Elizabeth’s Life Story

Elizabeth (Sis) Maddie Kerns, Atkins, Breeden 1908-1967

My Life Journey

Elizabeth (Sis) Maddie Kerns, Atkins, Breeden 1908-1967

Elizabeth was born in 1908 to Luther and Bertha Kerns in the hills of southern Ohio. She grew up in a small house with 8 siblings. Her father farmed and performed various jobs to support the family. The family as a whole worked hard to help out the household. Elizabeth learned relevant life skills at a young age like cooking, baking, and sewing out of necessity. Life was hard but there were many happy moments. As Elizabeth would say, they were poor but didn’t know it.

Education was by choice, and since she and her siblings walked to school their attendance was not constant. She was a smart woman, but never graduated from high school. She did self educate and took great pride in learning correct grammar, spelling, and was very good at math.

Elizabeth was given the middle name Maddie. But she hated that name so she always said her middle name was Mary. Most of the friends never realized her actual name was Maddie. Family gave her the nickname Sis and the name stuck with her throughout her life. Her many friends and family all called her Sis.

She was physically a big woman at 5’10” tall weighing around 180 pounds. Her bone structure was large like the Kerns family; she was strong and carried the weight without appearing heavy.

She had a wonderful sense of humor and a gift for conversation, consequently she made friends easily. Sis was friendly and forgiving, but she was also principled in her beliefs. She could be a best friend, or your worst enemy if you got on her wrong side.

She met and married Shirley Atkins in 1925. Together they started a family with four (4) children: Arliss Peyton Atkins, Shirley Eugene “Jake” Atkins, Jack Atkins, and a daughter named Frances who died a few days after birth. They enjoyed a relatively short marriage when Shirley had an auto accident driving his car into a underpass abutment and was killed in the crash.

Elizabeth was widowed with three (3) young boys to raise. Faced with the single mother financial burden she took a job at the U.S. Shoe Factory in Chillicothe to pay the bills. She worked alongside one of her sisters, Oma Seymour. The family struggled financially.

Elizabeth met William “Bill” Breeden and they married on December 7, 1940. The financial strain on Elizabeth was relieved and she quit her factory job to become a full time housewife and mom. Bill, Sis and her three boys settled into the small farm deeded to her through her first marriage and life couldn’t have been better.

Bill worked at Mead Paper and Sis managed the farm. Sis was a hard worker and could perform any farm chores as well as a man. She fed the animals, milked cows, carried hay bales and sacks of feed, drove tractors and helped with the harvest. Sis also nurtured the animals and would check on them at night when they were sick.

In 1945 son Tom was born. Three years later came Francis. The name Francis was to honor the daughter who died years earlier. Sis wanted a girl badly, but boy Francis came instead. She and Bill started calling him Susie and for years the family did too.

Sis was a wonderful cook and loved preparing Sunday dinner for her five boys and their families. Her specialties were beef and noodles, Johnny Marzetti, deviled eggs and deserts. Her pies were always delicious but the divinity candy she made at holidays was outstanding.

Since she lived on a farm and milked cows she started making butter. Her butter was so good that friends urged her to make some for sale, and eventually she did. The butter was prepared in two pound loaves and she always decorated the top with impressions before freezing. People from the area would stop in to buy the butter for $.50 per pound. Soon she was selling more than she could make.

Sis was always preparing food for neighbors who were ill, or going through the grieving process of losing a loved one. She had lots of friends and would make time on the weekends and evenings to visit with them. Her life was filled with all the ups and downs, successes and tragedies of everyone’s life, but she saw mostly the good and did not dwell on the bad.

She enjoyed her grandchildren and taking care of Bill and the younger boys. There was an age difference of about twenty years between her three oldest and the two younger boys who were born when she was 36 and 39 years old. She made sure the younger boys understood the need for a good education and encouraged them to study hard and pursue athletics.

Sis was a disciplinarian and would hand out punishment if needed. Tom likes to recall that switching was her method of dealing out punishment. He tells that his Mom would make you select and cut a switch from a willow tree and bring to her to be used for your own punishment. If it was too small she sent you back for another larger one. She was firm but had a heart the size of Texas and always made sure the punishment was not too harsh.

Financially Sis and Bill were solid and made sure to give the younger boys all the things they could not afford for the older boys. Watches, rings, nicer clothes and their own cars when they started driving. They attended all the athletic events the younger boys played in. When Tom went in the Army they traveled to his assignment locations when allowed.

Around retirement age, Bill’s health deteriorated due to a heart condition and he died January 1, 1967. His death was an extreme emotional blow to Sis, she loved him deeply. She wrote a lot about Billl in her diary. The diary entries were extremely emotional and her grieving extensive.

On Easter Sunday 1967, while hiking up a hillside with a cousin to the site of her old family home place, where she was born, Sis experienced difficulty breathing and she struggled to return to her car. The event was severe and scared her enough that she scheduled a doctor visit to determine the problem.

After several weeks and numerous tests the doctor delivered the news she had lung cancer. She was offered the option of radiation treatment but the prognosis was so bleak she declined. Her strength was sapped from the unrelenting cancer and the pain was extreme. Her cries from pain became stronger when medication no longer helped.

The boys cared for her till the end. She was bed fast at home in a hospital bed for weeks. In a final act of love she spoke from a semi-coma to make sure Francis went to work on the day she died. She didn’t want her youngest around to suffer the pain of seeing her die. Sis passed from the living world that very morning on August 13, 1967.

Siblings in Kerns Family

  1. Selda Florence Kerns Rutter 1894-1978,
  2. Amos R. Kerns 1897-1970,
  3. Julia Ellen (Dude) Strausbaugh Gillette 1899-1985,
  4. Martha Kathryn (Kate) Kerns Russell 1901-1989,
  5. Oma Kerns Wallace Cutright Seymour
  6. Cyrus “Sonny” Kerns 1906-1990
  7. Elizabeth Maddie Kerns Atkins Breeden 1908-1967
  8. Ernest L. Tootsie Kerns 1913-1927 (died of spinal meningitis age 14)
  9. L. Isabel Kerns Congrove Campbell 1916-1995.

Elizabeth’s Parents

Father – Luther Kerns 1868-1925

Mother – Bertha Gatwood Kerns 1875-1954

Elizabeth’s Children

  1. Arliss Peyton Atkins Nov 28, 1925-Nov 29, 1998.
  2. Shirley Eugene “Jake” Atkins May 18, 1929-July 28, 2013.
  3. Jack Atkins June 26, 1931-Oct 5, 2007
  4. Frances Atkins 1928-1928 (she died days after birth)
  5. Thomas Dewey Breeden 1945-
  6. Francis Lee Breeden 1948-

Elizabeth’s Step Children Bill’s 1st wife Kansas

  1. Lorraine Clair Breeden McNeal 1919-2001
  2. William Jennings Breeden Jr. 1926-
  3. Andrew Breeden 1933-1933 (died at birth)
  4. Ruth Ann Breeden Goodchild 1935-

Elizabeth’s Grandchildren

  1. Jackie Atkins – Son of Jack & Rowena Atkins
  2. Melea Atkins – daughter of Jack & Rowena Atkins
  3. Billie Atkins – Son of Jake & Bonnie Atkins
  4. Randy Atkins- Son of Jake & Bonnie Atkins
  5. Jason Atkins – Son of Jake & Bonnie Atkins
  6. Pam Atkins – Stepdaughter of Peyton & Audrey Atkins
  7. Susan Atkins- Daughter of Peyton & Audrey Atkins
  8. Jill Atkins – Daughter of Peyton & Audrey Atkins
  9. Robin Lynn Breeden – Daughter of Tom & Beth Breeden
  10. Carrie Elizabeth Breeden – Daughter of Tom and Beth Breeden
  11. Adam Jennings Breeden – Son of Francis & Cindy Breeden
  12. Nicholas Walter Breeden – Son of Francis & Cindy Breeden