Tuesday, June 29, 2021

52 Ancestors - CONFLICT: Jolly and Jeanne

My grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan often mentioned that my mother and her second cousin Andrew Jollette “Jolly” Steppe were great friends. I was puzzled by that. They lived so far from one another that a close friendship did not seem likely. After reading many of the letters found in my grandparents’ attic, I now see the connection.

"Jolly" with his parents 
Vessie and Gilbert Steppe
photo courtesy Gil Steppe

Jolly enlisted in the Navy in 1944 after high school. He was discharged two years later, the same year Momma graduated from Cradock High School. In the fall of 1946, the two enrolled at Shenandoah College and Conservatory in Dayton, Rockingham County, Virginia.

Coincidence? Probably not. Jolly’s mother Vessie Jollette Steppe and Momma’s father Orvin Davis were cousins as well as cousins of some of the most influential leaders of the college: their cousin Leota Sullivan Racy was the college treasurer and husband Forrest Racy was the college business manager before becoming president in 1956. Likely Jolly and Mary Eleanor (aka “Duny”) were strongly encouraged by family to apply.

Jeanne Eleanor Bailey
Shenandoah was a junior college, so in 1948, everyone either returned home or moved on to a four-year school. Duny made a lot of friends at Shenandoah. One faithful “pen pal” was Jeanne Eleanor Bailey of Orange, New Haven, Connecticut.
Eleven letters dated between June 1948 and April 1949 reveal not only their friendship but also the romance between Jeanne and Jolly from almost the beginning to definitely the end.


DISCLOSURE: I checked with Jolly’s children – my third cousins – to make sure they would be OK with my sharing this story.

These are snips from Jeanne’s letters to her pal, my mother.



8 June 1948

What do you hear from George? When is he coming down to see you? Maybe I could hitch a ride with him as far as Jolly’s or wouldn’t he go through Washington? Of course I’d have to take a few days off from work to do that but I’m not going to start working in earnest until fall. I wish the four of us could have a little party sometime this summer.


28 June 1948

Jolly is coming up the fourth to stay a week. I’m looking forward to his visit. He says he has lost [15 pounds.] 

– I couldn’t see scanning the page for those 2 words.



14 July 1948

Your kissin’ cousin was up over the fourth and stayed for a week. I took time off from work and we really had a wonderful time together. Jolly wants me to go to the Jollette reunion the Sunday before Labor Day. Are you going?

Jolly drove up this time but if he comes up again I guess he’ll travel by train as he would make better time.

Just to clarify, Jolly lived in Dahlgren, Virginia. Even on today’s efficient interstate highways, the trip would be nearly 6 hours by car not counting the potential for traffic jams in Washington DC and Baltimore. 

28 July 1948

Jolly was up over the week-end. I guess I won’t see him again until Labor Day. It was his birthday today. I sent him a wallet. I hope he likes it.


22 October 1948

I hope Jolly can get up here early Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. A gang of kids want us to go to a dance with them. It would be a lot of fun and I’d like Jolly to meet them. What are your plans for Thanksgiving?

4 January 1949

[I] suppose you know what your kissin’ cousin gave me -- a lovely watch.



10 January 1949

If Jolly looked beat it wasn’t from being in Connecticut – unless too much sleep disagrees with him, because he did more sleeping than anything else while he was here. I worked every day and so I had to get to bed at a half way decent hour and then he slept late every morning while I slaved at work.

26 January 1949

Jolly wants to see me some week-end soon to talk over things between us so I’ll probably be in Washington (Dahlgren) for a week-end soon. I’m not going down to school then though. Things are too confused between Jolly and me for it to be any fun.

He is probably dating too. I was a little surprised to learn Jolly dated occasionally but I guess all men are alike. (tears)

14 February 1949

Have you seen Jolly lately? I’ve been wondering whether to write him. I guess he would rather just break off completely though.



17 March 1949

No, I haven’t heard a word from Jolly. Just as well I guess altho I would like to hear from him now and then.

21 April 1949

Dear Duny,

I’ve been thinking ever since I wrote you to take a room for me for May Day if maybe it wouldn’t be better to postpone my visit until school is over. Maybe we could have a week at Va beach or such. I haven’t heard from Nancy as to whether she is planning to go and I can always visit her some week-end and you say Peg will be tied up with her Mother and of course there is Jolly whom I think it would be better all around if I didn’t see.

June Carolyn Ashton


The old saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” just did not hold true for Jolly and Jeanne. Maybe it was “Out of sight – out of mind.” At any rate, it seems Jolly was not ready to get serious. He might have broken many more hearts before settling down with June Ashton, a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

As for Jeanne, her death certificate indicates that she became a hair dresser, a career she began during summer breaks while in college.

I like the Jeanne that showed through in those letters. She was funny. I can see why she and Momma got along. I met June, too, so lovely, so kind, so attentive to Jolly’s mother. Jolly made a good choice.


Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Jollette sure was handsome. Momma said he was great fun in college. June was the loveliest indeed! She and Vessie served us the most delicious lunch. One the best days ever.