|Birth: ||Mar. 15, 1914|
|Death: ||Mar. 15, 1967|
Jim Stephenson was a bit of a wandering spirit. The oldest son of William and Frankie Stephenson, he attended Memphis Technical High School but didn't graduate.
By the 1930s he was a traveling salesman and met Ruth Stephenson, a young teacher in Evansville, Ind. They married Jan. 23, 1937, a surprise to his family in Memphis. "When I was told about them, I made a trip to Indiana to meet her, but I never did get to meet her family," wrote Jim's sister, Johnnie, in a 1998 letter. Soon Ruth became pregnant and they moved to Memphis along with Ruth's younger sister Mary Ann. Ruth lost that baby but soon had three children, Wilfred Franklin (1939), Gayle Ellen (1940) and Larry Keith (1943). But Jim, who longed to live in Memphis, traveled a lot for work. "I don't believe they liked that to (sic) much," Johnnie wrote.
Jim wasn't a hit with Ruth's family. "I didn't care too much for him," Ruth's brother-in-law Bud Alvey said in March 2008. "He was one of those guys who happened in once in a while to see his wife. He was one of those guys I never trusted."
For a while, Jim gave up the sales business and tried driving a cab in Evansville, but his mother, Frankie, dominated the Stephenson side of the family and kept pulling him back toward Memphis. "I really think he loved Ruth," Jim's nephew, Michael R. Stephenson, said in April 2008. "Ruth would never move to Memphis and Jim was always torn between his mother and Ruth. He would get things going pretty well in Evansville and then his mother would call and boom, he'd go back." Michael's mother, Wilma Stephenson, Jim's sister in law, made a similar point in April 2008: "He was a momma's boy. He would disappear and go up to Evansville. … Then he would come back and stay awhile. He had wandering feet I guess. We never did get along too well."
Marriage wasn't the only thing Jim had trouble sticking with. Around 1941, Jim and his brother Everett ran Dad's Root Beer in Terre Haute. The business was starting to do well when Everett was called to the Navy. "Jim just gave up, walked off and left everything," Everett's wife, Wilma, said. Eventually, Jim also was called into the Navy, serving during World War II.
After the war, Jim continued to try to get Ruth to Memphis. She and the kids came for brief periods, but she always returned to Evansville to teach. In 1948, Jim moved back to Memphis expecting Ruth and the kids to follow after the school year. She joined him at 1042 Madison Avenue in the summer of 1949 but stayed only about a month before returning to Evansville to have nothing to do with him any more, according to Jim's 1955 petition for divorce. Jim was granted the divorce and agreed to pay $20 a week of child support.
In 1957, Jim, then 42, married Mary Ellen Renier, who was only 23. That lasted only a few months. The next year, he married Wanda Chipman Stanley. But one woman really controlled Jim. "Jim, I never could understand him," Wilma Stephenson said. "He was a momma's boy. I think she ruined his life like she tried to do the rest of them." Frequently, Jim would stop at his mother's house after work where she would have prepared dinner. He would eat and then head home to Wanda, who also had prepared dinner, not telling her he already had eaten at his mother's.
In Memphis, Jim was a flashy guy. "He was kind of my idol growing up," his nephew, Michael, said. "He was a high-roller kind of guy. He was divorced a few times, high living, wore big jewelry. I thought that was the way to do things because my dad was very structured." Jim often hung around the courthouse in Memphis and seemed to have some pull with the town's movers and shakers, nephew Michael said. He also owned three "Houses of Joy," also called "juke joints." African-Americans in Memphis would congregate at night, drinking and dancing. They'd pour salt or sugar on the floor to create a scratchy sound as they danced the shuffle. Michael remembers being a 17-year-old and going by two or three times a night to collect the cash in a brown paper sack. Jim also worked several years driving for Best Beer Distributorship in Memphis and for a time started his own distributorship, Jack's Beers. He later retired as manager of Muscari Distributors, another beer distributor.
He battled illness over his last six years before dying on his 53rd birthday. His mother kept a dime taped to a piece of the sash from his coffin. She wrote, "This Dime was found in the pocket of Jim (sic) jacket the last one he wore before he died. He wore his jacket on March 8-67. he (sic) died one week later on his Birthday 15th of March. I loved him more than I can tell. Mother." She also wrote a passage in a family bible, perhaps to deliver at a church service: "Easter Sunday March 26-67 To my beloved son. James Rye Stephenson Born on March 15-1914, he passed away on March 15-1967 his Birthday. A sweet and Lovable and a more considerate son never lived on this Earth, he always looked after his mother no matter what. And she did the same for him. James used to say to me so many times Mama I can trust you we had many talks together and Injoyed (sic) sitting on the Porch together but now he has gone to heaven and I feel like each time I sit on the Porch alone he and his Daddy is (sic) with me. After all I am not alone he is still in this house I can see him everywhere. I loved you son. Dearly. Mother" He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
March 16, 1967 , Memphis Commercial Appeal:
Services for James Rye Stephenson of 778 North Merton, World War II veteran, who died at 4:30 p.m. yesterday at Methodist Hospital , will be at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow a Memphis Funeral Home. Burial will be in Elmwood Cemetery . He was 53 yesterday.
Mr. Stephenson had been ill for six years. He was retired as manager of Muscari Distributors. He served with the Navy during World War II and was a member of Raleigh Baptist Church .
He was born in Alamo , Tenn. , and lived in Memphis almost all his life. He was also a member of the Scottish Rite, Al Chymia Temple, Pr Avenue Masonic Lodge and the Stonewall Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star.
He leaves his wife, Mrs. Wanda Stephenson, a daughter, Mrs. Gayle Woodruff of Evansville , Ind. ; two sons, Wilford Franklin Stephenson of Indianapolis and Larry Stephenson of Evansville ; his mother, Mrs. Frankie Stephenson of 788 North Merton; a brother, E.B. Stephenson of Glasgow, Ky.; two sisters, Mrs. Jonnie (sic) Whitaker of 788 North Merton and Mrs. John C. Smith of Stuttgart, Ark.; and three grandchildren.
William Newton Stephenson (1890 - 1953)
Frankie Tucker Stephenson (1893 - 1987)
Ruth Weber Stephenson (1910 - 1997)
Gayle E. Stephenson Burnes (1940 - 2006)*
Larry Keith Stephenson (1943 - 1998)*
Lottie Stephenson Smith (1910 - 1986)*
Johnnie S. Stephenson Whitaker (1912 - 2008)*
James Rye Stephenson (1914 - 1967)
Everett Ben Stephenson (1916 - 1979)*
Maintained by: Mike St
Originally Created by: Tamara McDaniel Kincaide
Record added: Jan 25, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 47108373