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Marion County's Most Interesting People: The Gardener

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Albert Purdy is a soldier, a family man, a storyteller and one heck of a gardener

By Will Phillips
Enterprise correspondent

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Albert Purdy has lived at the same address for nearly 96 years.
He’s a staple of the Lebanon community and yet, it’s probably safe to wager that many people don’t even know his name.
Most people probably know him best as the man who sells vegetables on Spalding Avenue in the summer. But many won’t know his name.
Most people also don’t know that the 96-year-old Purdy is part of a rapidly shrinking population: he is a veteran of World War II. A truck driver in the Second Great War, Purdy was subjected firsthand to the terrors of war. He was among the first group of Americans to enter the concentration camp at Dachau in Germany.
“[The Nazis] had a building there with shower heads sticking down from the ceiling,” Purdy says, recalling the sight. “They told the people to strip off and go in there and get a shower. They got them all in there, and bolted the door… and they gassed them… they killed them.”
Purdy spent the years of 1941-1945 in the service, right at the height of the war. Not only that, his time in the military took him through the most war-torn parts of Europe.
“I landed in North Africa,” he recalls. “Went through Sicily, Italy, France, and up into Germany.”
But Purdy is more than just a soldier. He’s lived a very long life, and he’s lived almost all of it at the same address.
“He was six weeks old when he moved here,” Purdy’s wife of 50 years, Rose, chimed in.
“I was born down on Walnut Street, where Papa John’s is.” Purdy said.
The Purdy home is one of many very old homes on Spalding Avenue, dating back to the Civil War. Adding to the home’s historical nature is the garden in the back.
“[The garden] back here was a federal campground for federal soldiers,” Rose said. “We’ve got a well in the back that we use for irrigation that was used by the federal soldiers in the Civil War.”
The vegetables that the Purdys have sold in their front yard for the last four and a half decades have all been grown in that garden, and irrigated by that well.
“It never did go dry,” said Purdy, laughing. “It pumped water all the time. You could pump it down to where you couldn’t pump it anymore, but there was more water below that. Next morning, I’d go out there and start the pump and it’d pump again.”
The Purdys said that they routinely find arrowheads and coins in the garden, as well.
Purdy and his wife estimated that they have been setting up their vegetable stand for the last 40 years. Interestingly enough, even though it is Purdy that people typically see manning the table, it was Rose who started the tradition.
“I had more tomatoes than I could do anything with,” she said. “I tried to sell them at the stores and nobody wanted them, so I told Albert, ‘I’m going to put me a stand out front and sell them.’ So that’s how we got started.”
And from there, the stand took off rapidly.
“When he retired, we really got into it then,” she added, laughing.
Over the years, the Purdys have sold all manner of vegetables, as well as other things.
“We sold a little bit of everything. We sold Christmas trees,” Purdy said, smiling.
He recounted the story of how he would take his sons and cut down trees, then tie them onto the top of the family car, and they would look like “a giant shrub.”
“I was working as a janitor at Lebanon Elementary School,” said Purdy. “And the teachers wanted me to go out and get some Christmas trees for each class. One of the teachers said you can get a couple boys to go with you to help you get the trees, so I told them I would. The teachers went wild. They couldn’t get over how pretty them trees were.”
Purdy went into the military a few years later, but when he returned, he and Rose took back up the Christmas tree business, only this time, they sold them for themselves, and used their five children for help. Purdy said they would sometimes have up to 30 Christmas trees on their car.
Purdy’s son, Joseph, said his father’s story telling technique is one of the things that makes him so special.
“He will always make you smile and laugh with a story," Joseph said.
Sitting in his living room, Purdy laughed and recounted story after story about his life. And in that time, in all those stories, it was clear that he hadn't even begun to scratch the surface.
During his lifetime he’s been many things… a soldier, a Kentucky Colonel and more.
But, Purdy is something far greater.
“Albert's a loving husband, and a loving father,” Rose said, her voice shaking. “That’s who he is.”