logo



72-year rosary mystery strings Elizabethton residents together

John Thompson • Updated Nov 15, 2017 at 9:57 AM

ELIZABETHTON — “Life sometimes has some curious circles,” Johnny Mills said Tuesday morning after he handed a rosary to Charlotte Dugger.

Mills was referring to a rosary that completed a circle that went from Elizabethton to Italy, then back to Abingdon, Virginia, and finally Elizabethton once again. It was a circle that took 72 years to complete.

Mills said it all began for him a short time ago when one of his friends showed him a small cardboard box, similar to the ones used by jewelry stores.

Mills’ friend said the box had been inside a larger box of items he had purchased at a yard sale in Abingdon. The friend set the box aside for about 10 years. Finally, he went through the big box and found the smaller box.

Tucked inside was small plastic rosary. It seemed to be a rather ordinary rosary, but the old and timeworn box immediately grabbed his attention.

“It had a some cancelled stamps on it and It was addressed to a Pvt. Harry Treadway, 103rd Quartermaster Bakery Co. and said APO NY. It had a date of Jan. 4, 1945. It had been sent from Abingdon.”

“I thought it must have come from some Catholic mother in Virginia sending a rosary to her son while he was fighting in Europe,” Mills said. “Those were intense times and death was very real.”

With those few clues, Mills felt an urge to solve the mystery and find the family of the rosary’s owner. The obvious first step was to go to the Catholic Church in Abingdon and see if church records included an entry for Harry Treadway. The church not only checked its own records, but the records of the other Catholic churches in Southwest Virginia. There was no one named Treadway entered in the records.

With the mystery suddenly widening, Mills decided to ask for help from a friend he knew was an expert mystery solver.

“Amanda Love is with the Bank of Tennessee and she is very good,” he said.

Not long after he provided her with the clues, she called him back with an answer, and it was not from Abingdon, but his own hometown of Elizabethton.

“She found an obit. It was for a Harry ‘Doc’ Treadway.” Mills was shocked. He never dreamed he would know the person at the center of the mystery, but he did.

“I never knew him as Harry Treadway, but I sure knew Doc Treadway,” Mills said. Mills, one of the most successful athletes in Elizabethton history, played football and basketball at Elizabethton High School.

“Our basketball coach was John Treadway and Doc Treadway was his brother,” Mills said. Not only was Doc the brother of the coach, but he was always at the team’s games and always was present in the dressing room when Coach Treadway gave his pregame and halftime talks with the team.

“The two of them always disagreed, it was kind of comical for the team,” Mills said. “Doc would tell Coach that he was wrong and they should try a different way. Coach would say he was the coach and Doc would say he knew more about basketball and maybe he should be the coach.”

While the arguments took time away from making any halftime adjustments, Mills said the disputes between the brothers did relieve the pressure and the teams relaxed.

“Doc was always with us, he would ride the team bus on away games and he and Coach would get into arguments about basketball,” Mills said.

Mills wanted to return the rosary to the family, but he found Doc had died around 1995. Ena, the wife who sent him the rosary, had died about four years later.

But Mills found out that John and Doc’s niece, Charlotte Dugger, had invited Ena into her and her husband Carmen’s home and took care of her for the last three years of her life. Mills felt that was the answer. He could complete the circle by giving the rosary to Charlotte, who had taken care of the woman who had mailed the rosary to her husband.

Mills met with Dugger on Tuesday and presented the rosary to her. “I am not sure why she would send him a rosary,” Mills said. “She was Methodist. I guess she must have thought it was like a piece of good luck.” Dugger did solve one part of the puzzle for Mills. Ena’s family was from Abingdon, so that was the reason it was mailed there.

They then had a wonderful hour talking about her uncles John and Doc and about her husband, Carmen. One story led to another, a happy occasion brought about by a rosary mailed to a combat zone 72 years ago.

“Sometimes life does go in curious circles, especially in small towns,” Mills said. 

Recommended for You