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Hidden letters discovered more than 50 years later

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This image of Jayne Stephens appeared in The Courier-Times July 24, 1968. The article was about Jayne’s involvement in the Lewisville Sunny 4-H Club and how she represented Henry County at the Indiana State Fair in the crafts division. Her project at the time, “Knitting with a Modern Touch,” previously won a first-place award in Brookville.
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A tattered yellow letter is addressed to Denver Clifton of Corryton, Tennessee. The letter was addressed in 1964 by Lewisville, Indiana resident Jayne Stephens.
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Mary Gorman found two letters hidden in this dresser, which she purchased in Tennessee. The drawers have been removed for repairs.
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One of the letters was signed “Love Always, Jayne.”

By KATIE CLONTZ - kclontz@thecouriertimes.com

When Mary Gorman bought an old dresser and started cleaning it up, she had no idea what she was about to discover – letters more than half a century old. 

“I had purchased the dresser because I was buying a house,” explained Gorman, who recently bought the dresser in the Powell/Claxton area of Tennessee. “I was getting everything prepared and needed to get it cleaned up ... I was looking inside and something caught my eye, a little tiny piece of paper. I got down on my knees and put my hand in there and I found two letters.”

Dated June 3, 1964, and June 15, 1964, the letters were written by young Lewisville, Indiana resident Jayne Stephens to Corryton, Tennessee resident Denver Clifton. 

Jayne, who graduated from Lewisville High School in 1969, was 12 and 13 years old when she penned the letters to Clifton, who was around 18 years old at the time. 

The search begins 

The story of the newly-discovered letters was brought to The Courier-Times attention by radio station 105.7 The Hog/1057 News, located in Crossville, Tennessee.

The radio station asked for assistance in locating Jayne and this newspaper was able to track her down and conduct a phone interview.   

Jayne, now 67, resides in Elkhart. 

“I think it’s neat,” she said upon hearing the letters had been discovered. 

Jayne explained she met Clifton during the summer, when her family went to Tennessee to visit her paternal grandparents. However, the two never actually dated, she said. It was more of a summer acquaintance/friendship. 

“My father was from Tennessee,” she said. “The town of Corryton was where my grandparents lived. We would go down there every May as soon as school got out.” 

Back then, kids walked around a lot in the summer because there wasn’t much else to do, said Jayne, who was one of three girls in her family. 

“I looked older for my age. I’m tall and I’m the oldest child,” she said. “I wasn’t boy crazy, but my other two sisters were. You would see lots of teenagers out walking around in the country. We were playing softball or something. I saw this handsome guy, and this fellow, he was older, this Fonzie type, good looking, long hair, slicked back, tall. He had girls after him. I figured he probably had lots of girlfriends.”

No relationship ever transpired, though Jayne said she and Denver continued to talk during the summers when she was in Tennessee on vacation. 

“In those days, when you went on vacation, you saw people and told them you would write them when you got home,” she said. “I don’t think he (Denver) was the writing type.” 

Jayne went on to college and majored in music education. For a time, she was a Lewisville newspaper correspondent and reporter for The Courier-Times, covering the local school board and church news. Named after her grandfather, Lewisville veterinarian Dr. Otis Jaynes, Jayne has one daughter of her own. She is married to Wayne Barker, a retired professor whose career led the couple to their current Elkhart location.  

According to 105.7 The Hog and Nashville, Tennessee genealogy researcher Rickey Godfrey, Denver was born in 1945 and died in 2005 of natural causes. An Army veteran, he was living in Jefferson County, Tennessee at the time of his death. He married his first wife in 1983 and his second wife in 1996. 

A look at the letters 

Gorman said the two letters Jayne wrote to Denver talked about various things, including what Jayne had learned to cook – chicken, cherry cobbler and biscuits. Jayne also mentioned staying in Tennessee longer during her next trip as her father was thinking of selling some of the family’s hogs. 

Jayne also mentioned going on a Girl Scout camping trip, making a dress for 4-H and going to the library’s bookmobile because the library offered prizes for summer reading. Jayne told Denver that the year before, she read 18 books and won a prize. 

One letter signed off “Love Always, Jayne.” 

A personal connection

For Gorman, who grew up in Ohio but like Jayne, frequently visited family in Tennessee, discovering the letters was a reminder of her own past. 

“When I was 14, I met a young man named Ronnie,” she said. “I lied and told him my age was 16. I continuously wrote him for a few years. When I really did turn 16 I was supposed to be turning 18 ... We stopped writing each other because he was going on with his life and I was just starting with mine. We broke up and just kinda of stopped talking to each other. It tore me apart and broke my heart.”

However, in 1990, Gorman moved from Ohio to Tennessee. And almost 40 years later, she found Ronnie again and the two are now friends, as are their sons. 

“It reminds me of me,” Gorman said of the letters. “It just kind of hit home. It was like me all over again.”