Austintown woman recalls kindness

1948 Indian visited her dying brother

Kathleen Higham of Austintown tells the story of her young brother Chuckie who died of cancer. Shortly before, he was visited by two major leaguers who gave him a baseball signed by members of the 1948 Cleveland Indians World Championship team.

AUSTINTOWN — Eight-year-old Chuckie Kemble was a typical boy of the early 1950s growing up on the east side of Youngstown.

“He went to St. Patrick School, loved to play baseball and especially loved the Cleveland Indians,” said 68-year-old Kathleen Higham as she recalled her late brother Wednesday afternoon.

In 1952, Chuckie came down with terrible stomach pains, Higham said, and was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer. The youngster died within a month after his diagnosis, his sister said. Before he left, however, an outpouring of goodwill was given to the family, including a selfless gesture from a member of the 1948 world champion Cleveland Indians.

As the Indians made its latest playoff run, Higham took some time Wednesday in her Austintown home to pull down a scrapbook full of photos and news articles about her brother.

“This (the Indians World Series appearance) has brought back a lot of memories,” she said. “Some of them are sad, but many are heart warming.”

Newspaper clippings about Kathlee Higham's 8-year-old brother Chuckie who died of cancer in 1952.

Higham, a retired nurse who now writes short stories and poetry, said an aunt was a Minnesota journalist who wrote about the boy’s suffering, and the story was picked up by the Associated Press and spread throughout the country and the world.

“We got piles of mail and just before he died, we got a visit from the two ballplayers,” said Higham. “It was such a kind gesture because they drove all the way down from Cleveland to visit my brother. It shows you what kind of people they were.”

A yellowed clipping of the newspaper story said that Indians player Bob Kennedy and another major leaguer, Floyd Baker, paid a visit to young Charlie at his home just days before the boy passed away. They brought with them a baseball signed by members of the 1948 World Champion Indians.

“A lot of names are hard to make out, but there’s one signed by a guy named Feller,” Higham said.

Records showed Kennedy was a strong-armed third baseman / outfielder who played for the Indians from 1948 to 1954. He came to the Tribe in a trade during that 1948 season with the Chicago White Sox. Baker, meanwhile, was a third baseman who played for five major league teams between 1943 and 1955.

“All the players are gone now except Eddie Robinson (the Tribe first baseman in 1948 who is now 95 years old),” Higham said.

The signed baseball sat in a showcase on Higham’s kitchen table, in the middle of the old newspaper stories and black-and-white pictures.

“I don’t know why I kept that baseball,” said Higham who admits to not being such a big baseball fan.

Later in life, the woman said she also made friends with another major league player while she and her husband spent winters near Miami, Fla.

“The man was Orlando Palmiero who played for the Angels and Astros,” Higham said. “He invited us over his home and we met some of the Astros. He later told me to hold onto that baseball, Cleveland will win the series again and that ball will be worth a lot of money.”

Higham, who lost her husband James, a few years ago, said she hopes the ball could fund a summer home for her near a lake in Michigan closer to her daughter’s home.

Higham said her husband was a good athlete, while her grandson — also named Charlie — plays baseball for Girard High School.

“I guess I am watching the Indians in the World Series because of my husband,” Higham said, “and my brother Charlie. He had such a gentle and kind soul, and I used to do awful things to him.”

Higham, who ironically was born in 1948, remembers a time when both were lying on their living room floor listing to a scary program on the radio.

“I jumped up a turned it off just as my brother was getting interested in it,” Higham laughed. “I was so mean to him.”