The City of Troy and several local agencies lost a good friend last month. Joanne (Duke) Gamblee passed into eternity following a full life of 93 years. She not only contributed to the history of Troy, but sought to better its standing as a community.
Joanne was born in the small town of Wellsville, New York, which is about 85 miles southeast of Buffalo. This was the same community in which her father Edward Duke was raised. The quaint little community is known for “Texas Hots.” Texas Hot is the name of a K’s-like restaurant founded in 1921 in Wellsville. It serves a full menu, but the most popular item is a hot dog, similar to a Coney Dog, with its own special sauce.
In my experience with Joanne, she was always friendly, but she was also proper and mannerly. During one of our earliest discussions and after I had gotten to know her a little, I suddenly asked Joanne if she had had a Texas Hot recently. She stopped and looked at me, then broke out in a wide grin and asked, “You know about Texas Hots?” Yes, not only did I know about them, but I had had some in the past. Well, that just really broke the ice from that point forward. Obviously, Joanne’s life eventually moved on from Wellsville and Texas Hots.
Following World War II, Ohio University graduate E. Briggs Gamblee returned to Athens, Ohio where he met Joanne, a senior journalism major, and they fell in love. Joanne graduated from OU in 1947 and that fall she and Briggs were married in New York. It was a love and marriage which lasted 64 years, until Brigg’s death in 2011.
The young couple moved to Troy around 1955 and would remain here the rest of their lives. But they did not just reside and work here; rather they adopted their new home and became involved in its well-being and growth.
Joanne became involved in The Troy Historical Society and volunteered at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center and the Troy-Miami County Public Library, as well as her local church.
As a journalism major, she had found the position of Communications Director at Troy Public Schools both challenging and fulfilling. As with most public agencies, sharp communication skills are needed to present clear information in the most efficient and profitable manner, but Joanne was up to the task.
In 1972, as communications director, she worked with Troy High School Principal James Welbaum and Assistant Principal Robert Conard in order to create and publish “The Scoreboard,” a high school newsletter for students and parents.
But, as most journalists, Joanne dreamed of writing a book or two. She ended up writing four books and three booklets.
In 1991, the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center was set to celebrate its 15th Anniversary and the board decided they wanted a short history of the center to be printed for the public. They ultimately turned to Joanne to head up the project. As a result of her diligence, Hayner soon had a nice little 35-page summary of its history, complete with quotes from local residents and artistic renderings by Cameron (Fulker) Armstrong.
She later compiled a couple booklets on ghost stories from the area, and then in 2006 wrote a more complete book, “Ghost, too,” to cover some of the other stories that had come her way. I mention this book because I recall her being pleased that she had attained a life goal of being under contract with a publishing house.
In my thinking, her other three books are important to Troy history. In 2001, Wooster Books published her “Ahead of Their Time,” a collection of 10 biographies of 19th century women who had made a difference in their respective worlds. She brought to light the lives of these women who may have been ignored in their time and, for the most part, had been forgotten by our modern world.
She wrote about another woman from the area when she penned the biography of “Mary Jane Hayner: The Woman, the Fortunes, the Legacy” as a fundraiser for the Troy–Hayner Cultural Center. Easily her most elegant book, complete with silk covers and glossy pages, the detailed work brings to life the woman who left her home to the Board of Education and which is now one of the gemstones of Troy.
Although I do not discount her other important works, the book which I found most interesting was her last book titled, “The Dam Battle.” In that volume she recounts the opposition to the work of the Miami Conservancy District following the 1913 flood. Most of the opposition came from some leaders in Miami and Shelby Counties. Ultimately, the opposition side lost, but, through the process, the plan for the Conservancy was refined and improved.
Through her four books and other work, Joanne brought to light many details of Troy and Miami County history that had been forgotten. She has helped preserve history and also aid us in understanding those who contributed to our home.
She jokingly wrote in the 2013 Ohio University Alumni Directory that “I was never successful in getting the publisher to print on the cover, “NY Times Bestseller.” She may not have been a “Best Selling Author,” but I enjoyed working with Joanne on numerous occasions and considered her a friend.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org