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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

We are looking at several of our county sheriffs this month.

If you have any interesting or humorous stories about one of our tin star heroes, please share them with us.

This week’s article is about Sheriff Claude Kerr – and it will take two weeks to cover this unique fellow.

For starters, Claude had a nickname, “Toar.”

As with all nicknames, there is a story behind the name.

Submitted photo
This is the picture of Claude Kerr that ran in the Cumberland University newspaper in 1948.

Claude was born in 1921 and he was a big child from the beginning – big and strong.

He was always active in sports and played well in every sport he took a liking to. He was particularly good at baseball and could knock the ball out of the park. In his high school days, where all good nicknames originate, he was in the outfield and ran to catch a high fly in his direction. He raced towards the ball, going to the edge of the ball field – and kept going into the adjoining cornfield, where he tore up several rows of corn trying to catch the ball.

The nickname followed him throughout his life, despite being spelled the way it was pronounced as opposed to the way it is written.

Claude was one of the five children of John and Julia Kerr. The others were Martha May, Jarvis, Donna, and Pat.

His father farmed and was active in the community, serving on the Trousdale County Board of Education.

It was John Kerr’s commitment to education that sent both Claude and Jarvis to finish their high schooling at Lebanon’s Castle Heights Military Academy.

World War II broke out right as Claude finished high school and like many young men, he wanted to join up and fight. But his Army physical detected a heart murmur and he was sent back home.

That didn’t stop Claude; he waited a month and tried to enlist again and was again sent home. Undeterred, he continued enlisting and being sent home, hoping that sooner or later the Army would need soldiers bad enough to overlook his heart condition.

He was right – they eventually did take him, but with one condition. He would not be sent overseas and see combat.

Yet, his physical size led the Army to place him in the 300th Military Police unit in Washington, D. C.

There, he often had to guard high-ranking government officials.

It was also there, as a military policeman, that Claude learned the basics of law enforcement. While his father and mother had hoped he would go into law as an attorney, Claude wanted to go into law as a policeman!

The family tells that being in Washington didn’t protect Claude from harm. While on duty he was not only stabbed once, but also shot!

Meanwhile, his brother Jarvis fought in both the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge and didn’t receive a wound!

After the war, Claude returned home and enrolled at Cumberland University in Lebanon.

It didn’t take long for the school’s athletic department to grab him and put him on their baseball team, the Cumberland Bulldogs.

The coach at Cumberland was none other than Hartsville’s Gene McIlwain. Gene had been an outstanding athlete at Vanderbilt and had coached at Hartsville High School! The two men became close friends.

A 1948 copy of the Cumberland school paper features a photo of Claude at bat. Beneath the picture it reads, “Claude Kerr, slugging first baseman of the 1948 Bulldogs, finished the season with a .468 average in sixteen games. In the sixteen games he made 23 runs, 29 hits, and topped the team in home runs. Twenty-one of Kerr’s twenty-nine hits went for extra bases to set a new slugging mark at Cumberland. Never before has Cumberland seen such a powerful hitter.”

Professional sports also held an attraction for Claude.

For a short time, he played semi-pro ball in North Carolina.

He also played several years for the “Hartsville Vets,” a local semi-professional team coached by Gene McIlwain!

McIlwain was an entrepreneur and a farmer, owning several businesses. He saw to it that Claude had a job between his schooling and playing.

And of course, Claude was also falling in love with a local young lady.

Next week, we continue our story.