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A special Bluffton person

Dewey "Doc" Forman ... he was a special Bluffton person with a niche of his own calling

Dewey Forman - photo taken in early 1960s by Charles Hilty, Bluffton News editor. Dewey was directing traffic at the Bluffton Sportsmen's trout derby at the Buckeye.

Over the decades Bluffton residents lift up several memorable individuals to a sacred list known as “Bluffton characters.”

These special people each developed a niche of their own calling, earning respect from the common citizen. Their traits and stories are recalled by many, although they are unknown by today’s younger and newer residents.

To us, their contributions to what makes Bluffton such an interesting and accepting community cannot be ignored.

One of those special people was Dewey “Doc” Forman, a familiar face in the Bluffton crowd spanning the 1940s to early 1960s. Here is his story respectfully pieced together by the Bluffton Forever staff.

Story written by Rudi Steiner, Homewood, Illinois,

who grew up in Bluffton and knew Mr. Foreman

In 1900 U.S. federal census Noah Rhodes, a son Calvin Rhodes and daughter May Foreman are living in Paulding County, Brown Township, West of the Auglaize River. Also listed as a family member is a 10-month-old grandson Dewey A. Forman born in July of 1899.

 According to the census information Noah Rhodes and his 11-year-old son Calvin are working as day laborer’s, Dewey’s mother, May Foreman age 18 is listed as a house keeper. May and Calvin can read and write but their father Noah is illiterate.

Although May is listed as married there is no mention of May’s husband’s name or that he is living in the same household. Noah the head of household is a widower, During the year 1900 Noah and son Calvin were out of work for 4 months. It’s possible they are living and working on the farm of Switzer since he is listed next in the census as Farmer.

The Rhodes neighbors listed their occupations as farm laborers and like the Rhodes family they were all renters. This might mean this was a neighborhood of farm laborers. The Census enumerator specifically identifies the area as “Brown Township, west of the Auglaize River.”

Between 1900 and 1910 something happened to the Rhodes family, no public records can be found for either Noah Rhodes or Dewey’s mother May Foreman. In the 1910 Federal Census, Calvin Rhodes now 21 is living with the Jacob Hudson family in Benton Township, Paulding County, his relationship to the Hudson family is “boarder”

He lists his occupation as odd job laborer. Further documentation shows he remained a farm laborer all his life.

In the 1910 Census, Dewey is living with the John Jacob Rothenbuhler family. John Rothenbuhler is a Farmer and son of a Swiss immigrant farmer in Paulding County, Ohio near the Indiana-Ohio border.

Jacob and Mary have two adult children and their spouses living with them. Dewey’s relationship to the family in the US Census is listed as a “boarder”. He is 9 years old and he attended school during the year 1910. This is interesting his age at last birthday is listed as 9 years old. Sometime between the 1900 census and the 1910 census Dewey’s age changes by 2 years.  

Also in the 1910 federal census Calvin Rhodes, now 21, is living with the Jacob Hudson family in Benton Township, Paulding Cunty, his relationship to the Hudson family is “boarder”. He lists his occupation as odd job laborer. Documentation shows he remained a farm laborer all his life.

Ten years later in the 1920 Federal Census Dewey is still living on the farm of the Rothenbuhler family and has no occupation listed. In this census his age is listed as 18, however this census was taken in January of 1920 and he would have been 19 in July.

According my mother, Margaret Hahn Steiner, Dewey showed up in Bluffton while she was working at Herb Siefield’s bakery when she was 16 years old around 1929.

She said it was winter and he appeared one evening looking in the window at baked goods he looked hungry, so Herb Siefield owner of the bakery took him to the back door and fed him.

She said he was brought to Bluffton and left off at the edge of town. Somehow, she also knew he was from Paulding County, Ohio - which is where my search for his past began. “Doc” as he was known would become a permanent fixture around Bluffton for the next 40 years.

His Draft Card is signed “Dewey Forner.” His draft card doesn’t have a registration date. He lists his address as General Delivery, his occupation as “hauling coal for Bert Devier, and lists his age as 41. His birthdate he lists as July 26, 1900.

However, the 1900 U.S. census was taken on June 8, 1900, a month before the birthday listed on his draft card. The 1900 U.S. census list his birth as July, 1899. His tombstone lists his birthdate as July 26, 1901. This is proof that Dewey did not know his birthday and neither did anyone in Bluffton.

Dewey lists his father as George Foreman, there were three Foreman families shown as land owners and farmers in Paulding County on 1890 plot maps. He lists his birth place as near Payne, Paulding Township, Ohio. In searching the family histories of the Foreman families no family had a son named George, so it seems Dewey never knew his father.

Proud of his position in the community Doc was a simple man and proud of the position he assumed in the community. He was present at most community events assuming a role of importance as he directed a car into a parking space or guarded a back entrance to a Harmon Field football game.

For outsiders who did not know him his tramp-like appearance was repulsive and his volunteerism was seen as a public nuisance. But for those who knew him, his presence was tolerated and usually welcomed.

 Outsiders would have seen him acting as a sentry at public events leaving attendees a sense of security by knowing that “Doc is watching.”

At night he became a night watchman, armed only with a flashlight and a cane he walked Main Street, checking for doors left unlocked by Bluffton merchants. As a sleuth he hid in alleys, dark doorways and shadows watching patiently for any invading night-time intruder. Despite his small stature, Doc was a fearless and boasted with confidence about what he would do if he ever caught someone violating his turf.

I don’t know for sure if Doc was ever paid for his volunteer security work but I do recall Earl Jorg who owned a hatchery and employed him to stand guard over his poultry flock when his chickens where pullets and not ready to be sold.

Doc and Earl’s farm dog would faithfully guard the flock at night keeping any predators from harming the chickens. When the pullets were ready for market, Doc would help catch the chickens and put them in crates to be shipped to their new owners.

When Doc guarded the chickens, he was permitted to carry a shot gun and this was the only time I knew when Doc carried a gun.

A night watchman

Part of Doc’s nightly routine was to check out Steinman’s Lumber Yard and the Farmers Gain elevators. if he wasn’t to be found hiding in the shadows on Main Street then he was somewhere down on Cherry Street.

That’s where we found him the night of Earl Jorg’s visitation three days after his death in July of 1960. We knew Doc had a relationship with Earl because Earl provided him with temporary employment and provided him a place to live.

We found Doc at Steinman’s Lumber Yard and ask him if he wanted to go to Paul Diller’s Funeral Home to attend the visitation. With little hesitation “Doc” got in the front seat of our car and rode with us to the see his friend, Earl.

At the funeral home all eyes turned to Doc as he entered the room most people were surprised to see him others were annoyed by his presence. With his cane and flashlight in his hands he walked to the casket and paid his respects.

 He didn’t sign the guest registry himself but sister Mary wrote Dewey Foreman in the registry book. He didn’t stay long and when he was ready we left and took him back to where we found him. His only comment to us was “I liked Earl, he was good to me.”

One of “Doc’s “personal characteristics was his lack of personal hygiene. He never took a bath or cleaned up even after a hard day’s work. Doc was often referred to as “Dirty Doc.”

Not only was he dirty but a recognizable pungent body order accompanied him wherever he went. People complained and kept their distance from him when passing by or talking to him.

Conversing with him outdoors was tolerable but whenever he entered a Main Street business, store customers would hastily finish their business and leave. About once a year a Bluffton businessmen would supply him with a new denim wardrobe. On one such occasion a picture was taken of him was taken by local photographer Paul Diller which captures the simple character of his personality.

Another photograph of “Doc” was taken by Charles Hilty, editor of the Bluffton News, while he was busy directing traffic in 1959 during the local Trout Derby. This picture is the "Doc” that local people remember.  

Doc’s odd jobs also contributed to his image and nick name. When he registered for the WW2 draft, he listed his occupation as “hauling coal for Bert Devier”; coal dust, dirt and filth never seemed to bother Doc. For several years on Monday’s, he rode the village garbage truck, picking up week-old garbage and trash and dumping it in the village dump.

When he was needed, he assisted Paul Shulaw in the cleaning out septic systems and the few remaining privies in Bluffton’s backyards. And for Earl Jorg he guarded a chicken coup full of feathers and chicken poop.

I recall Doc lived two different places in Bluffton.

There was a small white one-room dwelling along an alley behind a gas station turned laundry mat at the corner of Main and Jefferson. At this location Doc planted a small vegetable garden. He must have been proud of his garden because posted a hand-painted a sign “Stay Out Dewey Fornar”.

Today the sign would definitely be considered Folk art. The other was a larger one-room building located at the back of the property at Jefferson and Vance. This property was owned by Earl Jorg, which he used to store equipment for his farm and hatchery.

Frank Steiner also occupied another larger building which was the location of his auto repair business at that time. Doc was given free rent and provided some security for the two businesses.

We found this brief notice in an August 1956 Bluffton News “Mainly Personal” column listing Dewey. The story follows:

Dewey (Doc) Foreman reports finding a dead pigeon which apparently had been shot in an alley next to the Niswander News Stand. The pigeon bore a metal band around its leg stamped Buffalo, August 56. It also carried a yellow rubber sleeve bearing the number 823.

There was nothing to indicate what organization had tagged the bird or where the tag should be sent. Doc was not certain whether the bird was a carrier pigeon or perhaps a racing bird. Anyone knowing where the information should be sent is asked to notify The News office.

There are many questions left unanswered about this unique Bluffton man and we were unable to locate a printed obituary in The Bluffton News.


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