If we could ask 1,000 oldsters, natives of Columbia, to name the two most memorable, respected, well-loved people they recall, the names of one man and one woman would pop up frequently.
That’s not just because they were "different," not because they wore unusual garb and rode bicycles on the streets in the days when bikes were just for children. It’s not just because they were important at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
He was Jesse Wrench, and she was Mary Paxton Keeley, fondly called "Mary Pax."
These two brilliant people captured our attention because they were eager to learn and happiest when teaching.
It was not important to them to be seen in the "proper" places; they didn’t have to buy what others bought, to wear the styles they wore. They were busy learning and teaching.
"Doc Wrench" and my father, O.D. Meyers, were friends as directors of the Boone County Cooperative Oil Co.
In the 1930s, they traveled together to a co-op meeting in Kansas and were assigned to a hotel room with one double bed. Dad retired early, but Doc Wrench graded papers in his pajamas until quite late.
Dad roused when Wrench said, "I hope you don’t mind. I sleep raw." He folded his pajamas, turned off the light and crawled in with Dad!
His neighbors called the police one summer day when he pushed the lawn mower in shorts - "underwear," they said. He wore a hair net on his long locks and donned long socks and knickers to teach. He was a widely respected historian.
My memory of Keeley dates back to when I was a child in the University Laboratory School - about third or fourth grade.
Keeley wrote a book called "River Gold," and she came frequently to read chapters to us. We were fascinated by her suspenseful story of boys’ adventures in and around the Missouri River near where she lived.
Her only child, Paxton, was the joy of her life, but she outlived him by many years.
She taught journalism at Christian College before I went there in 1935. When the faculty marched three times a year in academic garb, Mary Pax and I had this in common: We were teased because our mortarboards had red tassels for journalism, and all of the others were black for education.
Much has been written recently about Mary Pax. Her dear friends included Jane Froman and Bess and Harry Truman. She and Wrench rode bicycles for transportation and some drivers ridiculed that. Not I!
She taught journalism informally as if in a real newsroom. She often had groups of students in her home for work sessions. She taught about foreign countries with her many dolls meticulously dressed and adorned to represent their native lands. In later years, she became an outstanding photographer.
Keeley wrote an anonymous article about teachers’ low salaries. When Ladies’ Home Journal published it, that brought a new dignity and more respect for the teaching profession.
She never quit learning and sharing with others. As she aged, she lost her sight. Friends often read the news to her and discussed current events when she was in a care center. She wanted and needed to be informed.
On my last visit to her room, I identified myself and asked, "How are you, Mary Pax?"
"I’m furious, that’s what!" she said. "It’s been six days since" some national event "happened, and no one told me one word until today!"
She held my hand tightly but didn’t speak during her 100th birthday party.
Bored, I think!