October 26, 2006
Nashville--- Most people would like to have a better memory, but as they age, they can loose some of it, except for a man who lives in Berrien County. You could call him a historical whiz, who amazes people with his knowledge of family history.
Spend a few minutes with Johnny Pat Webb and you'll realize he's seen a lot more than most people-- from the days of ox carts to a man who walked on the moon, and the space shuttle.
A person's reputation can cut both ways. Want to know about someone in a small town? Start with a visit to the local barber shop, and ask: 'Who is the county's unofficial historian?'
"I'd go to Johnny Pat Webb," says local barber Ronald Griner.
"He's a book of knowledge. He knows anything about Berrien County," says Iva Nash, deputy clerk of superior court with a smile.
Johnny Pat Web married her and her husband years ago. "I feel like an old rooster," says Johnny Pat Webb, retired senior probate judge, who at 90 years young, witnessed amazing changes in his world. "I've gone from ox cart and donkeys to the Model T Fords, to the Model As, Cadillacs all the way to the moon."
And walking all the way to school, nine miles round trip, and believes the school lunch program is one of the greatest things to have happened in his lifetime, along with paved roads. "That's right," says Johnny Pat.
He remembers true stories about families as if they happened yesterday. "Horse thief. Bank robber. If it's in the family I tell them," says Johnny Pat proudly.
Family members seek his knowledge about their deceased family members that he often relays off the top of his head.
If, for some reason, he doesn't remember, he can research the family name with hundreds of file boxes and books of knowledge that hold precious memories, "I Thomas Mobley," says Johnny Pat, reading from one of the books.
He particularly enjoys reading from the first will ever probated in the county. "Being afflicted and knowing that I must shortly depart this life," reads Johnny Pat.
He doesn't shy away from telling a story on himself. Take the first time he tasted a soft drink. "I tried to swallow it, about that time I had to belch and half of it came out through my nose and burnt me so bad I didn't know if lightening had struck me, or what hit me," says Johnny Pat.
As Probate Judge, Johnny Pat Webb estimates that he has performed at least 4,600 weddings at various places from gazeboes, to homes and one time at a farm pond. "It's a privilege that I can help people," says Johnny Pat.
He doesn't call himself the county's unofficial historian, even shies away from the title. "They tagged me as that," says Johnny Pat who has seen more changes than most people will ever see in a lifetime and could write a book about them.
What makes his memory so good at age 90? He credits drinking plenty of chocolate milk and orange juice, but very little water. And he enjoys the fat on steak a little more than the steak itself.
He continues to work part time in the Berrien County Probate Court's office.