CARDINGTON — Evelyn Fricke Long grew up believing that she should use her talents to serve her community, and she has dedicated most of her life to doing so. As a talented newspaper writer, she has been a gentle, persistent storyteller of Cardington’s people and events.
She has featured the successes of students and historical figures, new business ventures, festive events and the town’s tornado recovery.
“Evelyn is such an asset and cheerleader for the community in her writing,” says Mayor Susie Peyton. To recognize Long’s decades of service, Cardington dedicated a tree in her honor at the village’s recent annual Arbor Day observance.
For Long, preserving her town’s stories is essential.
“People have to know what’s gone before that has brought us to today,” she said. In an age when small towns struggle to survive, it’s impressive “what people have done to keep the town going.” The June 1981 tornado and economic recessions impacted Cardington, as such events have challenged other small towns across the United States. Although Cardington has lost some of its “small town flavor,” she said, it’s still an appealing place to live.”
Her parents, Paul and Adah (Click) Fricke, moved the family to Cardington in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor Day. They resided on the Click family farm on Township Road 169. Her mother was “an excellent artist” and her father worked as a timekeeper for the state highway department and loved to sing opera.
“Dad saw a talent in each one of us (his four daughters) and developed it,” Long said. When Evelyn heard music as a baby, her “buggy would start jumping,” and observers noted, “That baby’s got rhythm.” Evelyn began piano lessons at age 5. Sister Joanne became an artist, her detailed work including historical scenes of Cardington, while sisters Norita and Marlene became singers, performing for numerous events in the region.
At 16, Evelyn started teaching piano lessons, walking from one home to the next, until Dr. Stanley Brody was called back into U.S. Naval service during the Korean War and subleased his office to her for $15 a month. When Brody returned, Evelyn moved her piano to teach lessons in the late Howard Conaway’s law office.
As a high school junior, she became the third girl to represent American Legion Post 97 at Buckeye Girls State in 1949 at Capital University, where the participants elected the first African-American girl as governor of their “state.” That was the same year, Cardington classmates chose Evelyn as May Queen.
Capital University awarded her a $500 scholarship to attend “which was huge in that time,” but after learning she “had to practice piano 8 hours a day,” she soon returned home to work various jobs, and to teach and perform as a pianist.
Her jobs included Kinsell grocery cashier, HPB Hydraulic payroll and accounts receivable, Citizen’s Bank, and Bill Johnstone’s Insurance. Once she learned something, she was eager to “move up” to a new challenge.
She married a handsome guy named Willis Long, who helped launch her newspaper career when he spotted an ad in The Marion Star and encouraged Evelyn to apply. Charlie Martin hired her as the Cardington news correspondent in 1978. Her sister Joanne Mathews took photographs. The pair made a “good team.”
“I loved talking to people, going to places and meetings,” Evelyn said. “Then suddenly, the tornado hit, and I completely forgot I had a job.” The Longs and Mathews lived less than a block away from the town’s center where the tornado destroyed most businesses and several homes.
Four people were killed. When Evelyn finally remembered to call Charlie Martin, he was relieved to hear she was safe. Then he said, “Now, get to work!”
Both were “on call all the time.”
Evelyn wrote personal stories like the Maceyko family’s home disintegrating and Steve “Hub” Maceyko surviving “a spin in the air.” She covered countless meetings with town leaders determined to rebuild the community, including Mayor Cecil Maxwell and Gale Slack, president of the Cardington Improvement Corporation (CIC), whose meat business was destroyed, and Ron Carsner, whose family lost Cardington Home and Auto.
The tornado also shredded some 200 trees. By planting flowers and trees, the town Tree and Beautification Committee, including Dick Hack, GaNell Durfey, and Tom Daniel, “made people forget about the horror by making beauty everywhere.”
In 1986, Evelyn and Joanne covered another major event for the village, the grand opening of Cardington Yutaka Technologies, which today employs some 900 people. In recent years, she’s featured the new Bunker Mills Winery, Cardington Market, and Singing Springs Nursery & Garden Center with its meat & grocery “Nook.”
One of Evelyn’s memorable profiles for Women’s History Month featured Evva Kinney Heath, an African-American woman who graduated from Cardington High School in 1897 and became a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
“What a successful life this woman made in that era,” Evelyn said. “At one point, Morrow County had a KKK with 15,000 people coming to those rallies.” Heath was one of the first inductees in the high school’s Hall of Fame, an honor which recently was bestowed on Evelyn.
Evelyn especially enjoys writing about Cardington schools, in part because she loves “being around all the young, progressive people.” In her work with the Alumni Association, she helped initiate student scholarships, giving the organization a purpose beyond holding class reunions. Also, she was named an honorary member of the FFA. She enjoys covering the Morrow County Fair, where you find “down to earth people who don’t put on airs.”
Evelyn earned awards for her work on the American Legion Auxiliary newsletter, for the local post and Sixth District. She also played piano for the post’s meetings, as well as for St. Paul Lutheran Sunday school and junior choir. In her youth, she played for WMRN radio entertainment. Other activities included the school Music Boosters and PTA and secretary of CIC.
She raised two sons, Alan and Kevin Long, and now enjoys her grandchildren, Megan (Long) King, Adam and Ethan Long, and great-granddaughter, Remi.
As she continues to write stories, Evelyn maintains her enthusiastic support for her community and its progressive leaders, currently Mayor Susie Peyton and CIC president Leeann Maceyco and their work with the Friends of Cardington, including the annual Street Fair (June 21), Christmas in Cardington, summer music and movie night in the town park.
“I like my little town,” she says proudly.