Photo: the late former Florence Livingston

Thurman Livingston, 12, and his sister Florence, 8, were typical kids enjoying life on a farm northeast of Union City. On Aug. 30, 1936, around 10 a.m., they decided to build a fire in the woods near their home. 

Thurman, a 4-H member, already was schooled in rearing prime cattle from Ora Livingston, his father, and from an extension agent who recently had given a steer-rearing lesson on Livingston’s farm. 

His sister Florence showed her potholders at a county fair in Ohio. Their family was close-knit and farmed on both sides of the state line. A few days earlier, the Livingstons held their 12th straight family reunion.

It had been an up-and-down year for farmers in the region. Good spring rains before summer resulted in a bumper crop of wheat. July, however, was hot and dry, and corn withered on the stalk. A local paper said Randolph County farmers called ’36 the worst corn harvest since before 1930.

Consequently, putting up a fire that dry season was ill-advised, but kids were kids then as they are today. As the children tossed on kindling, Florence wandered too close to the flames.


Her screams reached the heavens and her father and neighbor Hiram Rhoades and his wife raced to the rescue.

Thurman tossed his sister to the ground and beat out the fire, but his own clothing caught fire, consuming nearly every shred of fabric before the two rescuers put out the licking flames. 

The sights, sounds and fetor were a father’s worst nightmare. Thurman, in particular, suffered terrible burns to his body, arms and hands where he’d smothered the flames on his sister’s flesh. 

Ora phoned for an ambulance. The Union City hospital tended to their burns. Florence would have scars from the blisters but survived.

Emergency personnel could only do so much for Thurman. Informing Florence must have torn the very souls of her parents. 

The next day’s Evening Times of Union City read the headline “Hero Burned.” On page 3, a story noted that a cattle buyer paid Thurman 10 cents a pound for his prize steer, a princely sum in the Great Depression. Earlier that year, the paper said Thurman’s calf was putting on 3 pounds a day.

But even as Randolph County readers read the Evening Times after supper, Thurman was already dead. 

The doomed young hero died six hours after doctors began to work on him. Ora and his grieving wife Elise attended services at the Lutheran Church in Union City. They put Thurman into the ground at Lisbon Cemetery. 

Florence recovered. The Livingstons held family reunions for many years to come. 

Florence survived and lived a good, quiet life, perfecting her cooking and sewing skills. Her hot baked bread was a favorite, and her homemade noodles and baked beans could make even a scarecrow drool. She was always involved in social activities and saying devotions at her adopted Community United Church in Darke County. She didn’t lose often while playing pinochle with friends and family.

Always athletic, she took up bicycling as one of her pleasures and once competed in the Great Ohio Bike Adventure, a seven-day tour in which adventurers from all over biked for fun and adventure. 

She married a young farmer named Francis Bateman who lived close by on Ohio soil. Later, she and her husband traveled and saw landmarks everywhere and made memories for life.

Florence and Francis lived long and productive lives. When Florence died at 93 on July 13, 2021, her obituary said the widow had been the family matriarch.

White-haired and stately, she doted on her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  

Preceding Florence in death were four siblings and her husband, among others, but the obit failed to cite Thurman Hubert Livingston, his sister’s keeper.

Pity. Greater love hath no brother ever shown. 


Nuwer resides in Fairbanks, Alaska. He just ended a run acting in “A Raisin in the Sun” and began rehearsals for Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”