David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - In Memory of Clyde and Lillian Cole O'Dell

The above articles document the beginning of the story of the marriage between Delbert Clyde O'Dell, 22, farmer of Friendship, (Ohio) and  Miss Lillian May Cole, 19,  also of Friendship, whose marriage took place on 26 February, 1913  presided over by "Rev. Dillon". Afterwards they were serenaded by 75 persons, adult and youngsters, following their wedding on that Thursday evening, according to the Portsmouth Daily Herald.  A short time later, the same newspaper announced that Clyde and his bride had spent Wednesday evening at the Washington Hotel and were leaving on Thursday for a prospecting trip through the west. 

I can imagine their excitement and anticipation when, as newlyweds, they headed west in search of their fortune.  Two young people in love just starting their new life together.   What happened on their trip west is not now known, but Clyde and Lillian returned to Friendship and then lived for awhile in Dayton. On 31 October, 1913, Lillian gave birth to their daughter, Gwendolyn.  In early 1918, Clyde decided to relocate to Akron, Summit County, Ohio to work at the Firestone plant in that city.  It was on 26 June, 1918, that the love story of Clyde and Lillian took a tragic turn. 

After work that evening, Clyde, Lillian, and little Gwendolyn decided to go for a canoe ride on Summit Lake. According to some witnesses, the canoe was struck by a launch. This much is known, for some reason,  the boat capsized and all three occupants ended up in the water. There were some reports that their canoe was hit by a launch.  The Akron Press Journal of 27 June 1918 reported the story this way:   

Three Drown Here as Frail Boats Capsize
Mr. and Mrs. Delbert O'Dell Go to Their Death in Summit Lake
Little Girl is Saved
Rome Zimmerman, Tire Repairman, sinks in Turkeyfoot Lake
Three persons lost their lives here Wednesday night by drowning and three others had narrow escapes. One man is in People's Hospital in a serious condition. Two met their death in Summit Lake. One drowned in Turkeyfoot Lake. All were Akron residents.
The Dead:
Delbert O'Dell, 26 rubber worker, 1006 Snyder St.
Lillian O'Dell, 24 his wife, 1006 Snyder St.

Rome Zimmerman, 35, auto repairman, 325 W. Exchange St.

Mr. and Mrs. O'Dell went to their death in Summit Lake at 6 o'clock when the canoe in which they were riding capsized. Their little daughter, May, 4, was rescued by bathers who were a short distance away when the frail craft overturned. The accident happened 100 feet from the west shore of the lake.
O'Dell, who could not swim, sank immediately. Mrs. O'Dell, who was a good swimmer, struck out for shore as she came to the surface, but was hampered by her skirts and sank after swimming a short distance. The little girl suffered from shock and her plunge into the lake, but will recover.
D.V. Booth, in charge of one of the Summit Beach Park launches, was near the scene and dived repeatedly after both bodies. Both were recovered an hour later by the use of nets.
Mr. and Mrs. O'Dell came to Akron several months ago from Portsmouth, O. The bodies will be taken there for burial.
Scoutmaster, J.H. Melville and Scouts Charles Mears, Sidney Mulligan, Tom Mulligan, Richard Krum---, and William Scott of the Goodrich Unit, recovered the bodies.

Clyde and Lillian's gravesite in Friendship (Scioto) Cemetery. 

This story is important to me personally because Clyde O'Dell is my husband's great uncle, brother of his maternal grandmother, Carrie O'Dell Zimmerman.   For many years, we didn't know the whole story of the deaths of Clyde and Lillian.  Carrie spoke of Clyde trying to save Lillian and her believe was that Lillian had  panicked and with a "death grip" had pulled Clyde under, drowning them both.  Most distressing was the fact that nobody seemed to know what happened to Clyde and Lillian's daughter.  Carrie lived in Dayton away from most of the O'Dell family in Scioto County so we had little information about their status. 
That's where the internet comes in. 

My sister in law and I were both searching for information about the O'Dells and we amazingly discovered Clyde and Lillian's grandson, Chapin.  He told us about his search for information about his grandparents and sent copies of an Akron Beacon Journal article about what happened that night and about his quest to discover the true story. From the research he had done, he felt that Clyde and Lillian were both very strong swimmers and Lillian's family's version of the story seemed to suggest that Lillian had tried to save Clyde and that possibly her hair became tangled in weeds under the water. However, no one knows exactly what happened.   He shared photographs of Clyde and Lillian and he had copies of some of the original articles from The Akron Beacon Journal. One of the most significant things he could share with us was the information about his mother, Gwendolyn.  After the death of her parents, she had been adopted by a gentleman in Dayton.  She had graduated in 1931 from Fairmont High School, so she had grown up close to many of her family members. She had become a professional singer and an interior designer.  She had married twice and had  four children. Sadly, she had died in 1980.   After receiving this information from Chapin, I contacted the library in Scioto County and ordered copies of the newspaper articles that were printed in the Portsmouth newspapers at the time of Clyde and Lillian's deaths.  When we made our trip to Scioto County, their gravesite was one of the first I sought. 
Clyde and Lillian's story is so tragic, but I believe it is a great love story.  I choose to believe they died trying to save one another and I'm so thankful that because of  all the resources now available for family research, we have a better insight of what happened on the June night so many years ago.


  1. Very nice telling of Clyde and Lillian's story, tragic tho it was. Thanks.

  2. I can just picture this being a hot summer evening and they went canoeing to cool off after the heat of the day - so sad.

  3. A tragic story, to be sure. Too me, this is what genealogy is all about, the stories of our family, whatever the circumstances. I enjoyed your story, and I am happy you know as much as you can about your husband's ancestors. Great that you also came in contact with your cousin!

  4. I admit it, I do get teary when I discover a relative who died young or had a tragic story! I'm so glad you were able to find all the information and put all the pieces together - it is such a sad story, but so good to know what happened to their daughter!