Rebecca Boies Schroeder grew up without many books. She lived on a farm in north Louisiana, in an isolated area at that time, where she developed a hunger for reading.
She spent the rest of her life feeding that hunger. She died on Sept. 14 at 97 years old.
Schroeder studied literature under author Robert Penn Warren and worked in the library at Louisiana State University. She met a German-American graduate student who was doing research there for his master’s work. They clicked immediately and married in May 1942, embarking on a lifelong academic vice scholastic partnership, said their son, Richard.
Shortly after their wedding, Schroeder’s husband, Dr. Adolf Schroeder, was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was mostly stationed in the U.S., and Schroeder followed him to Florida and West Virginia but returned to her childhood home in Louisiana when she was pregnant with Richard. Toward the end of the war, he was stationed in France and used his native language to supervise German prisoners of war.
Upon his return, the two became graduate assistants at the University of Missouri. Schroeder taught English, and her husband taught German. They would often meet outside each other’s classrooms, their son in hand. One parent taught while the other watched Richard.
Unlike his mother, Richard grew up with plenty of books.
“I could remember going to my friends’ houses to play, and I’d go in there and look around and say, ‘Where are all the books?’” he said. “None of my friends would have books in their houses, and we always did.”
Between leaving Columbia in 1948 and their return in 1969, Schroeder and her family moved to Ohio, Massachusetts and Louisiana in order to teach or earn graduate degrees. Schroeder earned her master’s of library science from Ohio’s Kent State University. Back in Missouri, she used her interest in folklore, literature and the immigrant experience to serve the state.
At age 70, Schroeder volunteered to teach an adult literacy program, but she realized most books for new readers were catered to young children. She decided to use her interest in folklore, literature and the immigrant experience to encourage authors to write books for new, adult readers.
She partnered with the University of Missouri Press to create the Missouri Heritage Readers series. One book in the series was written by her son, Richard.
She volunteered as general editor of the series for two decades. Like many academic wives, Schroeder was already a practiced editor from frequently reviewing her husband’s writing, Richard said. Adolf was born in the U.S. but lived in Germany for most of his childhood. When he returned to the U.S., he had to relearn English, so Schroeder helped make his writing more “accessible” because it was “overly academic and Germanic,” Richard said.
As editor, Schroeder was the spine of the heritage series. She and her husband verified information themselves, drove to towns like Westphalia and Hermann to research and take photos, and sometimes personally paid for the rights to use photographs if grants didn’t cover it, Richard said.
Her Missouri Heritage Readers series was one of the University of Missouri Press’ more important series published, said Deanna Davis, a marketing coordinator for the press. It covered topics such as influential women, African-American heritage and the Trail of Tears.
Once the series gained popularity, Schroeder spent the rest of her life helping people write and publish books. People would come to her with a book idea or draft, and she would encourage her friends at the university press, like former director Beverly Jarrett and former editor-in-chief Clair Willcox, to get them published, Richard said.
“She was a really fierce advocate for her authors,” her son said. “She was spreading not only the story of Missouri, but she was giving people who wouldn’t have written books their voice.”
Schroeder was a founding member of the Missouri Folklore Society when it was revived in 1977 to research and preserve Missouri’s folk culture.
Dave Para and Cathy Barton, who perform folk music throughout the U.S. and Europe, are also members of the society and were friends with Schroeder since the 1970s. Barton said she was the perfect teacher.
“Her breadth of knowledge was so big,” Barton said. “She would always point you in the right direction if you had an issue, a problem or something you didn’t know about.”
Along with her time, Schroeder donated her own belongings to the preservation of Missouri’s folklore and history. She submitted her and her husband’s research material, folk music recordings and book collections to the State Historical Society of Missouri. In 1992, the society awarded Schroeder and her husband the Distinguished Service Award, its highest honor.
“She was mindful of getting it (her collections) in the right hands,” Barton said. “The very best thing we can do in her memory is keep diligently working on folklore research topics and keep collecting folk songs and keep passing it on to younger people. I think that would be exactly what she wants us to do.”
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