By ANDREW MCGINN
You can tell that Paul White loves to tell the story about the constipated patient of Dr. O.C. Lohr.
From 1898 until his death in 1944, Oscar Lohr was the first of three generations of Lohr doctors to practice in the town of Churdan.
One day, as White tells it, Dr. Lohr looked this poor fellow over in his office and came to the professional conclusion that he was merely just constipated.
Mixing up a little potion, the good doctor had his patient drink up, then continued engaging the man in conversation.
Moments later, the man abruptly announced he had to be going and bolted from the office.
Lohr watched out the window as he ran.
“He ran all the way to the railroad tracks,” White deadpanned, “then he just walked.”
White’s eyes sparkle as he delivers the punch line a second time.
“Then he just walked.”
Stories abound inside the white, wood-frame building — the last of downtown Churdan’s wood-frame buildings — that houses White’s sprawling collection of Churdan memorabilia, assembled piece by piece over the past 50 years out of sheer community pride.
“I call it a museum,” White said. “It’s really just a collection of Churdan stuff.”
“I’ve just got stuff,” he added. “And stuff. And stuff. And stuff.”
But all of that stuff begs the question: In an era when people are more and more content to dwell online and live anonymously, does the word community mean anything anymore?
And, if a community is barely just hanging on, is there such a thing as community pride?
Will there be anyone — or anyone who cares enough — to keep stories like the one about Dr. Lohr alive?
White, who turned 80 this past July, thankfully doesn’t feel 80.
“I don’t have aches or pains,” he said.
As small towns across the rural heartland struggle to hang onto their identities, Churdan (pop. 386) is faring better than most.
It still has its own school district, for one, and that district continues to defy the odds. Enrollment at Paton-Churdan increased another 18.10 students this fall, according to Superintendent Kreg Lensch, once you factor that more students are open-enrolling into P-C than out.
And it still has Paul White and his amazing collection of Churdan stuff.
“Anything that says Churdan on it ends up here,” he explained.
That said, there are fewer and fewer items that say Churdan on them.
The town can’t keep a restaurant, White said, and he bemoans the departure of town celebrations and other get-togethers.
“My dad once told me, ‘We won’t see it in our lifetime, but the Main Street of Churdan will be plowed under,’ ” White said.
“Dad might not have been too far off base,” he added, noting that P-C’s athletic field is now a bean field thanks to the fact that the district shares athletics with the neighboring Greene County Community School District.
“You can’t start a business in a town like this and live off the population,” he said.
And that population has changed.
“I don’t know half the people in Churdan,” White said. “I used to know everyone in town. It’s not at all like it used to be.”
It’s not for lack of trying — White is in his 57th year of driving a school bus in the area.
His wife of 55 years, Sally, was the school secretary for years until her death in 2012 from cancer.
When he first started chauffeuring kids to and from school, John F. Kennedy was president.
If anything, the bus is quieter now than at anytime before. The kids today, White observed, are too consumed by phones and tablets to make much noise.
Will one of them ever take such an interest in local history that they’ll one day pick up where White eventually leaves off?
That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it?
Of the thousands of items in White’s collection, he most prizes Churdan’s first graduation announcement, printed in 1889. Three students made up that year’s graduating class.
White’s own graduating class — the Churdan High Class of 1956 — consisted of 15 boys and seven girls.
They started school as Gremlins and ended as Rockets, in honor of the technology that had captivated all segments of society.
White searched high and low for years for one of the miniature rockets made by the Churdan Rocket Booster Club that fans used to strap to the tops of their cars during basketball season.
As if the cars’ own tailfins weren’t far enough out of this world.
White began his Churdan collection shortly after returning home.
“You’ve seen the last of me,” he remembers proclaiming when he graduated.
“Four years later,” he said, “I was back.”
He eventually joined his dad’s electrical business, Rex White & Son Electric. (He was the “& Son.”)
They, along with every other business of the time, produced what seemed to be an astonishing number of promotional knickknacks.
White’s collection is unparalleled.
The father and son electricians had little night-lights they handed out.
Others had calendars, key chains, thermometers and yardsticks.
Everyone had complimentary ink pens.
Even the bar had stuff. “Compliments of Johny’s Tap” says one item.
They serve as a reminder of how robust business once was in small-town America.
White has a seat from the Beery Drug Store, two rows of seats from Churdan movie theaters (yes, plural) and Pee Wee Howard’s barber chair.
A stack of arrest records from the 1930s — for everything from reckless driving to indecent exposure — would likely have been thrown away long ago if not for White’s quest to collect any and all things Churdan.
“This guy was too intoxicated to understand,” White said with a chuckle as he read one of the charges.
Another sap was arrested on Aug. 24, 1930, for intent to gamble “by shooting dice,” it reads.
Other items in White’s collection are more reverential.
Dr. Frank Cressler’s black umbrella hangs with honor on the wall next to a sign noting that “he carried it rain or shine.”
Cressler’s massive medical encyclopedia, dated 1916, is on a nearby table. Flip it open at random and you’re apt to encounter a chapter with a title like, “Typhoid from impure water.”
At one time, White said, Churdan had five doctors.
“It doesn’t seem possible,” he said.
In other words, it’s hell to be constipated in Churdan these days.