Dr. Lee Turley of Bonne Terre, Missouri



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Dr. Lee Turley and his his horse "Old Joe"

Family Physician to 3 Generations
Graduate of Missouri University Medical School in 1890
Began Practice in Bonne Terre, His Home

Dr. Lee Turley, M.D., who practiced medicine in Bonne Terre and vicinity for over forty-five years, died at the local hospital Tuesday night at nine o'clock. Death was due to a complication of diseases arising from a kidney ailment of long standing. However, Dr. Turley pursued his active practice until within a few days before his death. He became ill early last week and was removed to the hospital on Friday. He has the longest record of continuous medical practice of any man in the territory. Dr. Turley was one of the town's most widely known and highly respective citizens. He had lived here all his life. He was in his seventy-fourth year.

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Dr. Lee Turley shortly before his death in 1935

Perhaps no other man was so well known to hundreds of families in town and country. He was their family physician, their friend, and confidant. It was not unusual for him to have patients from three generations in one family and one house.

Dr. Turley was mayor of Bonne Terre before the present incumbent Dr. E. H. Matkin. He was elected and took office on April 8, 1918 and served until April 6, 1920.

The funeral service was held at St. Joseph's Catholic cemetery Thursday afternoon at one-thirty, with Reverend Father G. W. Brinkman, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, reading the service. The body was removed from the undertaking parlors Wednesday to the big family residence at Long and Johnson Streets. During Wednesday and Thursday hundreds of persons, young and old, including babes in arms called at the brick dwelling to pay their respects.

He is survived by his widow, who was Fannie L. Bisch, member of a prominent farm family of St. Francois County. Their children are: St. Vrain Turley, Hamilton Turley, Mrs. Eileen Rickard, Mrs. Crystal Straughn, Mrs. Delphine Beauchamp, Mrs. Ruby Turnbaugh, Miss Vivian Turley, Courtland Turley. One son Hubert Turley died several years ago. He leaves also one brother, Ed Turley, who lives on a farm between Farmington and Libertyville, and three sisters, Mrs. Dr. Barker, Fredericktown, Mrs. Viola Turley, and Mrs. Clara Blackwell, DeSoto.

Lee Turley was born December 6, 1862 on a farm near Big River, seven miles north of Bonne Terre. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Turley. His mother was Emeline Shelly whose family home was Nashville, Tennessee. He attended the public schools and then entered Missouri University School of Medicine, which was in St. Louis, and took his degree in 1890. He returned to Bonne Terre and started practice immediately. He had for seven years the widest practice of any physician in the county. For many years his office was on School Street, south side, at the west end of the business district. After his marriage he built the house on Long Street where Dr. and Mrs. Turley reared their large family.

On February 5, 1932 the Star-News-Register carried a story about Dr. Lee Turley who had then completed forty-two years of practice. On Wednesday of that week, three years ago, he brought into the world the 6,213th baby born under his practice. We reprint our story of that date as a deserved tribute to a remarkable man.

"In this present fast-moving age, one seldom stops to think of his fellow man or of any outstanding achievement not proclaimed by the press of the world unless the individual has departed from among their midst. Then for a time laurels are heaped upon the memory of the departed. In our midst the residents of Bonne Terre have a man, alive and well today, to whom thousands owe their lives and who has administered countless times to an additional thousands of persons, yet he asks naught of them in return, but a living.

He is not a genius nor a Lindbergh to whom the world will pay homage but he has been an angel of mercy to mankind.

Rather than await a time when he is gone to that great beyond to bow our heads in recognition, we wish to avail ourselves of the opportunity to raise our eyes in admiration, look upon and praise one who has unselfishly given of himself and his service for the past forty-two years.

Dr. Lee Turley, Wednesday of this week, delivered into the world the 6,213th baby under his practice. The Doctor who was born seven miles north of Bonne Terre, graduated from the Missouri University in St. Louis in 1890, and has been practicing medicine in this community since that time. During his career he has brought into the world nearly 50% more human lives, than there are residents of the entire city of Bonne Terre.

For nearly thirty-five years Doctor Turley traveled, to make calls, on horseback and even today, there are some of his calls, where part of the trip has to be made in like manner. He has delivered as many as seven babies in a twenty-four hour period and as many as fourteen to one family during his career. He has made but four of his deliveries in a hospital, these being cesarean operations. He has traveled as far as Joplin, Missouri in the course of his work to serve an expectant mother.

Doctor Turley is near seventy years of age, is active and in the best of health and thoroughly unconscious of the fact that he has performed an exceptional service to humanity."

Published by the BONNE TERRE STAR NEWS-REGISTER, Bonne Terre, St. Francois County, Missouri, Dec. 13, 1935.

The following biographical sketch was published in The History of Southeast Missouri, Copyright 1912:

LEE TURLEY, M.D., who is engaged in the successful practice of his profession in the thriving little city of Bonne Terre, St. Francois County, is not only one of the representative physicians and surgeons of the county, but is also a member of one of its old and honored families, the prestige of whose name he has admirably upheld.   The Doctor was born on the old homestead farm, about six miles northwest of Bonne Terre, and the date of his nativity was December 6, 1862.   He was the third in order of birth in a family of nine children, and of the other children two sons and three daughters are living.  The parents were William W. and Mary Emaline (Shelley) Turley, the former born in this state and the latter in Tennessee.   William Wesley Turley was born near Hazel Run, St. Francois County, in 1833, and was the only son of the first marriage of his father, Aaron Turley, who was one of the early settlers of the county and who here continued to reside until his death.   William W. Turley devoted his entire active life to the great basic industry of agriculture, in connection with which, through well directed efforts, he gained independence and definite prosperity, the while he so ordered his life in all its relations as to merit and retain the unqualified confidence and esteem of his fellow men.   He was a loyal soldier of the Union in the Civil War and gave effective service as a member of a Missouri regiment, with which he participated in a number of engagements.   In later years he perpetuated the more gracious memories of this service through his affiliation with the Grand Army of the Republic, and his political allegiance was given to the Democratic party, though he never sought or desired public office.  He was a member of the time-honored Masonic fraternity and was a zealous member of the Methodist Episcopal church, South, as is also his wife, who is now venerable in years and who resides at Melzo, Jefferson county, this state.  Their marriage was solemnized when he was twenty years of age and Mrs. Turley's father, William Shelley, was at the time one of the representative farmers in the vicinity of Hazel Run, St. Francois County.    William W. Turley was summed to the life eternal in 1881, secure in the high regard of all who knew him.

    Dr. Lee Turley gained his early training under the sturdy discipline of the old homestead farm on which he was born, and his preliminary educational advantages were those afforded in the public schools, including the graded school in the village of Primrose.  Later he continued his studies for four years in the academic department of the University of Missouri, at Columbia, and in preparation for his chosen profession, he then entered the Missouri Medical College, at Columbia, Missouri, in which he completed, with characteristic ambition and close application, the prescribed course, with the result that he was graduated and received his well earned degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1890.  Shortly afterward he began his professional novitiate by opening an office in Bonne Terre, and the best evidence of his technical ability, earnest devotion to his work and sterling personal characteristics is that afforded in the gratifying success which he has achieved and the unequivocal popularity he has gained in the community.  He has built up a large and representative practice, has continued a close and appreciative student of his profession, and has thus availed himself of the most approved remedial agents and advanced methods in both branches of his profession.      Though his ambitions have been solely along the line of his profession, Dr. Turley has not been neglectful of civic duties but has ever been ready to lend his co-operation in the furtherance of measures and undertakings projected for the general good and the community, the while he has been found aligned as a stalwart supporter and advocate of the cause of the Democratic party.    He is affiliated with the Masonic fraternity, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Modern Woodsmen of America, and the Order of American Yeomen.  Mrs. Turley is a member of the Catholic church.

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Former home of Dr. Lee Turley (now Sparks Funeral Home)

    On the 25th of November, 1893, Dr. Turley was united in marriage to Miss Fannie Lee Bisch, who was born and reared in St. Francois county and who is a daughter of Theodore and Mary (Storaine*) Bisch, both now deceased.  The attractive home of Dr. and Mrs. Turley extends its hospitality to old and young, and that the young folk of the community enjoy its privileges is assured by the fact that within its confines brightness and merriment is given by the fine family circle of four sons and four daughters, whose names are here entered in respective order of birth:  Storaine* Joseph, Hubert Lee, Julia Eileen, John Courtland, Hamilton Shelley, Mary Crystal, Lois Delphine and Ruby Vincent.  [*Note:   According to Turley family descendant, this maiden name is wrong!  Mrs. Turley's full maiden name was Felicity Mary St. Vrain (not Storaine).  She was daughter of Felix St. Vrain (U.S. Indian Agent) and niece of Ceran St. Vrain (Bent & St. Vrain Forts, Fur Traders of the Old West).  For further information, please contact Susan Parker who is a descent of this family.]   

[The above biographical sketch was published in the History of Southeast Missouri, Copyright 1912] 

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Simple plaque marking grave of Dr. Lee Turley at St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery near Bonne Terre, Mo. 



Bonne Terre funeral home damaged by fire
By T.RESSEL\Staff Writer
DailyJournal, Park Hills, MO,
Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

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A firefighter climbed up a ladder to pull off an air conditioning unit from a third-story apartment in an attempt to further ventilate the burning Shearin-Sparks Funeral Home building.

BONNE TERRE - A century-old building which houses Shearin-Sparks Funeral Home and eight apartments was damaged by fire Tuesday night.

Firefighters were called at about 10:40 p.m. to put out a fire that had extended through the roof.

Firefighters immediately began an interior attack of the building after tenants were evacuated. They crawled through the third floor of the building, where the fire is believed to have started, and attacked the fire.

Bonne Terre Fire Chief Chris Thurman said as they began to make a good hit on the fire from the inside, firefighters on the Farmington ladder truck began to hit the fire from above.

Thurman said it took 20 to 30 minutes to get it under control. However, as they were going into "mop up" mode, the fire started up again this time toward the front of the building. It took another 15 to 20 minutes to completely extinguish the fire.

Firefighters pulled down the ceiling to get to the fire and took an air conditioning unit off the side of the building to help ventilate the burning building.

Firefighters from Big River, Desloge, Farmington, Terre Du Lac, and Leadington assisted Bonne Terre, along with the ambulance district. One firefighter suffered a minor leg injury while a few others were overcome by heat.

"It was a very hot fire," said David Pratte, the Big River Fire Chief.

Pratte said it was also a very difficult fire because of the layout of the building. He said it was like a maze.

"The building is what we call a firefighter killer," one firefighter said.

Bob Jacobsen, an investigator with the state fire marshal's office, said the fire is still under investigation. He said he will be back this morning to check the breaker box, which was in a room on the third floor.

He said an air conditioning unit was just installed that day but he is not going to say the cause was electrical yet.

Jacobsen said the building was equipped with smoke alarms.

He said there were three apartments on the third floor and five on the second floor. He believes at least three were occupied at the time.

One of the residents was arrested for an outstanding traffic warrant through the county.

Officials indicated the top floor had heavy fire and smoke damage while the rest of the building had moderate smoke and water damage.

Larry Gould, a Farmington firefighter, said they were attacking the building from a hole that formed in the roof. He said heavy flames were coming from the roof.

A neighbor called in the fire after her lights flickered in her house. She went to get a candle in case the electricity went off and noticed heavy smoke and an orange glare coming from the funeral home.

Her husband ran inside the building and started hollering "get out!" and "fire!"

He said he saw four people leave the building. He said the police showed up about that time and told everyone to get out of the building.

Officer Steve Poole said he and Officer Alex Shibley forced several of the doors in on the second floor but he was never able to access the third floor because there was a fire in the stairwell.

Initially, neighbors were worried someone was trapped upstairs. No tenants were reported injured.

Linda Shearin, who took over the business in February of 2004 from Sophia Sparks, was visibly upset about the fire. She said she had worked very hard the past year to make improvements to the building.

She was at home watching the evening news when she got the first of several calls that her business was on fire.

"Everybody got out," she said with a sense of relief. "The funeral home was empty. Thank God no one was in there."

Her friend who is a firefighter tried to minimize the damage by covering items that he knew were important to her and the business. After the fire was out, firefighters lined up in a sort of assembly line to remove other items from the building such as furniture and caskets.

Shearin said she was very thankful to her friends and family. She said St. Joseph Church and the church across the street have already offered help.

Dale Sparks' parents, Everett and Lottie Sparks, purchased this property, located at 11 South Long in Bonne Terre, for $9,500 in 1953. The original land grant on the property was signed by President Andrew Jackson and was purchased in 1892 by the late Dr. Lee and Mrs. Fannie Turley from Samuel Murphy.

Dale worked at the funeral home for his parents and later purchased the business from them. After he died in 1985, Dale's wife, Sophia ran the business on her own.

Another fire there damaged a third-floor apartment in the early 1990s. One person suffered smoke inhalation but the damage was limited to one apartment.