My great-grandfather, John Ephraim Roberts, was born in 1848 in North Carolina. After serving in the War, in 1872 he married Ella Eliza Lowther, from Dublin, GA. Moving to Polk County, they farmed and raised a family out at Collard Valley. He died in 1889, leaving his widow with four children, expecting the fifth.
Their oldest son was Daniel “Danie” Lowther Roberts. Danie was thirteen when his father died, so he took over the farm. Good neighbors, the Jacksons, helped him, enabling young Danie to finish high school. Danie saw to it that his siblings all had higher education. Moving his mother into town on Main Street, he secured the property behind it on College Street. There he built the home to which he would eventually bring his bride. Danie bought and sold land all over the county. At one time, he was the Cedartown city clerk. But for most of his life, his profession was as an undertaker.
We grandchildren all called him Poppy, and Poppy loved us dearly. He also loved ice cream, and what a treat it was to go with Poppy to the Frosty Palace for a big frosted soda with a hint of malt!
Poppy’s mother, Ella, died before I was born, but my brother Bill remembered her well. He called her “old, old grandmother”. I do remember Mother showing me her grandmother’s last cancelled check for her Confederate Widows’ Pension. It was for $1.00.
My other great-grandparents were Dr. David Marion Russell and his wife Nannie Harbin. Their home on Russell Street was torn down in recent years. Dr. and Mrs. Russell were both from South Carolina, but they came to Cedartown shortly after the War Between the States. Estelle, born in 1878, was the youngest of their children.
Estelle became the bride of Danie Roberts, and they lived at 615 College Street all their married life. Estelle taught at College Street School, and generations of school children recall their fourth grade teacher, “Miz Roberts”.
To Danie and Estelle were born five children: Daniel, Jr., Marion, Ella, Sara Kate, and Charles. My mother Ella was born in 1906. After graduating from Cedartown High School, she attended Brenau College. Her brother Marion, attending Mercer University, introduced Ella to his good friend and fellow football player, William G. “Bill” Bruner. It was love at first sight!
Bill and Ella married in May 1928. My brother Bill Jr. came along in a year and I was born five years later. Bill carried our father’s name; while I’m named for my maternal great-grandmother and my grandmother.
The Bruners began their married life in Cordele, Georgia, where he was coaching football and teaching history. When the pression came, there was no money to pay teachers; instead, they received “scrip”. So, the family moved home to Cedartown.
In 1931, Bill Bruner purchased the fledgling local franchise for the Sinclair Oil Company and one truck, with a $300 loan. There was one filling station, run by Mr. Red Cantrell, and it had a telephone. This constituted Daddy’s first “office”. With the truck, Daddy called on customers out in the country, then followed up making deliveries. At night he and Mama worked on the central office reports. The little business began to grow, and finally they built a bulk plant on Jefferson Street. Eventually the business called for bigger facilities, and the bulk plant on South Main Street was built. Although Daddy sold his company many years ago, it still bears his name: Bruner Oil Company.
Bill and Ella Bruner, both reared as Baptists, felt called to teach Sunday School. In 1932 Daddy started teaching a class of men, The Friendship Class. He taught that class over 63 years and his Sunday School boys, as he called them, renamed the class The Bill Bruner Class in 1997. Mama taught the Amoma class for ladies, keeping with it until her health caused her to resign. She passed away years later in 1992. She used to practice her lessons on Saturday afternoons; first to my brother Bill, then, when he went to Georgia Tech, to me.
Sports never left Bill Bruner’s life. A member of the S.O.F.A. which later became the Southeastern Conference Football Officials Association, he refereed many college games. Soon his trips – by train – were far afield. However, he had to give this up in the early ‘fifties. He’d developed a peptic ulcer, and stress was likely the cause. Fortunately, television came along, and he could at least watch the games. He kept in shape daily with a rigorous round of exercises. For a time, he led a group of men in working out at the Purks Gym and the high school track.
Daddy always felt it an honor to serve the community. A long-time member of the Exchange Club; Cedartown School Board member for twenty-five years, he also served as City Commissioner. He worked tirelessly to start a program for the youth. In his later years he served on the city’s Planning Commission.
Meanwhile Mama had her own agenda. She was a charter member of the Daffodil Garden Club, formed in 1934. They had monthly meetings; for many years they had annual spring flower shows; they planted daffodils in Peek’s Park. A commemorative stone honors Mama and two other ladies for their contributions to civic beautification.
In 1950 the First Baptist Church was planning a new sanctuary, and some of the deacons didn’t want to waste money on a steeple. In a Sunday morning conference, Mama stood up and said, “We are building a house of worship, and we need a spire to point to heaven!” The deacons reneged, and the steeple stands.
When Mama learned that the city planned to tear down the lovely Hawkes Children’s Library, she spearheaded efforts to save the old Library. She and a few others realized that this building was designed by noted Georgia architect, Neel Reid. Now this building is on the National Register of Historical Places.
Daddy sent birthday cards to his “boys” in the Friendship Class. He’d find an appropriate card, write a personal note, and mail it. Soon he gathered other names. All these birthdates he kept in one little book, and by the time he died (1997) that book was fat with names! Often someone would tell Daddy, “Bill, you were the only person who remembered my birthday; I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
It is indeed a privilege to remember the lives of my parents, the Bruners; my grandparents, the Roberts, and both my Roberts and Russell great-grandparents. Farmers, doctors, civic leaders, teachers, businessmen, sportsmen, parents; each contributed to both Cedartown and Polk County.
Submitted to the Polk County Historical Society, 2000