reunion. Lisle carved ball-in-a-cage pen-and-pencil sets for each of his classmates.

In the fall of 1937, Lisle went to work at Union College in Barbourville, as head of student workers. One of the workers he met, a "non-traditional student," was a young woman named Ruth Hale who had a two-year-old daughter named Paula Ann. Lisle later said he fell in love with a precious little girl and then gradually found out he thought a lot of her mother, too.

Ruth and Lisle married on September 3, 1938. Their uniquely happy "union of opposites" sustained them through 64 years of joys and some measure of sorrows. Over the next 15 years, Lisle and Ruth added three more children to their family: Lisle Howard, Rona Susan, and Jonathan Hale. And in the natural course of things, the four children married, and Lisle welcomed Kenneth Abbott, Lynn Wilson Roberts, Steve Kay, and Beverly Jones Roberts into his family.

In addition, in 1952 Lisle and Ruth hosted a German exchange student, Renate von Stetten. Renate and Paula graduated together from Wayne County High School. Both Renate and her eventual husband became beloved parts of Lisle's family.

In the early 1940s, Lisle worked for six years for the Farm Security Administration in Raleigh, North Carolina. Afterwards, in 1946, Lisle and Ruth moved to Kentucky, to the house where he grew up. Lisle farmed and soon began teaching agriculture to Wayne County veterans on their farms. Lisle and Ruth grew large flower and vegetable gardens, raised their children, and worshipped at the Elk Spring Valley Baptist Church, which Lisle had joined in his youth.

In 1955, Lisle got a new name ' Gramps ' when Kenneth Juan Abbott, Jr. was born. Over the next 35 years, thirteen more grandchildren were born:

Melanie Abbott Merritt Sallie Kathleen Abbott Rees Howard Roberts John Rhodes Roberts Elizabeth Wilson Rood Elisha Winthrop Lisle Hopson Eli Johnson Kay-Oliphant Noah Davy Oliphant Rhodes Keith Roberts Daniel Thomas Roberts Hannah Ruth Roberts Anne Wilson Roberts William Stratton Roberts

Lisle was also blessed with seven great-grandchildren:

Joshua Caleb Merritt Jeremiah Lisle Merritt Jacob Kenneth Abbott Makayla Ann Roberts Andrew Rees Roberts Cole Rees Roberts

In 1957, when he was already a grandparent and well into his 40s, Lisle began teaching Vocational Agriculture and Horticulture at Wayne County High School.  Students promptly gave him yet another new name: Shorty Roberts.

Lisle returned to school and earned his Master of Science in Agriculture from the University of Kentucky in 1962. Lisle's accomplishment that year was only one of several family graduations, as Ruth, Paula, Howard, and niece Pat Wilder all received college degrees.

Lisle enjoyed teaching, advising the Future Farmers of America, visiting his students on their farms, and working with other teachers on school projects. He retired from teaching in 1978.

In the 30 years since his retirement, Lisle helped rear several much-loved grandchildren, gardened intensively, made carvings and sculptures from wood and cornstalks, taught Sunday School, grew and arranged flowers for church each Sunday during the growing season, and taught himself to bake cakes, cookies and pies. As Ruth's health failed, Lisle also became full-time cook, housekeeper, and caregiver, nursing Ruth tenderly through a nine-year illness.

In his early life, Lisle used horse-drawn buggies and coal-oil lamps.  Later he saw moon walks and personal computers. He found it all interesting. In fact, he found life funny and took it as a welcome responsibility to make fun, share humor, and use his sharp, unfailing wit to make others' lives brighter and easier. Lisle said recently that although some days were not quite as good as others, he had never had a bad day.

Lisle loved to work, to be productive and useful. He loved to complete projects.  He kept lists in his head of those he planned as gifts for others. For his latest project, he intended to collect butterflies for display in handmade cases for his daughter-in-law Beverly's elementary classroom.

Toward the end of his life, Lisle said often that he loved life and enjoyed people. He took great comfort in God's creation and his prayers often gave thanks for the beauty of the day. Last Thursday afternoon Lisle sat in a favorite place on his front porch, among flowers, hummingbirds, and peace. Asked if he wanted to go back inside he said, strong and clear: "Nope. I like it out here."  Less than 24 hours later, his loving family had sung him Home.

In addition to his sister Joyce Roberts Logan, his sister-in-law Georgia Cooper Roberts, his children, their spouses, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Lisle is survived by many nieces and nephews, his beloved church community, and many friends. His daughter Paula Abbott precedes him in death.


To honor Lisle's life, his family requests that in lieu of flowers or any gifts, you make someone laugh out loud today, and let go of one worry.