SIDNEY — Former Shelby County Commissioner John Laws has had an aversion toward eggplant for nearly 90 years.
“I won’t even look at (it), we had so many of them. I hate them — mother used to fix them as a casserole, slice them and fry it. We had plenty of it, and you didn’t let anything go to waste,” Laws said. “Times were tough, and whatever you had, you made it work.”
Laws has been a resident of Sidney since he was born March 29, 1931, to Everett and Lula Laws. His mind is still sharp — he remembers, or at least believes, the midwife who delivered him was named June Barga. Growing up during the Great Depression, he remembers his family keeping a big garden and that his family and two or three neighbors would pitch in to purchase a hog once a year, butcher it, and split it; it would last the winter. One of his first jobs was at Schimmel’s Dairy and he recalls making a little over a dollar a week; his mother would let him keep the change, but the dollar always went to the bank to support the family.
“I think having a family like that and having her doing that, it really instilled me to save a portion of whatever you make,” Laws said.
In his junior year of high school in 1947, he met Edna May Bertsch; they became friends and later high school sweethearts, and will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary on May 3 of this year. He graduated in from Sidney High School in 1949 and joined the Navy Airmen in 1951, but his interest in flying was first sparked when he was 14 years old. Laws recalls riding his bike out to the old Sidney airport — today, the sight of the Days Inn — and learning to fly from Russ Folkerth, who owned the airport.
“He taught me to fly. I really enjoyed flying, I did,” Laws said. “In 1951 I knew my number was coming, I knew I was going to get drafted. On May 7, 1951, I joined the U.S. Navy. I found out they had an air force, a Navy air force (…) and I said, ‘that’s where I want to go’.”
While serving in the Navy, Laws moved from Ohio to Great Lakes, Illinois, Jacksonville, Florida, Pensecola, Florida, Millington, Tennessee and Oak Harbor, Washington, before eventually being sent to Japan during the height of the Korean War. He trained extensively in navigation and was adept with electronics and fixing equipment, which made him an ideal candidate for VP1 — otherwise known as patrol squadron 1 of the low-altitude bombers for the Navy.
“That’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, because when I got there, I got to fly right away with Lieutenant Commander John Wallace. He was from World War II, and he just took me under his wing,” Laws said. “I became a member of the crew he was the skipper of.”
During his time in the Navy, Laws would escort ships from islands off the coast of China to modern-day Taiwan; they had to fly low just off the water, or risk flying into aircraft firing range. There was one time at two in the morning when he and his crew went up into the air, and then immediately came back down when they caught enemy fire.
“It was just like the fourth of July lit up, the tracer bullets and the real bullets came out of there. We didn’t know what we had been hit with, because we came down out of there,” Laws said. “Thank goodness when we made it all the way back to the base. We landed, and everything was perfect.”
In total, there were around 27 bullet holes of varying sizes in the aircraft — miraculously, nothing vital was hit and the aircraft was fully operational and fixable. Laws says it was not his time, and he was blessed to have Wallace as a pilot.
In early 1955, Laws and the rest of the patrol squadron became the first Navy patrol squadron to circumnavigate the globe — a feat that landed them in the Library of Congress.
“John Glenn may have been a good man, he went around the Earth — but I went around the globe,” Laws said.
After being discharged on Friday, May 13, 1955 — one in the afternoon exactly, according to Laws — he returned to Sidney and went to work at Monarch for two months before taking on employment as a mail carrier in the city. He still remembers his route and all the people he delivered to for 14 years, before becoming the assistant postmaster — a position he would hold until his retirement on May 31, 1986.
“It was tough; I did most of the work while I was there. About two years before I retired and got ready to leave there, they called it ‘director of postal operations,’ so I did a little bit of everything,” Laws said. “I miss the people, I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed my work.”
In 1993 Laws was elected county commissioner for Shelby County and served two terms — one of the biggest accomplishments during that term, to him, was building what is now the old jail, as well as getting the capital improvement budget for the Jobs and Family Services building.
“I was glad to serve the people, but I served all the people,” Laws said. “I’m not a political person.”
All in all, Laws has enjoyed living in Sidney and getting to know the people around him over the years.
“I’ve enjoyed life in Sidney. I was all over the world, and it’s not a real bad place after all. We got some things I don’t like and some things I like, but Shelby County’s been good to me,” Laws said.
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