It takes someone of true vision to be able to look at an empty field, then using the roadmap of history, resurrect life and activity onto that same stretch of land. It takes someone of empathic quality to be able to read a historical account about the people who once tread upon that land, then answer their unspoken echoes through the generations to tell their story. In each of the aforementioned instances, you can find these qualities contained within one person…animal lover, local historian, author and recently retired English and Language Arts teacher with the Edon-Northwest Local School, Barbara Fogel.
The opening lines of her latest book, “Rooted in the Corner: The People of Cooney, Ohio,” shows just how much of a historical visionary Barbara is. “‘But there’s nothing there!’ declared a fellow teacher and friend of mine one day at the school lunch table. He was referring to Cooney as it looks today and could not imagine anything going there, ever…” This book is an updating of her first book, “A Place Called Cooney, Ohio,” which came out in 2003. While that book carried the reader through Cooney from its inception in the nineteenth century up until 2003, the new book focuses on the families that lived in the Cooney area from the late 1940s through 2014.
I first got to know Barbara in 2006 after she published her second book, “Life Around Rigelman’s Corners,” a book that explored a once bustling small community centered around what today is the intersection of State Route 49 North, and Williams County Road S. Having read the book several times, I frequently found myself annoying fellow motorists as I slowed to a stop and pulled over on State Route 49 in order to get out of my car and survey the landscape at Rigelman’s Corners. True to the aforementioned observation of her fellow teacher, there is practically nothing to indicate that at one time this was an early hub of rural American commerce, including a post office. The visionary that is Barbara Fogel however, creates a vivid time machine that transports the reader backward through the decades, enabling the reader to not just envision daily life in the community, but also, through the engine of imagination, to feel the presence of the activity.
To those of whom I offended whilst traveling Route 49 at Rigelman’s Corners, don’t blame me…blame Barbara. If her historical accounts were not so riveting and lifelike, I would have not been putzing around near County Road S, staring and imagining, and you would not have not been straining your vocabulary for obscure adjectives for which to describe me.
While the new book on Cooney does not rely heavily on historical documentation of the businesses and people of the community at the turn of the century, it does provide a more powerful account of life in the Cooney area from the most reliable of sources…the people that call Cooney home. “I had a lot of information left over from the first book,” Barbara explained. “What happened with that first book was that it spawned memories in people who bought it. They started to share their additional memories with me, especially school memories. I had a ton of school memories because I was teaching school then, plus I talked to a lot of people who had gone to school there. It wasn’t just school, it was people…local people who were sharing their memories living in Cooney. I thought, ‘I’ve got enough for another book,’ and so I wrote another book. That’s how it went.”
Why would a girl who grew up in Camden, Michigan write two books about Cooney, Ohio? Barbara explained that Camden and Cooney have always had strong ties. “When I was growing up in Camden,” she said, adding, “I found out many years later that many of the kids that I played with, their families came from down here in this area.” Both of Barbara’s daughters went to school in Cooney. The youngest, Roxanne Fogel Kaufman, designed a beautiful cover for her mother’s new book.
Although she does not consider herself a genealogist, “Rooted in the Corner: The People of Cooney, Ohio,” is a master class in small town America genealogy, and an essential read for anyone with ties to the Cooney area. “The first book was historical in that I researched the buildings, the organizations, the houses. This new Cooney book is people’s memories; it’s very sentimental. This is more of a book of people’s recollections, their sentimental feelings of living in a place like Cooney.” The research done was not shallow by any extent of the imagination. For being such a small community, Barbara has compiled recollections in her new book that spans over 224 family names.
“Now I can say that Cooney is in good hands,” Barbara said. “Before, I always got negative feedback from outsiders saying, ‘there’s nothing there,’ the school closed, it’s going to die. That concerned me, so I wrote the book. Since then, we’ve got a fire department that we’ve never had, and we have an auxiliary. We have a Township Board; I think it’s going to be fine…Cooney is fine. At the time I wrote though, I felt that it was a threatened place. Now, I don’t feel that way.”
Writing is an art form, and every artist has a trigger…something that inspires them to take up the implement of their art and create. With Barbara, it is people. “People not getting the recognition that they deserve, or people being forgotten, or people who are underappreciated. People and places. I want to reach out and tell the world that these people did live, and that this place did exist. I’m very passionate about it. I mean, very VERY passionate about it.”
While she has covered Cooney and Rigelman’s Corners, Barbara noted three other communities that have practically vanished over time, Billingstown in the far Northwestern corner of Williams County, South Camden, Michigan, and an even more obscure community on the east side of Nettle Lake, Kintightown. The remnants of the latter are the old church and Nettle Lake cemetery that can be found on the lands of the Kintigh (pronounced kin-tee) families that bordered the East Nettle Creek between what is today County Roads 5.75, County Road R and County Road S. “Those places fascinate me,” Barbara said. “Those people lived and died, and you never hear anything about them. I guess it’s because I live in a rural area, and I live on an old farm. I think about the old people on my farm. Somebody came in every night after chores. Somebody sat down to supper. Some people kept diaries, but most people didn’t; they were working too hard. I just feel that I am their storyteller.”
All three books by Barbara Fogel are teleportation time machines that take the reader back to a younger America where success was determined by the sweat of the brow and the aching of the back at the end of the day. As time moves forward, she delves into the social cliques that developed between the students of the Edon and Cooney schools, noting that when the Cooney kids transferred to Edon, they were often picked upon and given derogatory nicknames like, ‘hayseed’.
If you have connections to Northwest Township, these three books by Barbara Fogel should be prominent in your personal library. If you are one of the 224 families referenced, or if you are simply interested in a uniquely enjoyable yet exhaustive view of the people and places surrounding the Northwest Township communities of Cooney and Rigelman’s Corners, you need these books. Sit back, relax, and allow Barbara Fogel to guide you on a tour of a small section of the county with big dreams and ambitions in a younger America. You can obtain copies of each of the books directly from the author by telephone at 419-459-4567, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondence with the author can be made by writing to Barbara Fogel, 03984 County Road R, Edon, Ohio, 43518.