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PICTURE PERFECT: Online search returns memories to MW woman from miles away

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Prior to the age of technological advancements for individuals, there was no cell phone, nor laptop computer, to store thousands of personal images.

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It was just a generation ago where another artistic form of expression was implemented. Images were actually photographs, and they were printed on film and collected in a book called a photo album.

Mount Washington resident Norma Jean “Jeanie” Roederer Compton fondly remembers her high school days. She loved taking photographs and always had her camera around.

Compton made a photo album with her collection, but life got in the way and the album was displaced and lost… until an online search in Louisiana, 55 years later, changed that.

Like Buried Treasure

Theresa “Terrie” Henderson Mulligan, a resident of Covington, La., kept a photo album.

It wasn’t hers. It belonged to someone else, a long lost acquaintance. The images inside meant little to her, they were from someone else’s life.

Mulligan kept the book, from house to house, through travels and spring cleanings, and would never threw it out.

“I had always believed that somehow, somewhere, I would find someone connected to it,” Mulligan said in a letter. “When I started thinking about it, I thought with all of the current social media, I might find someone.”

Mulligan investigated the album again, noting many photographs were associated with Shepherdsville High School. Though the school no longer exists, it is fondly remembered on various Internet sites.

The search led Mulligan to contact the Bullitt County History Museum. She eventually decided to mail the album, along with a personal letter, to the museum.

The letter told part of the story, who Mulligan was and why she was in possession of the album. She included what she recalled was the original owner’s name, “Jeanie Rhodes or Rhoderer, something like that.”

The young lady was indeed recognized. Mulligan eventually contacted Shepherdsville resident Jim Griffis via Facebook. Kit Parker of the Country Cupboard was the first to recognize Compton’s photograph.

A few conversations led to Compton receiving a phone call from History Museum director David Strange.

“I don’t think she totally believed it at first,” Strange said.

After talking to Compton and her husband, Jesse, the realization finally set in. A meeting was scheduled at the museum to return the album to its original owner.

“Oh my goodness, look at this!”

Compton recognized the album almost immediately, the first time her eyes gazed upon it since about 1956.

The album was a long-shaped book, with a stylish red cover and gold lettering, filled with thick, black construction paper pages tied together. Photographs were placed neatly inside frame edges glued to the pages.

Many of the images were dated 1955 and centered around Shepherdsville High School. Some pages were full of individual classmate photos.

Other pages included images of Compton and her family. She was about 16 years old in most of the photos, even younger in a few of them.

“I’ve always been a picture freak,” she said. “I had white hair as a child and they called me ‘Cotton Top’ because of it.”

In a few photos Compton is posing at a Gulf Station gas pump.

“I must’ve thought I was something,” she laughed.

Compton has been married to her current husband, Jesse, just five years, but they attended high school together. With all of the young male classmates featured in the album, there was one of Jesse included.

“I’m saved,” Compton exclaimed as she discovered her husband’s picture.

Many of the photos were of Billy French, an old boyfriend. The photos were signed, “With love, Billy.”

“No wonder I was so heartsick when I lost these pictures,” Compton said. “I was in the ‘click.’ I was known for dating the handsome boys.”

Old friends pictured included Joyce Tinnell, who passed away just a few years ago.

“I was with her in her last days,” said Compton.

Other photos included a class shot of former Bullitt County sheriff and magistrate Buddy Shepherd, and a photo of former Shepherdsville High (and later University of Kentucky) basketball coach Joe B. Hall.

Along with her own family, there were a few photos of Mulligan’s family.

“You have no idea how many times I’ve thought about this family,” Compton said.

Photos of her own family, especially her father, kept Compton on an emotional roller coaster throughout the album viewing.

The family photos led to more memories, and more details into the story of the lost album.

On a Wing and a Prayer

Compton grew up in Louisville near Poplar Level Road, on Roederer Lane, which was named after her father. He was a single dad raising four children.

“I was 4 and a half years old when Mom left,” Compton recalled. “As kids we had to work hard. People thought Dad was strict, but he was fair and he was good to us.”

Eventually the family moved to Shepherdsville, near the location of the current Troutman’s Dry Goods store, and a step-mother arrived. Compton said she was a nice person but not an affectionate mother.

“I got a job in New Albany, Ind., when I was 17,” Compton recalled. “I had rented a small apartment, and then a friend let me move in with her. She was renting a room from the family that lived downstairs.”

The family included three daughters, all close in age from about 8 to 10 years. Approaching 18, Compton would frequently babysit the girls and take care of them.

After a few months, the family announced that they were moving to New Orleans.

“They were going to go down south and they asked me if I would like to go,” Compton said. “I said yes. I went for a few months, then I heard my Dad was ill, so I came back. And I never went back. I lost contact with these people, I was a young teenager. They were very, very good to me”

Back in Shepherdsville, Compton met and married her first husband in 1957, then moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1958.

Compton remained married for 15 years. She worked for J.C. Penney, then Western Electric, which became AT&T. From there, she returned to school, becoming an aircraft structure mechanic for Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas.

“I put the wings together,” she said.

After 40 years in Columbus, Compton returned to Bullitt County, where she re-discovered Jesse, who never left.

Meanwhile, the album remained in the custody of Mulligan, who was the youngest of the three girls Compton lived with in New Albany.

“We all loved Jeanie,” Mulligan said. “She would put polish on our nails and fix our hair like big girls.”

Mulligan kept the album during many moves within Louisiana, including her current home in Covington, where her mother was raised. Despite life’s twists and turns, she could never throw away the album.

“I don’t know whatever happened to Jeanie, but there is a lot of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, history here (online),” she said.

Phone Company

Following Compton’s album viewing, a call was placed by Mulligan to the History Museum. The two spoke to each other for the first time in over half a century.

“This is when it’s fun to work at the museum,” said Strange. “It’s all worthwhile when something like this can take place.”

Compton, now 75, told Mulligan, 64, that she was “completely overwhelmed.”

“You have been so kind and so generous after all these years,” she said.

Mulligan said it was important to return Compton’s “roots” to where they belonged.

“I loved you dearly when you lived with us,” Mulligan said. “You were a bright star in our lives.”

Ironically, Mulligan also worked for a phone company at one point. She was also a bank teller and a veterinarian before settling in as a registered nurse.

“Do you still wear red lipstick,” Mulligan asked. “I always thought that you looked like Marilyn Monroe.”

Compton replied that young children had memories filled with more fantasy that grown-ups.

Mulligan said Compton’s family photographs were the main reason she kept the album, even through hard times including surviving Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s had one heck of a ride,” she said. “I’m just thrilled that it’s found its way home. I think my mother would be very pleased.”

Mulligan thanked the Bullitt Countians who helped her locate Compton, as well as the History Museum for their efforts.

The two happy ladies shared contact information and promised efforts to meet in person sometime in the near future.

“I’m so glad that you’ve got your pictures,” Mulligan said.

“I still love you,” said Compton.