MATHESON HISTORICAL CENTER
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Mary Ann Cofrin
Ruth C. Marston
July 7, 1995
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 2
July 7, 1995
C: Before we conduct this interview, I am going to read something that was written about
Mai in her church newspaper: Mai was born January 31, 1914, in High Springs, the
daughter of the late John D. and Winnie Mai Neel. She has lived in the house she now
lives in all her life, having been born there and never moved. The house was moved one
block west toward town in 1948, when the divided highway 441 was built. The highway
cut diagonally across the two and one-half blocks the Neel family had owned for over
fifty years. Mai joined the First Presbyterian Church of High Springs in 1922 at the age
of eight and is the oldest member in years of membership. As mentioned previously in
the newsletter, several of Mai's relatives were charter members of this church, her
grandmother, her father, an aunt, and an uncle. Her father was Sunday School
superintendent from 1897 until his death in 1934. Mrs. H. Mackell Brady was pianist for
many, many years, and Mai's father said if no one came but he and Mrs. Brady, they
would still have Sunday School. Of course, this never happened, but there were few
members at that time. The plaque in the church was placed there by the Sunday School
in his memory. Mai's mother taught Sunday School for many years, and Mai worked
with the little folks as teacher and assistant teacher. She also has held various offices in
the women's organizations. On December 31, 1938, Mai was married to Otto A. Kahlich
at the Mikeville Manse with Rev. L. H. Eikel officiating. Rev. Eikel was Pastor of the
High Springs Church at this time. One son was born to Mai and Otto, on March 16,
1946, John Richard (Johnny) Kahlich. Johnny was killed in a truck wreck in 1973 at the
age of twenty-seven. Mai and Otto gave a hundred hymnals to the church in his memory.
Mai worked for the Power Corporation for thirty-five years as steno-clerk and left the
company in 1974. Otto passed away September 20, 1993, at the age of eighty-five.
Friends and relatives were most generous in their contributions to the church for a
memorial fund for Otto, and racks for the hymnals and bibles were installed under the
pews with the funds. Mai loves this church and its members, just as her parents did, and
is most grateful to the church family for their prayers, loyalty, love, comfort, and many
kindnesses shown her during the peaks and valleys of her life. She also shares this
thought: May God bless each one of you, and may He continue to bless this church and
That's lovely, Mai.
K: It's Florida Power Corporation.
C: Yes, I thought it was Florida Power. That'll be in there correctly. Mai, tell me about
your grandparents. Did they come from High Springs, or where were they from? Your
grandparents on your mother's side.
Interview with: Mai Kahlich
July 7, 1995
K: My mother's parents were from Tennessee, and my father's from South Carolina. I never
knew any of my grandparents except one, who was my Grandmother Neel. She lived
with us but she passed away when I was only two so I don't remember her.
C: Do you know when she came to High Springs, or did she come with her son?
K: She came with her son. Several members of the family lived down here, and they stayed
out at Mikesville for a while, a little place out here toward Lake City.
C: Is that Mikesville?
K: Yes. Then they came to High Springs. I don't know why they moved.
C: But your father, John Neel, you don't know when he came to High Springs?
C: But he married Winnie, and her maiden name was Stephens?
K: My mother was visiting her sister, Mrs. L. C. Gracy, down here when she met my father.
That's how they got together.
C: John was already in Florida and in High Springs. You don't know what year they were
K: In 1907.
C: They were married in 1907 and they lived all their life right here in High Springs?
K: Uh-huh. In this house.
C: And you were the second child? They had an older son?
K: My brother was born in 1909, and his name was John Stephens.
C: John Stephens Neel.
K: And I was born in 1914.
C: I see. And your brother did not stay in High Springs?
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 4
July 7, 1995
K: Well, he took ROTC while he was in the University where he graduated with a law
degree, and then he was with the CCC camps for some time and then he practice law for
a while before he went into the regular Army. Then he retired in 1964 as a Colonel and
in 1975 he passed away with Lou Gehrig's Disease (?).
C: Tell me what High Springs was like as a little girl.
K: It was a wonderful place because it was much smaller and we knew everyone, we had our
school here then. They had kindergarten when I started school. It was one through
twelve. The classes were small, but we learned a lot and the teachers were nice, and it
was a lovely place to live. A lot of people when they were in the church would say their
prayers, which was nice, and we used to go swimming out at Poe Springs a lot. On
Sunday afternoon, if you didn't see someone in town, you knew they were out at Poe
Springs swimming. It was real cold, but it was a lot of fun. We brought our picnics and
C: You just had one school in High Springs at that time, and it was ...
K: Two story. It had all twelve grades in it.
C: Well, High Springs was a pretty little town in those days.
K: Yes, it was small. Of course, in the early days -- I don't remember it -- but it was quite
wild in years before that, but then it had settled down and was a nice little community.
Of course, we had railroad shops here.
C: What kind of shops?
K: Railroad shops. ACL, Coastline Railroad. shops. A lot of the men worked there. It had
quite a big payroll and then, of course, we had trains in and out of here all the time then.
Of course, that's all past history now.
C: When you graduated from high school, did you have any other further schooling?
K: I went to business school in Gainesville and stayed with my aunt over there.
C: What business school was that?
K: Joe Jenkins.
C: Joe Jenkins Business School -- I've heard of that.
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 5
July 7, 1995
K: It was good. It was near the Florida Theater, upstairs there.
C: And the Florida Theater was on University Avenue then?
K: Yes. Joe Wise had a soda shop there, and we used to go in there a lot. It was nice. Then
there was a lady, Miss Patty deCaldwell (?) -- I don't know whether that was really her
name or not -- but she was connected with Wilson, and she had a dress shop just at the
foot of the stairs and when she'd get in new clothes, she would call the girls and say,
"Come on, there's some new dresses," and we had a lot of fun doing that.
C: Well, even Gainesville was a little town.
K: Well, that's true, too. It was big to us.
C: Big to High Springs standards. When you finished your training in business school, did
you get a job somewhere?
K: I came back here and worked in the FERA office -- that was during the war, of course.
C: What was that?
K: Federal Emergency Relief Administration. I worked in there for several years and then
the office was moved to Gainesville. I worked over in Gainesville at the University for a
little while. Then I came back to High Springs, and my father passed away and I had
applied with Florida Power Corporation. That same year I was hired with them, in 1934.
C: Well, I forgot to ask you what year you got married.
K: That was in 1938.
C: So it was after you were back in High Springs. How did you meet Otto?
K: He called himself a sweetwater chemist. He worked in a drugstore here for years and
years and years. Then he left the drugstore, and he and his brother went into business
together. His father had a grocery and meat market for many, many years, and all the
boys had worked in it, of course. His father retired at this time so Cecil and Otto went
into business together.
C: Now, who's Cecil?
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 6
July 7, 1995
K: His brother.
C: So then you had a son in 1946 and then he had a very tragic death in 1973, as I read, but
you continued to work?
K: Yes, I was off for five years, but they asked if I would please come back and help them
get straightened out. I went back and worked then until 1974. That was the year after we
lost John, and I got to a point where I couldn't think straight so I just had to leave.
C: Tell me something about the Gracy family. That's an old Gracy family and maybe a little
bit about your own mother, who was a sister-in-law to L.C. Gracy. Your mother's name
was Winnie Mai Stephens, and Winnie Mai and Margaret Stephens were both from Troy,
Tennessee. Margaret married Luther Columbus Gracy and lived in High Springs for a
time but then she had moved to Gainesville, I guess they were still living in High Springs
when your mother came to visit and that's how she met John Neel. I am curious to have
you tell me a little bit of what you remember about Luther Columbus Gracy, if anything.
K: Of course, I was seven or eight when he passed away. I remember him being a real nice
man. He seemed to love children. He was always nice to me, bringing me candy and
stuff. I know when he'd come in his car, that was quite a thrill. He'd take me to ride.
After my father was paralyzed, we stayed over there in Gainesville with Aunt Margaret
and Uncle Luther for several days while my father went to an osteopathic doctor and
Uncle Luther shave him and after he got the lather all over his face he'd
want me to come in there and sit on his lap so that he could kiss me. I was always afraid
he was going to do that, but he never did, of course. He liked to tease.
I also remember one April Fool's Day when we were over there, and Cecil, Uncle
Luther's son and my cousin, put salt in his daddy's coffee. We thought he might be mad
but he wasn't. He took it as a joke. We had a lot of fun with him. They were always real
nice to us, giving us cards, and every Christmas they gave us a turkey. I have a lot of
fond memories, but like I say, I was young when he passed away.
C: You have more memories of Margaret, Aunt Maggie as you call her.
K: Yes, that's true, because I stayed there when I went to business school, and then when I
worked at a little while, I stayed there. They were always real nice
to me, and I know I went to business school at night for a while when Cecil got me a job
at the State Department, with Bill was manager there,
and through his friendship I got a job helping to take inventory there, three other girls and
me, and I went to night school. Cecil would take me and come back to get me, and was
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 7
July 7, 1995
just real, real nice to me. I know after Aunt Maggie was so sick and had broken her hip,
she was here in the hospital and then when she was home, I told Dr. that I
understood she couldn't have company and he said, "You tell the nurse I said you can see
her. It's your family." So I went, Otto took me over there one day and he stayed
downstairs and I went up and the nurse told me that she probably wouldn't know me, so
don't be upset about it. So I went in. It was her birthday, and I had taken her some
perfume and I talked to her, and she said, "I won't be here long." I said, "Dr. Snow said
you were better." So I talked on to her a few minutes and she kind of drifted off as if
asleep, so I went to the bedroom door talking to the nurse and all of a sudden, Aunt
Maggie said, "Where is she? Where is she" The nurse said, "Here I am,. Miss Gracy."
She said, "I don't mean you, I mean my niece, Mai. Where is she?" I said, "I'm still here,
Aunt Maggie," and I walked back and we talked a few minutes and then she drifted off
again. That was the last time I saw here. I was so glad I stayed those few minutes.
C: I bet you were.
K: Then after she passed away, Cecil told me that she had left a letter and requested they
give me a thousand dollars, and I thought that was wonderful.
C: I know she was very fond of you, and her two daughters, my mother, Gladys Gracy Arne
(?) and Maureen Gracy Graham, were a good bit older than you, about ten years, I guess,
and they always had a very special place in their hearts for you.
K: We had a wonderful relationship. We really did. And because High Springs did not have
Ten Cent Stores then, and of course, I would say, "Take me to the Ten Cent Store," and
they would take me to the Ten Cent Store. I used to give recitations as a child and they
would want me to recite when their dates would come. The dates would always bring
candy, especially the Whitman Samplers that had the little, I called them Easter eggs on
them, and they'd say, "Okay, Mai, say something so you can have one more Easter egg."
So I had to say recitation after recitation to get the candy. I remember that, though. And
just the other day I found we called it a back then, and
all that was gone, but that was that little
C: You sure could. Where did you get that?
K: They gave it to me. I don't remember when, but they gave it to me. And then your
mother, Gladys, wanted me to be in her wedding. It was at the Hope
C: At the home.
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 8
July 7, 1995
K: So I was so bashful when I was young and Mother said, "Now, Mai, if you say you're
going to do then you'll have to do it but you can't decide at the last minute you don't want
to." I said, "Mother, She said, "It's nice that she asked you
but unless you're sure you're going to do it, don't say you will." Well, I was scared
maybe I didn't want to do it so I said, "No."
C: So you weren't in the wedding?
C: That's too bad.
K: Do you have pictures of your mother in her wedding dress?
C: I have a picture of my mother in her wedding dress.
K: Well, I have one somewhere.
C: We'll have to check that out, too. Gainesville -- tell me what you remember about
Gainesville. There were very few cars. I think L.C. Gracy had the second car in
Gainesville, and you got to ride in it some and that was a real treat.
K: Oh, yes. That had gold curtains you had to put up, you know, if it started to rain. They
used to come quite often and stop, especially when my father was in the hospital, they'd
stop to see how we were getting along. As I was telling you earlier today, I remember
once when he stopped and I had a loose tooth. Mother mentioned it to him, and he said,
"I've got pliers out there in the car. I'll get them and we'll get rid of that tooth." I was so
afraid of the pliers, but he didn't. He was just teasing.
C: Well, there were a lot of horse and buggies in Gainesville at that time, too.
K: I guess so.
C: Do you remember horse and buggies around High Springs?
K: Not particularly. I remember maybe a wagon or two.
C: Most everybody walked where they wanted to go, I guess.
K: That's right.
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 9
July 7, 1995
C: Like you said, there was a train you could take from High Springs to Gainesville.
K: Oh, yes, yes. We had two or three trains through here.
C: That would take you to Gainesville?
K: Both north and south. You had to change at Burnett's Lake to go to Gainesville. You
had to change trains there. That train went on to St. Petersburg. It went through
Gainesville. Of course, at that time the railroad track was down Main Street, and the
White House Hotel was there. And the train would stop there and people would get off
and go there to eat. The train would go on up to the station and would back up to the
White House to pick up the people, after they'd finish eating, and take them on to
wherever they were going. And if you were going to Aunt Maggie's, you'd get off at the
White House Hotel because it was just down the street.
C: So that's the way you got back and forth.
K: Yes. And when I was going to business school I had the commuter's price. My father
had retired at the time but the company gave me the commuter's price, and it was nice.
One of the boys that me also had a price and quite often we'd ride
together, and I would fix my suitcase at noon and Cecil would take it back to the train
station and leave it so I'd have it later, so I'd gone back up there, and once in a while I'd
get in a hurry and leave a sash or something hanging out, so Cecil and this friend that
graduated with me that would be going home on the train, too, he didn't want to take my
suitcase and said, "Mai, if you don't get all your clothes in here, I'm going to quit taking
C: But you're not talking about Cecil Gracy, you're talking about
K: Cecil Love this fellow was.
C: Cecil Love.
K: But Cecil Gracy, my cousin, would take the suitcase after lunch on to the depot. See, I'd
walk on down there. They never did keep it for me, they'd give it to the agent.
C: Well, things were a lot easier in those days. Everybody knew everybody and took care of
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 10
July 7, 1995
K: And you weren't afraid to go out at night. My neighbor and I talk quite often about when
our children were small, we'd go to the movies, oh a couple times a week, and lots of
times we'd be late getting there and it would be ten o'clock or later when we got out. I
wouldn't dare think of going downtown now.
C: No. Tell me about your trips to Troy. You went to Troy, Tennessee, to see your
grandmother -- now her name was Martha Ann Stephens. You never knew your
grandmother, but you went out there to where she had lived. Your mother was one of six
girls and two boys. Their parents were Martha Ann Stephens and Jeremiah Stephens, and
they lived out in west Tennessee in the little town of Troy, and Mai went out there with
her mother, I guess.
K: I had been several times. Of course, we still had relatives at that time. My brother had
visited there. He and Aunt Maggie went to Kentucky once to visit relatives and on down
to Troy to see more of them. So he told you, "Don't talk about anyone in Troy, because
they are all kin to you." That's almost the way it was.
C: It's still a pretty little village. There were lots of girls and two boys in that family, but
you don't have much recollection of those people because you were quite young yourself
when you went.
K: That's right. Of course, in later years I knew Aunt Dora and Aunt Cora and Aunt May,
and I met Aunt Lizzie. She looked a lot like my mother. I met her on a trolley.
C: And those people are all scattered now. Now, tell me a little about your mother. I don't
really know a whole lot about her as a person.
K: My mother was a wonderful person. I know one time in school -- I've forgotten what
class it was, but our teacher was Mr. Smith, and he was talking about the generations and
girls, if you aren't an improvement over your mother and boys, if you aren't an
improvement over your father, you're a failure. And I said, "Huh." I told him, "I think if
I could be as good as my mother, I would have reached great heights because she is a
wonderful person." She had lots of friends, and if I do say so, everyone loved her.
Children and older people, too. I've heard many people say, "I've never heard a thing
against her." This old colored woman that washed for us for years and years and years,
Sarah Bradley, she would come get the clothes Monday morning. They would be tied in
a sheet she'd put on her head and carry them home, and bring them back that afternoon
and Mother did the ironing. She said, "I've been washing for Mr. and Mrs. Neel since
John was a baby, for twenty years, and I have never seen them fret at each other." That
was a pretty good example. It was a happy, happy family, and even though my father
was paralyzed when I was seven years old, he learned to cope with it. Mother would
Interview with: Mai Kahlich 11
July 7, 1995
explain to us that we weren't to let him get excited about anything because he might have
another stroke. If we got hurt, we were to come to her, and we did. He never
complained. He didn't fuss or anything. He still was devoted to his church, and we all
C: And your mother taught school in High Springs, I believe.
K: My mother taught what they called back then Elocution. It later was called Dramatic
Arts. She taught in the school. The school was up there on the hill. Later that became
the colored school, but that was where she taught. Then she had a kindergarten here in
the home and for years and years, all those children when they'd come home if they were
in the service, they'd say, "We've got to see Miss Neel."
C: Well, unless you have something else to tell me that I haven't thought to ask you about,
I'll thank you very much.
K: I think I've gone on too much. I didn't mean to go on like this, but these things kept
coming to me. I hope it will be helpful to you.
C: Well, we've enjoyed it very much, and we'll have it transcribed and I'll give you a chance
to edit it and it was interesting to hear about some of the early times in Gainesville and in
High Springs. This is a lovely little community to this day. Thank you, Mai.
K: Thank you.