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Paula Bouton has always been the small town type. Her father was a minister, which meant almost every five years, they would be relocated to another church. Paula’s family lived all around Illinois. “His first pastorate was in Oakwood, then I went to Mount Eerie,” Paula said. “We went to Ridge Farm from my fourth grade year until I was a freshman in high school, then to Robinson where I graduated, then down to Metropolis.”
While living in Ridge Farm, Paula met her future husband, Bob. The two met while participating in Bible Quizzing. “I always loved his personality. He always had a sense of humor. That’s what I fell in love with,” Paula said.
During her Junior year of high school, Paula’s father returned home from a revival in Georgetown with a message. “He said that Bouton boy told me to tell you hi”. Thinking that her dad was just trying to set up her dating life, Paula brushed it off. “Sometimes who dads pick for you to date isn’t who you would pick,” Paula said.
Her father told her that Bob wasn’t the chubby little boy from Junior High anymore. He was now playing football and had slimmed down. “He really was very good looking,” Paul told us.
In 1965, Paula and Bob began dating while attending church camp. Bob was getting ready to go to college, but they remained a couple until a bit of news changed their course. “My counselor at church camp saw the picture that Bob have given me that said ‘With all my love, Bob’. I sat it beside my bunk and she said ‘Oh, you’re dating him too?’ I didn’t like the too part,” Paula said.
After graduating high school, Paula took some time off before heading to college and worked as a nurse’s aid. At the end of the year, she began attending Olivet University, the same college that her father had graduated from. Bob had also attended Olivet, but on a different basis.
“He always said that he didn’t let an education get in the way of a good time,” Paula said with a laugh. “He was a good guy, he just had a lot of fun.”
During her Junior year of college, Bob asked Paula to marry him. The bliss was short-lived as Bob decided that he wasn’t ready. “His break-up speech was ‘Paula, I love you, but I’m not ready to get married. Will you be here when I get back?’ Paula said. “I value honesty, but I probably wasn’t as honest as I should’ve been because I told him that I didn’t know if I was going to be there when he got back, but I did know because I loved him.”
On her way home from work a year later, Bob and Paula happened to meet at an intersection. They hadn’t spoken in a year, but Bob followed Paula back to her house and she got into his car so they could talk. “He said that he was ready to get married. I had a little trouble taking that all in,” she said.
As they continued to talk, Bob mentioned that he also had a date the next day with another girl and it wouldn’t be fair to her to cancel. “But after that he said he was ready,” Paula said.
The couple married in November of 1971. Paula continued to work at Catholic Charities and Bob taught at St. Patrick’s School. While living in Kankakee, Bob decided to make a career change and began working in banking. Two years later on July 14th 1973, the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Bobette.
Wanting to get closer to family, Bob’s father spoke to the President at State Bank, who was able to secure Bob a job and the family moved to Chrisman in 1974. Bob continued to work at State Bank while Paula was expecting their son, Brent. “My father had just passed from a heart attack. I felt like I had to come home. I just wanted roots,” Paula said.
Even though Bob was a wanderer, looking for new exciting things, he knew that Paula would like to settle down. They had found a house on the other side of Chrisman, but it wasn’t in the best shape. “It was pretty run down. It was a frame home and we bricked it. A lot of the windows were boarded up,” Paula said. “It was in real disrepair. Over the years, it became a home place for everyone.”
Living in a small town gave the opportunity to make new friends. Penny Cook has now become a life long friend, having lived just across the street when the Bouton’s moved into town. Dave and Missy Tingley made them their children’s God-grandchildren.
“They’ve been so much a part of our lives that even though our children are not here, I’m still surrounded by people I love and who love me,” said Paula.
After welcoming their son Brent on April 17th, 1975, and leaving State Bank for First National Bank, where he was a loan officer, Bob started thinking it might be time for them to move to a bigger area to find work. Mooney Ford gave Bob a call and asked him to be their finance man.
“Bob thought that this will keep us in the area and he really loved it. The work was always changing. He got to know people in the area,” Paula said.
During that time, Paula started a preschool in her home. Though she was only licensed for ten children, the home was quickly outgrown. “Bob had built a garage and only got to use it as such for about a year before I turned it into a preschool,” Paula said. This allowed up to twenty children to attend. Former Chrisman teacher, Marilyn Fischer helped out at preschool for seven years. “Again, the friendships made were incredible.”
That same year, Bob and Paula started working with the teens in their church. For the next five years, the teens would meet at the Bouton home. “We had twenty-five to thirty kids in the family room. They would sit on couches, the floor, wherever they could sit,” Paula said. The couple taught devotions and served refreshments to the kids. Once a year, they would participate in ‘Celebrate Life’, a sporting event for the youth to participate in all over the district.
“Bob originally had been in coaching, that’s what he had planned to teach. That was a special part of those years.”
After having the preschool for twelve years, the couple felt like they needed a change. With her sister and close friend going through a divorce, Bob and Paula felt the need to go into counseling. “There needed to be something offered to people – getting Christian counseling,” Paula said.
They graduated from Eastern in 1990 with a Masters.
The Bouton’s began a counseling practice later that year, doing mostly marriage counseling, but individual counseling as well. “We were amazed with how it took off,” Paula said. Paula’s undergraduate work in psychology and sociology helped with the counseling. For the next ten years, they had their practice as well as conducted marriage seminars in churches. “We were just really busy with that.”
Things changed in 2000 when Paula was diagnosed with colon cancer. “That changed our lives. I was no longer able to counsel,” Paula said.
After closing their counseling business, Bob became a school counselor in Paris. “He loved Paris because he was working with the elementary and was allowed to do parent counseling. He felt so firmly that it just isn’t the children that needed the counseling and that you needed to get to the root of the problem.” Due to budget cuts, Bob moved onto Danville working with the junior high.
In 2007, Paula’s cancer had returned and went to the lymph nodes. It was still colon cancer, but she lost half of her lung. “Bob was the best caretaker. You didn’t see him in that role, but he couldn’t have been more caring,” said Paula.
In 2009, Bob was diagnosed with melanoma on his abdomen. “They thought they got it all and it was in one encapsulated lymph node.” Though retired and just defeating cancer, the Bouton’s decided they wanted to do something for Chrisman. “It was distressing to us that the town had changed so much in the time we had been here,” Paula said.
In 1974, when they had first moved to town, the square was full of businesses. Some businesses included two clothing stores, a drug store and a florist. “There was just so many things and it was bothering Bob that he saw the town just disappearing. We talked and thought since we had the antiques, it would be fun to start something,” Paula said.
In 2011, they bought the former Yontz hardware store. “The way it was structured and set up, it was ideal for what we wanted.” The whole structure was kept the same, but some minor fixes and cleaning were needed. Hidden Garden quickly became a gathering place for ladies groups and church groups.
At first, the idea was to just serve soups and sandwiches. By the second week of being open, a full menu was added. “We decided to have one meal selection, soup and salad or a sandwich and desserts,” Paula said. Even though the economy wasn’t the best at the time, the restaurant/antique shop took off. “We couldn’t believe what a big calling card that was.”
A year into the business, Bob’s cancer returned, causing it to shut down. “We were actually shut down for two years,” Paula said. While closed, Jack and Judy Wyatt called Paula to asked about starting up a restaurant. “We said, why don’t you just buy the one that’s already here.”
The Wyatt’s had the idea of doing a pole barn set up, but Paula mentioned that the antiques were what drew people in. “We told them that if they bought the building, we would leave the antiques there and sell them on commission.”
After the ownership change, the Wyatt’s decided to keep everything the same way that the Bouton’s had it, serving meals Wednesday through Saturday. “We were so grateful when they bought it and continued it. I was so happy that the last thing Bob did was successful and was able to go on.”
Bob lost his battle with cancer on August 23rd, 2016. “I find that I have a choice. I can either focus on the fact that I lost Bob or I can focus on the fact that for forty-five years, I had the man that I loved in my life and that he loved me,” Paula said. “I prefer to focus on the memories. Sometimes, I think I get a little lost in the memories, but I’d rather be there in the memories and be happy, then find myself unhappy and bitter.”
Bob had a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ lifestyle, which complemented Paula’s grounded demeanor. “Being married to him was like being on a roller coaster and he was in the front car and I was in the back,” Paula said. “He knew what to expect before I did, plus that back car gets whipped around. I was in the back car, holding on for dear life.”
Looking back, one of the biggest disagreements was that Bob had bills spread all over the dining room table. “He would open one and it would just be spread all over,” said Paula. “It’s not that I want the clutter, but if it came with Bob, I would take it like that.”
Three years ago this month, Paula suffered a stroke. It came as a surprise because she was in good health with no high blood pressure or high cholesterol. “I think that probably it was brought on by not knowing how to get along without my husband,” Paula said. She spent a week in the hospital, then another week and a half at Pleasant Meadows for therapy.
In that time, Paula went from paralysis and inability to speak coherently, to being able to walk and talk. The stroke has left her with being off balance and the inability to retain what she reads. She can read the Bible, but isn’t able to remember it, so she has found daily devotionals to read. Paula has also found another way to communicate by writing poetry.
“It’s like God has given me a new way to speak,” Paula said.
God has been Paula’s strength through everything. Both her and Bob’s cancer, losing Bob and her stroke. “When the stroke happened it felt like ‘Lord, isn’t this just a bit much?” Paula said.
Before she left Pleasant Meadows, the team matched her up with a counselor online. The women that she was matched with, she continues to see on a regular basis. “I needed to talk to someone about my life and the things that were troubling. Just the emotions. We all need that. In marriage, we have a built in counselor.”
As for her children, Bobette is married and a professor at Austin Peay State University, teaching adolescent psychology.
Bobette lives in the country on eight acres in Pleasantville, Tennessee. Brent and his wife live in South Beach, California. He has a double Masters in Theology and Counseling.
“I feel very blessed to have been able to spend me life, having been here for forty-seven years,” Paula told us. “I feel I’ve had a really good life. I feel very blessed.”