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Julia Richardson has devoted a lifetime to her community, remembering her mother’s words “a community not worth working for is not worth living in.”
“I’ve spent all my life here in Hardin County, as a matter of fact, all of it in Summit,” Julia Richardson said.
But Richardson, 84, might be known more for her portrayal of others, which stemmed from her beginnings as a teacher.
She married her husband, Glenn, when she was 18 and started a life on the farm. One day she was putting up hay and noticed two big cars sitting in the shade. Superintendent G.C. Burkhead and two others came to ask her if she’d teach at Summit School No. 1. It took three to convince her.
At first she said no but her father-in-law told her she wouldn’t know she could do it until she gave it a try. She took the required six hours of college via correspondence and took the job.
She jokes that after her first year of teaching she closed the school because after the first year the school consolidated with another and closed. The building now sits at Freeman Lake Park.
She took some time off and was asked to teach again when a school was built in Stephensburg and then began teaching at Lynnvale Elementary where she retired in 1989 after 30 years in teaching.
It was while she was teaching she began portraying her alter ego, Amelia Bedelia. The character is from a series of children’s books based on a maid who takes things very literally and finds herself in many mishaps that are usually forgiven with a lemon pie.
“She’s something else, isn’t she?” Richardson said of Bedelia.
She first portrayed Bedelia for her granddaughter’s preschool class. Thirty years later she’s still Amelia for schools, senior citizen groups and others.
Richardson later became friends with the book’s author, Peggy Parish. She was asked to come to a book reading Parish was giving and surprise her as Bedelia. She walked in with a lemon pie while Parish was speaking.
“I go walking in with my pie and she looked at me, Ms. Parish did, and she said ‘Amelia, what in the world are you doing here?’”
Richardson told her she forgot her pie and gave it to her before turning to leave. Parish told her she wasn’t going anywhere and told her to stay.
After the reading, Parish signed books and all the children wanted to talk to Richardson because they thought she was really Bedelia. The author invited her to sit with her and sign the books as Bedelia.
“I thought that was really something,” Richardson said.
Parish started sending her a copy of each new book and would sign it “my own Amelia.” Richardson would even send her a few of her own ideas of sayings Bedelia could misunderstand for the books.
Parish died in 1988.
“It was like loosing a part of my family,” Richardson said.
Parish’s nephew began writing the books after her death and he sends each of his books to Richardson as well.
She’s also played Suzanna Wesley, Methodist founder John Wesley’s mother, for 14 years and Aunt Beck Hill for 20 years for the Historic Downtown Walking Tour. She had to give up Beck when she broke her hip but still subs for the part and does the part for special events.
“I just enjoy doing these characters,” Richardson said.
Much of her dialogue is adlibbed based on her research of the character. She credits her years as a school teacher for her ability to remember things and adlib.
WQXE radio personality Hollie Sexton has worked with Richardson on the walking tour. She said Richardson has a sweet spirit and eagerness to laugh.
“She loved to cut up with the cast members,” Sexton said.
Sexton also remembered Richardson talking about her husband after he died.
“She said that he was her best friend and she talked to him, out of remembrance and affection after his passing,” Sexton said.
It touched Sexton.
“Marriages don’t seem to be made of that good stuff as often anymore,” Sexton said.
When she’s not playing a part, Richardson often goes with her sister, Velma Sarver, to the one room school at the lake for fieldtrips. Teachers bring their kids to see what school was like in those days.
She also volunteers in the library at Lakewood Elementary School. Teachers know if their kids don’t return when the bell rings it’s Richardson’s day at the library because the kids are too interested in whatever story Richardson is telling to leave.
“I don’t work, I play, at school,” Richardson said.
Richardson likes history and takes any opportunity to study her family genealogy, is a member of the Summit Quiliteers Homemakers and is active at her church, Summit United Methodist.
“I’m busy,” Richardson said.
When she looked at all she did she said “no wonder I’m tired at night.”
She tells people now she thinks she’s going to live to be 100.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or email@example.com.
Graduated valedictorian from Lynnvale High, 1945.
Got her Bachelor of Science from Western Kentucky University in 1964, Master of Arts in 1972 and completed her Rank 1 in 1981
HCS Distinguished Alumni Award, 1999
Lynnvale High School Distinguished Graduate Award, 1979
Kentucky Colonel, 1983
Reading Council Activities Award, 1997
Athena Award, with her sister, 2006
Community Service Award from the Jacob VanMeter Chapter of the Daughter’s of American Revolution
Elizabethtown Hardin LaRue Retired Teachers Association, member
Ancestral Trails Historical Society, member
Worked at The Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center for three years
Works with Civic Center at Summit
Getting to know Julia Richardson:
Family: Husband, Glenn; children, Jim and Phyllis; three grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild
Books: Books about Kentucky, books by Jesse Stewart, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Television: “It just doesn’t turn me on much.” She’ll watch KET.
Movie: “Gone with the Wind” and “The Fleet’s In,” the first movie shown at the State Theatre, which she saw on a date with Glenn while he was home from the Navy. She still remembers where she sat.
Hobbies: Reading, watching grandkids play ball, working in the garden, canning and freezing, traveling Kentucky and historical places
Favorite historical figure: Abraham Lincoln
Sport: Softball, entire family plays
Advice: She has learned all her life that if you are nice to people they’ll be nice to you.