Reunions special for ’28 grad

Register City Editor

Mildred Chambers

Anyone who knows Mildred Chambers understands that a little sign hanging on a wall near her favorite chair is tongue-in-cheek humor: “The more you complain the longer God makes you live.”
Mildred celebrated her 99th birthday Jan. 15, but even a casual conversation gives ample evidence that God hasn’t made her live to be 99, rather He has permitted her to do so.
Mildred continues to live alone in her compact two-story white house in Carlyle, albeit just a stone’s throw from her son, Gene, and his wife, Naomi. And, in good-natured discredit of the little sign, Mildred said she had no complaints.
“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I never complain to anyone but myself.”
Sunday she will be the oldest graduate at Iola High School’s annual reunion by seven years, having been graduated in 1928. It will be Mildred’s first reunion in years.
“Most of my old friends are gone and my best friend in later years, Pauline (Dunlap), is in a nursing home now,” she said. “Pauline’s husband died a few years after mine (Frank Chambers) and from then on she was the sister I never had. We went on bus trips and did lots of things together. It’s a wonder we didn’t get shot for some of the things we did.”
Mildred never gave any thought to remarrying.
“After my husband died in 1973 I knew I’d never find anyone else who would interest me,” she said.
She and Frank married in November after she was graduated from high school in 1928. He worked in road construction as a cat skinner and blade man. “That’s what he loved to do,” Mildred said.
She was content to be a stay-at-home wife and raised son Gene and daughter, Betty Fitzgerald, who died earlier this year. She enjoyed sewing and still has a machine set up in a handy spot.
“We catch her using it every now and then,” Gene said.

MILDRED was born at Bolivar, Mo., and lived in California for a short time after “Dad decided he wanted to get away.”
She recalled he went ahead of the family and she and her mother, along with three brothers, journeyed to California by train.
“Mom said the conductor told her he was amazed that none of us four little kids caused a fuss along the way,” Mildred said. “When Mom said so-and-so, you did so-and-so.”
Her parents, Bill and Nola Higginbotham, settled in Iola, near relatives. Her father was hired to manage Stoney Point Farm, east of Carlyle, and during his five years helped build the stone barns and house for which it became known.
Mildred was bright and her mother saw no reason why at age 5 she shouldn’t go to school with her older three brothers, even though there was no class for one so young. “Send her alone and I’ll find something for her to do,” the teacher said.
“I remember in the winter when there was snow, my brothers would throw me on the sled and off we’d go across the pastures to school,” Mildred said.
She was graduated from eighth grade at Carlyle and unlike many young farm girls those days, Mildred got an opportunity to continue her education at Iola High School, taking a bus into town each day. Carlyle was a bustling community then, with three hotels, four taverns, three groceries and the county and township road crew barns.
“I had some good friends in high school,” mainly youngsters from similar rural circumstances, Mildred recalled. “My class was kind of snooty, though. Some of the kids in town wouldn’t have anything to do with the country kids.”
Mildred enjoyed class work, but there was one class — she doesn’t recall now which one — that left her searching for answers.
“The teacher — she always was giggling — told me she’d just give me a grade. I didn’t understand what she was trying to teach us, but she said it didn’t matter, ‘You’ll never use it anyhow.’”

EVEN THOUGH the years have blended into others, the end of World War I, Nov. 11, 1918, stands out.
She was 8 years old and joined her family and hundreds of others in downtown Iola that night for a huge celebration of the “war to end all wars.”
“People came from everywhere, in cars and by buggy and wagon,” Mildred said. “The man in charge of lighting the fireworks to start the celebration accidentally dropped (his torch) into the big pile of fireworks. It all went off at once. There was a lot of fire and people were running everywhere. I remember people got burned and one girl had her face burned real bad.”
To give a little perspective to how long ago 1928 was, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Mickey and Minnie Mouse made their first appearance in “Plane Crazy” and the first regularly scheduled television programming began in Schenectady, N.Y.
Thirty years later, after son Gene had opened a radio and television repair shop as a sideline, Mildred and Frank got the first TV set of anyone in Carlyle.