Monday, December 14, 2020

Dean of Fredonia has something to say

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For a man who’d perfected the art of listening and responding to others, it’s understandable that Dean Akridge finally had something to say.

In the twilight of his life, at age 87, Akridge has, with help from family and friends, published Papa’s Almanac, a 74-page tome that’s quickly read, readily understood and priceless, particularly for anyone interested in a quick reference to a life well lived, and an inspirational glimpse into how it was accomplished. 

Dean Akridge is Fredonia through and through, but he’s a little bit Crittenden, a tad Caldwell and a pinch of Lyon County. His mother hailed from the Deanwood area of Crittenden County and his wife’s parents once operated a popular restaurant in Marion. 

The Fredonia Valley is Akridge’s fatherland, but he’s lived and taught school in Marion, toured the ruins of Hiroshima while in Japan courtesy of Uncle Sam and seen the inside of a bunch of gymnasiums in Kentucky and beyond because of his abilities and interest in sports. A collegiate basketball player at Murray State University, a U.S. Army veteran, husband to Nona for 60-plus years, lifelong Christian and a businessman with an uncanny ability to attract and keep customers, Akridge has piled up more than enough experiences from which to draw insights for a book.

His voice weakened by time and his mobility fading from a life on his feet, Akridge remains a robust spirit, living “day by day” as he says. He remains just a hop, skip and a jump from the rural hardware stores he and his family built into something of a regional empire, serving farmers, homeowners,

contractors and others from the Fredonia Triangle for almost a century. From people he’s met, loved ones he’s lost, stories he’s heard, wisdom he’s collected and lessons both learned and lived, the enduring gentleman’s thoughts and perspectives have been put to paper as a lasting reminder of how things were, why they were and how to make yours and others’ lives better.

It was just before the pandemic set in that Akridge began taking down some ageless sayings, country proverbs so to speak, and other tips from references such as the Bible, his family and counsels through the years. 

“You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” goes one of the adages printed in the book and perhaps a small summary that neatly packages Akridge’s style. He’s a good man, as testified by many who know him. His management qualities have not only buoyed a strong business through bull and bear times, but it’s allowed him to provide sage leadership on a number of fronts. He was a Sunday school superintendent for more than 30 years, mayor of Fredonia and sat on the Murray State Board of Regents. He taught typing and coached basketball at Crittenden County around the time the city and county schools consolidated in the late 1950s. It was in the hallways of CCHS that a courtship developed between he and Nona, who was a Marion native and a home economics teacher. Her parents had settled in Marion in the 1940s. Her dad operated a chicken hatchery and her mother ran Mrs. Taylor’s Fine Foods, a restaurant on West Gum Street. 

Akridge enjoyed teaching and coaching, but decided to join the family business in 1959 alongside his father, Thomas Ruble Akridge. It was a familiar lifestyle, one he’d grown up in and one where he’d raise his own family, three boys, all born during the 1960s.

His book is full of timeless riddles, rhymes, poetry, verses plus a history of Fredonia, its people and its ways. Akridge says the people of Fredonia are the same now as they were in the 1930s.

“Honest, straightforward, what you see is what you get,” he said last week while sitting in his den with his wife. “But we’ve lost the school and a lot of the businesses.”

Akridge has already distributed about 300 of his books and another printing has been ordered. They should be here just in time for Christmas gifts. The books are available at the Fredonia and Eddyville Akridge Hardware stores. They have no price tag, but he requests that a donation be made for each book to the Cattleman’s Association scholarship fund or the Fredonia Valley Heritage Society.