FROM READERS: Mary Ann Anglen, 85, describes her life

Sunday, April 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Mary Ann Anglen

Lauri Murphy writes bios for the Columbia Senior Activity Center's monthly news magazine, "The Talker." The following story, about Mary Ann Anglen, originally appeared in the March issue.

The doctor who delivered Mary Ann Alexander in February 1929 described his successful trip to their home on a rural Howard County road as one of the highlights of his medical career. It had been a rainy February, and there was an area on that road that became impassable as the waters rose. He was able to return to the hospital after her delivery, but that very road was then closed for two weeks due to high water.

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She grew up as an only child, attending a one-room school that was about 2 miles from their home. During her first year, the teacher came by and picked her up, and they rode together on horseback to the schoolhouse. That first report card listed perfect attendance and all “E's,” but there was a notation that she “whispered too much.” For her second and third years at that school, her transportation was her own horse, Nancy. When slick winter roads were a hazard, her father walked her to school and back with the aid of a long stick with a nail on the end for traction. That one-room country school closed, and for fourth grade she was bused to Fayette. The driver, Mr. Dwight, delivered milk in the same van that was used as the school bus and it always smelled of sour milk. She also recalls that they never seemed to arrive on time and the bus riders always walked into class late.

Her mother made all of her dresses, but she didn't particularly care for dances. One time she and a friend went roller skating instead but she didn't tell her mother. The next dance was a formal event and her mother suggested that she “might not want to go roller skating in a long dress.”

After high school graduation in 1947, she worked at the local theater as a cashier. During that time she and Romie Anglen began dating. They had graduated together and he would call to chat, but his father sometimes picked up the phone and called, too. Their voices sounded identical on the phone so she really learned to watch what she said! She and Romie were married in 1948 and in 1949 moved to Columbia. She worked at Crown Drug Store and Romie for USDA as an electrician. Their son, Bill, was born in 1952. In 1959 she started her 34-year claim career with State Farm. Life revolved around work and church-related activities at Calvary Baptist Church, where she taught third grade Sunday school for 20 years. She is a 25-year member of American Business Women's Association and served in several executive capacities, including a term as president.

After Mary Ann volunteered Romie to help with a problem at the Sunrise Optimist Club facility, he ended up joining the club and she joined the ladies' branch, serving as president several times. The USDA offices only worked a four day week at that time, so Romie combined his electrician abilities with his desire to serve others and started volunteering his time to work on church repairs and/or construction projects. That led to many travel adventures as he continued this volunteering into retirement. A church camp in Oklahoma benefited when for three years they spent a week in the spring to prepare it for the summer season and then returned for another week to close it up in the fall. He did the electrical wiring for a church in Sikeston and helped rebuild New Harmony Baptist Church in Salem after a fire. Mary Ann recalls Crane, Ozark and St. Clair as other Missouri volunteer sites. During Romie's absences, Mary Ann had the sole responsibility of tending to their rental properties. They used their motor home to travel to Arizona one winter and work with the Pima Indians who were farmers. For a portion of another winter, the motor home resided in Panama Beach, Fla., where Romie was again working on a church construction/repair project. When he started having vision problems they opted to return to Columbia for surgery. Mary Ann recalls vividly the stress of being the primary driver for that trip home, driving the motor home and towing the pickup.

The projects were organized through Missouri Builders Services, and in one of their 1995 newsletters there was a request for workers to travel to Croydon, England, to help refurbish the administration and classroom center of Spurgeon's College. There was wallpaper to strip and painting to be done, and their hosts were quite surprised that there were women in the work crew. Mary Ann felt the women proved themselves to be quite capable and hard-working. She painted quite a lot and cut wallpaper strips to the required sizes. The bathroom updates the American helpers accomplished unfortunately had to be redone as the English construction codes were quite different. Romie didn't participate in any of the electrical upgrades for the same reason, but it was a rewarding experience and they had one Saturday off to see the sights. They were able to attend Sunday and Wednesday evening services at a Church of England that was within walking distance, and an associate pastor rode her bike to the work site to visit with them on weekdays. There was tremendous local concern about the 90-degree weather England was having at the time because the buildings were not air conditioned, nor were there screens on windows, but the Missourians had left Columbia on a day when the thermostat was registering 100 degrees!

When she asked a gardener his secret to the beautiful roses that grew everywhere, his response was the “clay soil.” She assumed their clay must be very different from Missouri clay! Mary Ann particularly enjoyed talking to some of the older people about the trials of wartime life. One gentleman shared that when it was time for him to be born, his mother was taken away from London. Another recalled that basements of homes or stores became their schools.

When their work assignment was completed, they extended their time and traveled to Scotland and Wales. It was so interesting to learn about other countries and cultures.

In 1996 Mary Ann and Romie decided to return to London to see the sights they hadn't had time for the previous year. Spurgeon's College provided them with dorm rooms, a breakfast and supper meal and a box lunch, but no work duties this time. Informational lectures were held in the morning and then they were free to explore London. Organized tours took them to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Canterbury, Smithfield Market, Wesley's Chapel and the Tower of London. A highlight was being there for their delayed celebration of the end of World War II, which sounds unbelievable but at the actual end of the war, English troops were in Burma. The veterans donned their old uniforms and it was all quite impressive. From London they traveled to France, Italy, Germany and the Swiss Alps. In 2000 they made a third trip to London with Romie's only sibling, sister Rowena. Their travels also included a memorable visit to Israel.

Their son, Bill, and his wife, Margie, live in Paris, Mo. Their only child, Mary B., was killed in an auto accident at age 18. Because her father was a donor organ recipient, she had already completed her own organ donor registration. When Romie died seven years ago, Mary Ann's traveling stopped except for the occasional visit to Overland Park, Kan., for a performance at New Theater. She also enjoys performances by Columbia Entertainment Center and a playhouse in Macon.

She and Romie's first encounter with the Columbia Senior Activity Center was having lunch when the location was the Optimist's Club House. They followed to Parkade Center and then to the current location. For three years, Mary Ann was a regular Tuesday volunteer with the bread sacking and labeling, and working the garage sales. They met Gayle Adams and were very impressed with his welcoming and encouraging attitude about involvement with the center. They supported him with loyal attendance at Friday seminars. Being a State Farm retiree, she is at the senior center for their regular gathering, but having to adhere to a gluten-free diet limits her meal participation. She usually attends the Tuesday afternoon Bible study held there as well. A survivor's group she met through Memorial Funeral Home meets at Golden Corral monthly and she joins them for that as well as local trips each month like touring the Capitol or Bothwell Home near Sedalia.

Know an interesting person in town that you think we should meet? This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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