John Newell Purser

During the early years of my life there was a kind old gentleman, John Newell Purser, who lived across the street who was not only a neighbor, but a true friend to our family.

Newel Purser
Photo Credit Family Search

We called him Newell. Everyone did as far as I know. (On his 1917-1918 WWI draft card he entered and signed his name as Newell John Purser.) I remember knowing that I was always welcome to visit him in his house and yard. Fortunately his home is still standing across the street from my mom’s house and I continue to think of it as an extension of my home. I remember that his door was one of the first stops during trick or treating on Halloween and he was always good for a treat of Nila Wafers any time I wanted to stop by. Mostly, though, I remember that Newell was very important to my dad. As mentioned in a previous post, my fraternal grandfather passed away years before I was born. My dad missed his father deeply, but in many ways Newell filled that gap for my dad. He filled that gap better than many would because Newell and my grandfather were cousins. He had known my grandfather personally. Having him as a friend and neighbor meant a lot to my dad and we were encouraged to trust Newel as a grandfather figure. I actually remember feeling a bit jealous when his great-nephew and children, who also lived in our neighborhood, would visit him. Apparently as a child I wasn’t good at sharing.

One of the most memorable aspects of Newell Purser was his longevity, so I chose him to meet the #52Ancestors prompt this week. He was born 31 March 1889. I am amazed that I, a girl born in the early 1980s, knew someone born in the 1800s! I was too young when he passed away on 9 June 1989 to appreciate how significant that was. I wish I had the perspective I have now as a little girl so I could have learned much more from him. He lived to see most of the 21st century and experienced so much. It was a goal of his to live to be 100. To paraphrase my dad, “Once he reached that goal he had no other goals to live for, so he died.” He is the only centenarian I have ever known. If I could live my life over again I would have sat with him and really listened as I ate my Nila Wafers in his livingroom.

When he passed away I wanted to go to his funeral. My grandmother didn’t think I should because of how young I was. Fortunately my mother disagreed and let me come. It was the first funeral I ever attended in my life. I don’t remember the funeral itself, but I remember walking home from that funeral feeling glad that I was able to go. I think it was important for me to be able to accept that Newell was really gone.

Here are the memories my sisters shared with me about Newell:

Emily: “Here is what I remember: He and his elderly female neighbor across the street to the North had a way of communicating that they were each okay. If the blinds or maybe it was curtains were open, they were okay each morning. He had a goat named Billy. He had a goal to live to 100 and he did. It wasn’t long after [that] he passed away. He was kind and friendly to us.”

Star: “I remember a lot of the same things as Emily. I also remember that he gave out those chewy peanut butter candies every year for Halloween. He also always had a bowl of peanuts on his kitchen table. I remember him always being nice. He always let us play in his yard. He was like another grandpa. Mom always checked on him through the kitchen window, in the same way with the blinds. His house was a safe house if we ever got locked out or needed help.”

Our oldest sister: “I remember picking tiny daisy’s the grew amongst his lawn and then someone, maybe him, helped me to put them in my hair or I’d bring home a bouquet to mom.”

Although Newell Purser is not a direct ancestor of mine, I am part of his legacy, as are my siblings. We could not have asked for a better first cousin twice removed. In a quite, solid way he showed us what good neighbors should look like: family.


3 thoughts on “John Newell Purser

  1. Brett Newel Kirby’s middle name is after Newell Purser. Until she died, his neighbor, Annie Hendricks, and he raised their window shades when they got up each morning as a sign they were OK. After Annie died, Linda Kirby and he used the same signal. Linda Kirby also remembers enjoying visiting and reminiscing with Newell and that he gave handfuls of peanuts in the shell for Halloween.


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