Bob Mitchell: More women achievers

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

(Continued from last week)

With education holding the importance that it does in any community, it is important to list the women who achieved prominence in Cassville through their efforts. One of these was Eunice Thomas, who began her long career in rural schools of the area and later came to the Cassville campus in the elementary unit. She eventually progressed to the upper grades and succeeded John Q. Hammons as elementary boys basketball coach. She didn’t relinquish the undefeated status of the team for two years.

Eunice, daughter of W.H. “Bill” and Samantha Holman of Cassville, took special interests in the elementary unit, keeping activities going during the difficult World War II years. The Eunice Thomas Elementary School was the first so designated to honor a teacher in the R-4 system.

Leta Smith, a strong member of the elementary school, undoubtedly should have eventually been an administrator. Her husband, Arthur Smith, owned First National Bank in Cassville and was constantly urged by his wife to expand his efforts in new jobs in town. Between the two of them, they saved Cassville a catastrophe when a sewing operation tried to leave town in the dead of night with mortgaged equipment. She later became president of the bank, continuing community interests until she sold the facility.

Strong postmaster

Possibly one of the strongest no-nonsense postmasters in Cassville’s earliest history was Gladys Irwin Smith. Widowed at an early age, she became Cassville’s first female postal official in history. She was no stranger to dealing with the public, being the only child of Ben and Lilly Irwin, longtime owners of Ben Irwin Hotel.

Gladys ran the Cassville facility exactly as the Postal Department wanted the service provided. She always provided the best service possible service that was available for those within reach of her office. She actually was the last postmaster in Cassville to achieve the post through a political appointment. That was the way those things were handled during that time.

First health nurse

Establishment of the Barry County Health Unit came into existence only by a whisker, as the service was believed to be only an expense in those days. That was before Dorothy Hutton, a registered nurse, was appointed Health Nurse to run the unit. Being a local person didn’t hurt and her organizational and service skills quickly gained the support of even the most ardent opponents after a few short months.

Dorothy was quickly recognized for her skills in public health and moved quickly up the ladder to regional and state positions.

Women’s fashion leader

Coming into Cassville late in her fashion career, Gladys Vaughan had a far-reaching view of what Cassville might become. She saw the prospect of her Tex’s Star Fashion business growing until they purchased an old residence at Sixth and Main to build a two-business structure, occupying one side, with Hutton Electric the other.

Glad, as she preferred to be called, was always at the front of civic ventures in town and quite often encouraged others who were slow on the uptake on some projects.

A quiet servant

Constantly going about her duties as Cassville collector of revenue, Opal Santee was generally titled the “town’s quiet public servant.” She went into the office when some irregularities resulted in the existing collector being removed from office. Operating out of the antiquated city hall at Eighth and Townsend, she quickly turned the office around and became a solid public servant.

For some time, Opal attracted competition for the position, with challengers quickly learning it was futile for them to make the effort against her.

The Jemima

Long-time operator of Crystal Caverns, another of the Cassville attractions that should never have disappeared from the scene, Jemima McFarlin was not only a cave operator, but quickly became one of the town’s characters. One of her trademarks was he dark blue, Dodge convertible, which she proudly drove around town. Her frequent trips to Oklahoma on a bus were always broadcast by the vehicle being parked in the Irwin Hotel parking lot. Jemima was a staunch booster for women’s organizations and was determined to keep the cave open and did considerable modernization for lighting and walkways.

The one-time publisher

Last, but by no means least, was my mother, Kathryn Ray Mitchell, who climbed from being a housewife to following her mother as publisher of the Cassville Democrat, a position she held for several years. She lost her husband, Leonard Mitchell, in 1946 while they were living in Springfield. Becoming ill, she returned home and went to work at the paper as a bookkeeper. As her brothers and sisters wanted to dispose of their interests in the paper, she acquired all holdings, and she guided her wayward brothers until I got out of the Navy.

She had her hand in the modernization of the paper, and other accomplishments boosted by the Democrat. Her favorite saying to guide me was with the encouragement, “You oughta” do this, or that, or whatever she might be thinking about at the time.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.