Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 11, 2020

"Degree by degrees"

Husband Art has often spoken about the fun times he had tagging along with older family members - brother, father, uncles, grandfather - when he was young. They were working, but for him, those times were an adventure. Recently seeing a note Mom had written prompted me to think about a similar experience from 55 years ago.

Mom graduated from Dwight (Kansas) High School in the spring of 1942. The following year, she completed 42 hours toward her bachelor's degree at what was then Emporia State Teachers College. That was enough for her to obtain her three-year certification to teach in Kansas.

She taught first and second grades in Burns from 1943-1946. She met Dad in April 1944, but stalled his marriage proposal for two years so she could use her earnings to help pay the loan on her parents' farm. Mom and Dad married in May 1946, but since the Burns school didn't employ newly-married teachers, she went to nearby Florence to teach first grade the following school year. The Florence school district didn't hire women teachers with children, so once Mom became pregnant with brother Dave, her teaching days went into a hiatus.

I came along next and then Gaila, but all through her years as a stay-at-home mom and a farmer's wife, Mom wanted to complete her college education. From 1957-1959, she took 30 hours of "correspondence courses" - courses she completed by mail, using a portable Royal typewriter to type her lessons.

She resumed her career at nearby De Graff in the fall of 1959, when I started the first grade in Burns. Gaila would often accompany Mom to De Graff, where my sis played with the other school children during recess and participated in art and other activities.

From 1960-1964, Mom taught every day of the school term. But on Saturdays and every weekday during summer sessions, she drove back and forth to Emporia, often car-pooling with fellow teachers.

"It was 120 miles round-trip," Mom wrote in "A Lifetime of Impressions and Remembrances," a memoir she finished in later life. "We drove cars that had no air conditioning, and had manual gearshifts, and had to signal by hand out the window." She'd often smile and say, "I got my degree by degrees" - and it was an accurate description.

The story almost ended in May 1964. Mom, Dave, Gaila and I were on the highway to doctors' appointments when an on-coming car crossed the center line, resulting in a head-on collision. A 10-day hospital stay for Gaila and me and a month-long hospital stay for Mom and Dave followed. We spent that summer recuperating.

But, determined to get her degree, Mom planned a different summer for 1965. Rather than being on the road every day, she opted to live on campus. I was 11 and Gaila was 10. So while Dad and Dave were busy with farm work, Mom, Gaila and I lived in Emporia in a two-bedroom apartment.

The Hahn complex had a courtyard and a swimming pool. We could swim every day! Gaila and I thought we were in heaven! As a bonus, we had a bunch of other kids to play with. At night, we could snuggle into bunk beds, which seemed quite exotic to a couple of young girls who shared a double bed in our farm home.

Not wanting us to be idle, Mom enrolled us in the "laboratory school" - now the Thomas W. Butcher School. I was in sixth grade and Gaila was in fourth grade. Teacher Mrs. May Beard gave me a compliment that has stuck with me my entire life.

"You have the sweetest, most-endearing smile," she told me. It boosted the confidence of this shy, awkward child.

I don't remember much else about the school, although Gaila and I loved the library. She also loved taking "artsy" classes. We both looked forward to going to the vending machines, where we purchased ham-salad sandwiches - a first for us - and Hostess Twinkies and Hostess CupCakes, which produced a weakness for those treats that's stayed with me.

A scrapbook of "treasures" I kept includes a $7.50 receipt for my summer school classes and a list of my five teachers. I also kept my report on the "Ten Largest Cities" in Kansas. Lorraine and Loranda lived in our apartment building and were Gaila's and my first Black friends. Their father was taking summer classes, and another page in the scrapbook has a napkin and party hat from Lorraine's birthday party.

Dad and Dave occasionally spent weekends with us, and we enjoyed miniature golf and going to musical events and plays on campus. Dave worked a short time in Emporia and also enjoyed the pool.

Of course, while we were having fun, we paid little attention to the hours Mom spent on her classes.

And that portable typewriter? Now, it's an artifact of a time long gone. Still, it and the message Mom wrote and rolled onto the typewriter's platen make me think of her many years of correspondence courses, Saturdays and summer days spent driving back and forth to Emporia, and the weeks-long summer session on campus. Her dedication and the sacrifices my parents made so she could make her dream a reality make me so proud.

Top-left: The family on Edla's graduation day. Back (l-r) Dad, Mom and Dave; front (l-r) Gaila and Gloria. Bottom-left: (l-r) Gaila with Loranda, left, and Lorraine at Lorraine's birthday party. Top-right: Edla's Royal typewriter with her note in the platen. Bottom-right: The note written by Edla reveals the family's fondness for family history as it is composed as if written by a curator.

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