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Before Warren Oates Went Under For The 3rd Time, The Preacher's Boy Was There T

This article first appeared in issue 18, and was written by Ed Waggener. The full title appeared as: Before Warren Oates went under for the 3rd time, the preacher's boy was there to save him.

When you watch the movie Stripes and see all the Louisville, Fort Knox, and Clermont scenes, pride swells in your heart if you are a true Kentuckian.

Adair Countians can take even more pride, for if it were not for a courageous act by a Columbian, the movie would have been startlingly different.

There would have been no Sgt. Hulka.

More to the point, since Sgt. Hulka was played by the only major actor in the movie who was a Kentuckian, he could have been the major influence as to the film's location in the first place.

When Rev. M.B. (Maxey Bowden) Hodges moved his family to the Western Kentucky mining town of Depoy, Muhlenberg County, in 1940, the family included 16-year-old Hartsell, who had been named for one of his father's favorite Methodist leader, Bishop Hartsell; 13-year-old Frances (now Mrs. Nelson Branham) and 10-year-old Leola (now Leola Gabbard). Their mother, Flossie, had taught piano and was influential in the development of the children's musical talents.

It was quite a change for the family, leaving the Sparksville Charge-Antioch, Morris Chapel, Emory's Chapel, and Jones' Chapel-for the Depoy Charge, which included the home church, and churches at Graham, Powderly, Luzern, and Yeargin's chapel.

For one thing, the oldest boy had to be accepted. Hartsell remembers the first night in church at Depoy. He was sitting in a back pew and a small boy sneaked in the back, came to his pew, and passed a note that told him to come outside. He did as the mysterious note instructed. Outside, he was confronted with a group of larger boys. The biggest told Hartsell that he was going to "initiate" him into the town, so that he would know how things were. The bully gave him a good whupping, which did not sit well with the new minister. Rev. Hodges called the church leaders together and told them he wasn't about to stay in a community where such a thing could happen.

The leaders begged him to stay. They knew the bully and his family and they knew how to deal with the problem. It would never happen again, they said. "I don't know what they did," Hartsell said, "but they were true to their word. I didn't have another unfair fight again while we were there."

The Hodges children still recall the stay in Depoy, other than that incident, with fondness. Hartsell Hodges began leading the choir there-he's still the choir director at the big Trinity United Methodist Church here in Columbia-and was a member of the Graham Quartette, a group which performed on WHOP radio in Hopkinsville.

"The people accepted us real well," Hartsell Hodges remembers. "Even after we came back to Sparksville, we would always have visitors from Depoy coming to see us."

The Methodist parsonage in Depoy backed up to the Oates property. There were two Oates boys, Warren and Gordon. The Oates house was next to a little Baptist Church, and Warren Oates was the church's caretaker, which included firing up the stove, keeping the church clean, and the more glamorous privilege of ringing the church bell on Sunday mornings.

Warren Oates' father was a coal miner.

Next door to the Hodges home was Mr. Shannon's grocery. "It had a long stair steps leading up to a second floor over the store. That's where Warren, myself and sister, and friends Ann Shannon (later Earls), and a girl whose first name was Winifred-I can't remember her last name, played and hung out," Mrs. Branham remembers.

Hartsell remembers that Frances and Warren were childhood sweethearts. She takes a roundabout way to admit the same thing. "He was cute as a button," she recalls, "but just as mischievous. He was always pulling tricks. We girls were all struck on him, but he never seemed interested in any of us. We were all about 12-13 years old." She adds, "Well, we were sweethearts, I guess. I never dreamed he would one day be a movie star."

In Depoy one of the kids' favorite haunts, in summer, was a pond where they swam. It was in the summer of 1941, before they returned to Adair County, that Hartsell changed history. "Warren and Gordon and I were swimming, and I looked over and didn't see Warren. Then I did. Then I didn't. I swam over to him and got him before he went under for the third time. I pulled him out of pond. We worked with him and he was okay. But he would have drowned if I hadn't gotten to him."

Sparksville wanted

Brother Hodges back

Their lives parted soon afterward. The people in the Sparksville charge convinced the powers in the Louisville Conference to return Rev. Hodges to Adair County. Rev. Hodges held the charge for 20 years, with only that one, one-year hiatus in Muhlenberg County. Even today, parishioners of his at his Adair County churches still remember Bro. Hodges as an all-time favorite. He was largely self-taught; he did attend Emory University for 3 years so that he could be a member of the conference. By his own efforts he was highly educated, and he was one of the most beloved figures in Adair County history. Back then, after one year away, he was sorely missed. The Adair Countians prevailed, and the sojourn at Depoy was ended.

The rest is history.

Hartsell attended Breeding High School. After graduation, in 1942, he was called to service in World War II. After the war, he married Mildred Dohoney and went in the auto parts business. The Hodges had four children. The oldest, Columbia City Attorney Terry Hodges, was killed in a traffic accident on February 9, 1987. The loss of the popular young attorney so stunned the community, that the outpouring of mourners was the largest, many believe, in Adair County history.

Hartsell and Mildred Hodges' other children are Chris, Mike, and Kathy Hodges Dean. Mr. Hodges is still an active partner in Burton Auto Parts.

Frances Hodges went one year to Breeding, then drove her dad's '35 Ford to Columbia High School and graduated in 1946. She married Nelson Branham in August of that year. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1996 and now live on Adair Avenue. They have one daughter, Patricia Coomer, who lives in Elizabethtown, and one son, Daryl, Columbia.

Leola graduated from Breeding and married James Gabbard and now lives in Louisville. The Gabbards have one son, Billy Dean Gabbard.

Warren Oates moved to Louisville at about the same time the Hodges moved back to Adair County. The depression had been even worse in Depoy than in Louisville. In Depoy he had been somebody, getting to ring the church bell, and being the boy a lot of the girls were struck on. It was a place where he got to hear about faraway places and the faraway wars on the radio, and about the tragedies in the mines. In Louisville, the big - fish - in - a- small-pond status was gone. But Oates did discover the movie houses, the picture shows, and that lighted a fire in him. He attended the University of Louisville, spending much of his time at Belknap Playhouse.

He went to New York in his mid-20s, where his greatest claim to fame was playing stunts for Beat the Clock and then to Hollywood, where he got into Westerns, including a bit part in the Stoney Burke, Tv series, and then into western movies. For a time, in the early 1970s, he was being touted as another Humphrey Bogart.

He was in some 36 movies, some as leading man, some in supporting roles. But his singular looks made him as recognizable as any star in filmdom. Two of his movies, Blue Thunder (1983) and the 1974 movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, garnered cult followings. His last two films, Tough Enough and Blue Thunder, were dedicated to him.

Oates died of a heart attack on April 3, 1982. He would have been 54 on July 5 of that year.

On one of Oates' last visits to Louisville, Hartsell Hodges called him at his hotel room there. When Oates answered the phone, Hodges said, "You may not know who this is, but do you remember a boy saving you from drowning in that pond in Depoy?"

Without hesitation, the famous actor shot back, "Hodge!"

"It was a wonderful reunion," Hartsell Hodges remembers. "He hadn't changed. It was just like we were boys again back in that little mining town at the start of World War II."



This story was posted on 1997-12-24 12:01:01
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Archive Photo



1997-12-24 - Photo Staff. REV. and MRS. M.B. HODGES, with their three children, Hartsell, 9, Leola, 3, and Frances, 6, just after the family moved to Sparksville in 1934, six years before the move to Depoy where this story begins.This item first appeared in Issue 18 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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