A World War II Student Shares Her Story

Martha Simons2.jpg
Martha Simons: Western Illinois State Teachers College Alumn

 

Last year, Martha Simons, a 93-year-old Western Illinois University alum, received a copy of the first edition of The Mirror and The Lamp.  She thoroughly enjoyed reading the articles, getting a glimpse at the present English department, and she was very eager to share her own stories and achievements.

Martha Simons graduated  from Western when it was still a teachers’ college in 1944. Her years in the classroom were influenced by the events of World War II. After graduating, Martha taught English and Latin for thirty years before retiring in 1982.

Martha Simons sent us four remarkable essays about her experiences growing up, attending school, and life after retirement. Below is an essay written by Martha entitled “First Year Teacher”:

 

I was a World War II college student, graduating with a Bachelor of Education with majors in English and Latin from Western Illinois State Teachers College at Macomb, Illinois in June of 1944. Because most able-bodied men were engaged in some aspect of the war, teaching jobs were fairly plentiful since almost every small town had its own high school. Superintendents came to campus and conducted interviews to fill teaching positions. The average salary being offered for an annual contract of 9 months employment was $1700.00. I felt fortunate in signing a contract for $1800.00! This supposedly meant I received a monthly check for $200.00. However, since it was war time, our government had enacted a Victory Tax of twenty percent and the State of Illinois withheld five percent for retirement. My net pay per month was $150.00 for nine months – no pay for June, July and August. I went home to the farm for that interval.

Financially everything was doable. Unlike today’s graduate, I had no tuition loans to pay off. I had a scholarship and I had worked. During freshman and sophomore years, I had lived in the home of a professor and had done cooking and cleaning for my room and board. Many professors had such arrangements often for the care of small children. During my junior and senior years I worked in the college library under one of FDR’s alphabetical programs which paid 35¢ an hour. Even without such programs, costs were minimal compared to today’s standards. As I recall, tuition was $35.00 a quarter, thirty dollars would be forgiven if we signed a pledge to teach in the state of Illinois for three years. Even the remaining $5.00 was difficult to come by. However, it did cover student health services and admission to all college activities. Remember this was the end of the Great Depression years and some men labored for one dollar a day. Wartime prosperity had not yet hit western Illinois.

My first contract was with the district in St. Elmo, Illinois in Fayette County. This town of around 3,000 population was located in the south central part of the state, 75 miles east of St. Louis on old highway 40, between Vandalia and Effingham. It was an interesting community located in agricultural surroundings with poorer soil and thus less productive than the counties I was familiar with in western Illinois. However, during the years I was there, a very productive oil and gas field was active and there was a refinery plant in town. The town was filled with all the malodorous scents associated with the gas and oil business.

The student body of around 300 was a hybrid of students whose families had literally traveled all over the world as they had association with the petroleum industry and those students who hadn’t traveled far from their less than prosperous farms. Even among the farm students there was much divergence among those who had producing oil wells on their land and those who didn’t. The night skies around St. Elmo were always lighted with the many gas plumes that were constantly burned off.

My duties consisted of teaching ninth grade English – the class of 90 was divided into two sections of 45 each. In retrospect, this seems rather daunting except for the fact that in the era, teachers were still respected and were well supported by parents. I don’t recall any major discipline problems. I also taught 2 sections of sophomore English, was the school librarian and supervised 2 study halls. There was another English teacher for junior and senior classes and the history teacher also taught the Latin classes. There was not a department chairman or a curriculum committee. I was simply issued the literature text, and the grammar/composition text and I pretty much functioned on my own. All teachers were expected to help with school functions, attending student activities, taking a turn at selling tickets at plays and games, living a life above reproach, and serving a good example. Most social life consisted of school and church activities – and for an English teacher, grading of compositions took up a lot of time. My fiancé was in England attached to a field hospital, so I wrote to him almost every day – his letters to me usually came in bundles not in the order in which they were written, but much appreciated nevertheless. Occasional trips by Greyhound bus into St. Louis for shopping or entertainment provided diversion. I recall attending a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado by a touring company of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. There was a movie theater in town which also provided entertainment.

My living arrangements consisted of an upstairs bedroom rental in a private home. Another teacher lived in the other bedroom across the hall and we shared a bath. We did our laundry in the bathroom wash basin and had a rack for drying in a large hall.

Our accommodations were adequate, but not luxurious. We ate our meals in the local restaurants which would also pack a lunch for us to carry. Our rooming facility was ten or twelve blocks from the high school. None of us had cars; it was still wartime, so we walked the distance in all sorts of weather. One problem we faced was the cost of hosiery, which we could purchase because of wartime shortages. They were made of a fiber called lisle (a long staple cotton fiber.) The drawback of these stockings was that they tended to sag at the knee and to water spot. On rainy days we always carried an extra pair to change into after walking to school. Most of my wardrobe consisted of clothing I had worn in college because there was a shortage of fabric.

I recall one classroom incident which was unsettling. We relied on the blackboard because none of the technical support aids used presently in the classroom were available to us. I was writing on the board with my back  to the class when I sensed unrest and giggling then erupting into laughter – I wondered if I had sat in something or if my slip was descending down around my ankles when the scent of skunk began to fill my nostrils. A young man seated in the back of the room had run his trap lines that morning and had had to remove a skunk. Warmth of the classroom had increased the scent and he was too bashful to admit he was at fault. His parents were called to transport him back home.

In October of that year, my brother was a captain in the Army Air Force assigned to fly the Hump from India to China, and earned a well deserved furlough home.  Schools were very lenient in allowing time off for me to travel to my family home. I was an inexperienced traveler, but I caught the bus into St. Louis and took a train to Burlington, Iowa where my family met me. Travel space during wartime was limited; the purchase of a ticket did not guarantee a seat. I boarded the crowded train and stood until dining service was concluded and I was able to be seated in the dining car. October of 1944 was the year both teams of the World Series were from St. Louis. The dining car was filled with sports fans travelling from the World Series and some of them had been imbibing pretty liberally. I was naïve and aghast at the behavior. Some men across the aisle from me were drinking beer with raw egg. When the conductor passed through the car, he inadvertently left his pocket punch lying on the table. One of the men picked it up and started punching holes in his beautiful silk neck tie. He seemed amused at the time and it left me wondering what he thought the next morning when he saw the large six-sided stars punched in his expensive tie.

In April of that year we celebrated Victory in Europe. My fiancé traveled home for a thirty-day furlough. We were married on July 22, and in August Japan surrendered after the atom bomb was dropped. Though the war was over, my husband was still in the army and I returned to St. Elmo to teach a second year. By that time I regarded myself as an experienced teacher.

 

Martha Simons currently resides in Colorado Springs, living in a large retirement community in the assisted living facility. From all of us at The Mirror and the Lamp, we would like to thank Martha for sharing her story with us. We hope she enjoys this next edition of our newsletter as much as the first.

Martha Simons
Martha Simons participates in an activity in her assisted living facility

 

Advertisements

How it Began: The Foundations of Western Literary Society

CAM02711 (2)
Members of Western Literary Society gathered for their first meeting of the semester in the Sandburg Lounge

 

by: Dakota Carlson

It was during the Fall semester of 2013 when I was first approached by friend, neighbor, and WIU alumni Benjamin Scott about starting a creative writing organization on campus. The Western Literary Society was started with the goal of bringing together students who enjoy creative writing and reading regardless of their major. Being a founding member and original President of the Western Literary Society, as well as a Renewable Energy: Policy, Planning, and Management  major, Benjamin was a prime example of an individual who particpated in the organization without coming from an English background. He was very much the driving force and mastermind behind the organization. WLS was established to offer a place where writers can gain confidence, and craft their passions among peers. With much of my passion being in the creative writing process, I was very enthusiastic about being a part of an organization like WLS.

WLS has been one of the most important things I have been a part of during my time at WIU. Being able to connect to other writers who have just as much passion for the art of creative writing as I do has meant the world to me. This organization has helped me to build confidence when it comes to revealing my work to others. It has enabled me to show others the work that I would otherwise keep under wraps. More importantly, WLS has provided me with the motivation to write more. Writing can sometimes be a struggle for everyone. By attending WLS each week, I have built the discipline of writing on a regular basis, which is what it takes to be an accomplished writer. You have to sit down and welcome the creativity. If you don’t put the time and creativity into the writing, it is nothing more than ink and page.

This organization has had its ups and downs throughout the past three semesters, especially in terms of its varying attendance. Like with many of the different organizations on campus, it has been tough to get the organization to thrive right from the start. However, with each week that passes the success of WLS continues to grow. It seems that a lot of students have their reservations about this organization with the preconceived notion that WLS is too formal. This couldn’t be further from the truth. WLS is as laid back and open to all realms of work as it gets. We have heard everything from slam poetry to excerpts from novels-in-progress shared during our hour meetings in the Sandburg Lounge. Something that I always try to stress to possible recruits is that there is nothing to be intimidated by. WLS is about pushing one another to be the best writers we can be in a relaxed, comfortable setting.

This past semester was the third semester that WLS has been an active organization on campus and it proved to show the most promise. More and more individuals are reaching out to our organization with interest in expressing their work to others. Striving for the growth of WLS is a tireless process and the will to reach out to more passionate writers will not cease as the group continues to grow stronger.

A Needle Pulling Thread: The Basics of Book Binding

CAM02693
Guest artist Professor Joseph Lappie leads a bookmaking workshop in Garwood 13

Shaggy brown hair, a beard, glasses, and a t-shirt sporting a cat playing the banjo. What could such a man as Professor Joseph Lappie possibly have been doing in Garwood 13 on such an unassuming Friday morning? Using terminology such as guillotine, tail, kettle stitch, and spine there really is only one possible answer. He was leading a book binding workshop, of course!

Prof. Lappie visited Western Illinois University from St. Ambrose University where he teaches a number of courses in printmaking and book arts. His art exhibition, Always Toward the Space and Moment, will be on display in the University Art Gallery from January 17-March 17, 2015.

I was among the fortunate ten to fifteen people allowed the honor of taking two hours off work and skipping a class (sorry Professor Kiebel) to attend the five hour long workshop in which we were instructed in how to measure, stitch, and glue together our own homemade books—also known as every English Major super-nerd’s dream come true!

Right from the start, Prof. Lappie assured us that though we would be learning simplified versions of the types of books he’d be demonstrating how to make, “it will still be sexy.” Unfortunately, the general public does not seem to share Prof. Lappie’s enthusiasm for the aesthetics of books, or libraries would probably be a lot more popular. You must admit though, these little guys are pretty handsome.

CAM02698
Prof. Lappie taught four book binding techniques

As we passed around our materials for the first book, Prof. Lappie explained the purpose of the different types of paper we were being handed. I was most interested in the endpaper. The endpaper, Prof. Lappie explained, is the decorative paper after the cover of the book, but before the actual story. He described it as the pause or breath that a reader experiences before passing from the real world into the world of the book. That’s right, you’ve read correctly: I created portals to another world! I’ll be here all week.

Prof. Lappie taught the gathered faculty and students four different book binding techniques. We started with the Basic 3-Hole Pamphlet Stitch, which covered many of the basic stitching techniques that we would use on later books. After everyone completed the 3-Hole Pamphlet Stitch with minimal difficulties, we moved on to a simplified version of the Japanese Four Hole Stab Bind (which sounds more like a karate move than a book binding technique to me). We then moved from the needle to the glue bottle to make a book using the Drum Leaf Binding technique, which conveniently allowed for a lunch break as our bindings dried beneath the chunks of cement we used to weigh them down. Lastly, we returned to the needle to try our hand at the most complex technique so far, the Link Stitch technique (which I promise you is much more complicated than it sounds).

CAM02695
Some of the materials used to make books. From left to right: Bone folder, needle, awl, waxed thread

Despite how much I enjoyed the workshop and the visual evidence above of my success in creating my own books, I knew right off the bat that this was not my life calling. One of the first steps—threading the needle—took me so long that eventually I had to interrupt Prof. Lappie’s instruction so he could thread it for me. This pattern continued the rest of the workshop. I was always the last one to finish a step and often had to ask those around me how to continue since they were all three steps ahead of me. There’s a reason I’m majoring in English.

With sore fingers and a feeling of triumph I emerged from Garwood 13, my four creations safely stowed in my backpack and my new knowledge of book making safely stowed in my mind. I learned how to bind my own books and through all of the stabbing, pasting, and cutting I never had to pull out one of my emergency band-aids. That makes for a day successfully spent in my book. (pun intended)

Edge Makes Its Official Launch at IDEAS Coffeehouse Bash

wiuqc
WIU-QC English Professor Dr. Malachuk and Senior Christina Sanders-Ring enjoy a slice of cake at the Coffeehouse Bash and Edge Launch.

 

The Edge Launch and IDEAS Coffeehouse Bash proved to be a big success Friday evening, October 24, at Western Illinois University – Quad Cities.

The Edge staff made an official debut of the newest student run publication and first online newspaper to their student body, faculty and administration.

IDEAS upheld the reputation of hosting a creative writing, short story contest in which the student body was encouraged to participate. The winners were announced at the Bash and were given several prizes including Prenzie season tickets, The Book Rack gift cards, WIU paraphernalia and many more.

The first place winner of the Fiction Short Story was contest was Allyson Borkgren with “The Working Dead.” Coming in second was Chloanne Simmering with her story, “Rebecca’s Problem,” and the third place winner was Julia McMeekan with “Rusty’s Grandmother.”

First Place Fic_01
Graduate Student Allyson Borkgren shares her first place piece to a captive audience.

 

The winner of the Non-Fiction Short Story contest was Christina Sanders-Ring with her story “The Last Woman.”

First Place Non-Fic_01
Senior Christina Sanders-Ring shares her Non-Fiction prose.

 

Congratulations to all writers! All of the winning stories and the runners up are published on The Edge under Literary Journal.

A former professor at WIU-QC, John Schulze, attended the Bash and provided a reading of his newly published book, Fertile Ground.

10600481_550923245051822_7179379202375160809_n
John Schulze, a professor at WIU, reads excerpts from his newly published novel Fertile Ground.

 

Under the pen-name of Penn Stewart, Dr. Schulze shared his enthusiasm for reading and writing, engaged with the crowd and set up a table for attendees to purchase signed copies of his novel.

DSC_0157_01
A book signing followed the reading.

 

The highlight of the night was a surprise to Dr. Everett Hamner and Dr. Dan Malachuk, who were honored by their students for their superb support and mentor-ship. The students presented each professor with a hand-made gift representing their respective role in the lives of the student body. A cake, with a picture of the two professors, was cut to celebrate the evening.

1012197_550922928385187_5470993588661963923_n
A cake was made to celebrate the support from two distinct English faculty; Dr. Hamner and Dr. Malachuk.

 

Audrey Adamson, Assistant Director of Student Services, was also honored as a vital individual in the lives of students and more specifically as the support and adviser for WIU-QC IDEAS student group. Adamson was given a small gift of appreciation.

As the coffeehouse playlist played its last tune, the guests murmured their goodbyes and conveyed a job well done for The Edge Launch and annual CoffeeHouse Bash.

Thank you to the Prenzie Players, Comedy Sportz, Terror at Skellington Manor, Milltown Coffee, THEO’S JAVA CLUB, Dead Poet’s Espresso Ltd., and The Book Rack, Quad Cities for the donations.

Our Favorite Books From Our Childhood

I have recently been reminiscing about the amazing books that my parents spent countless hours reading to me throughout my childhood. I have fond memories of my father making silly, monster voices while reading The Monster at the End of this Book. And I remember begging my mother to open the back cover of The Very Quiet Cricket so I could hear the electronic cricket noise that was built into the binding. I even memorized the words of A Fairy Went a Marketing when I was very young so that I could pretend to read the book to my family.

I decided to ask some of my fellow English Graduate students what their favorite books were from when they were a child.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 10.07.47 AM  Julie Kaiser

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 10.09.34 AMJulie Kaiser responded by saying The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka was one of her favorite books. When I asked why she felt so fondly toward it, she responded, “STINKY. CHEESE. MAN.” I guess no further explanation is necessary.

Matthew-2 Matt Harrington

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 10.10.42 AMMatt Harrington said that The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey was his favorite series as child. He says, “Captain Underpants is about a homemade kids comic book that comes to life and deals with problems through the children’s perspective.”

lmm Lucas Marshall

Cloudy_with_a_Chance_of_Meatballs_(book)Lucas Marshall replied by saying that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett was one of his childhood favorites. When I asked why he enjoyed it so much, he responded, “It tells the pleasantly absurd story of Chewandswallow, a town whose inhabitants are quite well fed due to their meteorological pattern of raining food. The book starts out on a happy note, but then the weather gets severe–the raining food reaching catastrophic proportions–and the town takes a turn for the worst–the town school, for instance, has to shut down because a giant pancake falls on it! This book I always found absurd. But I also thought it would be uber cool to make a house out of two giant pieces of French toast, or to use one of them to escape down the river, Huck Finn style.”

Me Cody Cunningham

Cody Cunningham told me his favorite children’s book was one we all know, Peter Pan anBookd Wendy by J. M. Berrie. He continued to tell me about the fascinating book; “‘All children—except one—grow up.’ J.M. Barrie’s classic story of the boy orphan and the nefarious Captain Hook has captured the imaginations of children young and grown for well over a century. Pirates, Indians, and a tribe of Lost Boys inhabit the fantastical isle of Neverland, second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. Their grand tale occupied my dreams when I was Peter’s age and has continued to remind me to see every day through a child’s innocent eyes. ‘To live will be an awfully big adventure,’ Barrie suggests—whether sailing the seven seas or carried out in our own backyard. These characters have withstood the test of time and will continue to do so; for as long as children dare to dream, mermaids will mingle, fairies will fly, and Peter’s shadow will forever outline the London night sky.”

Ivory Towers and Grain Silos: EGO Conference 2014

Written by: Abigail Tichler & Chelsea Brotherton

FullSizeRender

On October, 24th, 2014, students and scholars from across the nation gathered in Simpkins Hall less than an hour after the sun rose. These academics were coming together to present and take part in the Academic Conference held by Western’s English Graduate Organization (EGO) and Sigma Tau Delta (STD).

After 9 am, the group divided themselves into several classrooms to hear panels discuss a wide range of topics from early modern drama to suppression and power in film. After several presentation sessions, the group of presenters and listeners was escorted over to the Multicultural Center to enjoy a delicious pasta bar provided by Sodexo. Around 1 pm, the group was escorted to yet another building, the University Union, to enjoy the Keynote Speech by Dr. Julie Rak.

Dr. Rak, a professor of English and Film Studies from the University of Alberta, spoke for more than an hour on the significance of mountaineering and gender identity. Her presentation “What Does Rope Have to Do with Gender?: Mountaineering Writing and the Life of Objects” examined the history of mountaineering with specific detail to gender norms and tied it to the current views of gender and rock climbing. The captivated audience engaged Dr. Rak in a riveting question and answer session during which the topics of gender normativity, mountaineering, and English studies were discussed.

Once the keynote was completed, everyone was escorted back to Simpkins Hall to resume the remaining two panel sessions, where, again, panel topics ranged from creative writing to diversity and identity in the classroom to place, border crossings, and identity in contemporary Latino/a literature.

At the end of the day, the EGO Conference Graduate Student Award was given to Regan Markley from the University of Central Oklahoma for her paper “Pregnancy and the Great Depression: Meridel Le Sueur’s ‘Annunciation’ and the Sublimation of Motherhood” and to WIU’s Cody Cunningham for his paper “The Dehumanization of Body, Nation, and the Motion Picture.” Lucas Marshall, also from WIU, won Honorable Mention for “Werther the Drama Queen: The Unreliable Narrator of The Sorrows of Young Werther.”

After the awards were given, the remaining group of scholars was taken to the STD Writing Workshop, lead by WIU Associate Professor and STD Advisor Dr. Timothy Helwig.

Screening “Inside Buffalo”: A Commentary on the Ironic and Contradictory

african-americans-wwii-034

There were about 50 other people sitting in the red chairs of the theater. The majority were spaced out, with only a few clumps of whispering students, heads bowed before cell phones; the siren song of extra credit points having lured them into the Sandburg Theater. I, of course, attended because of my interest in the subject matter—although admittedly the extra credit points offered for two of my courses helped sweeten the deal.

Director Fred Kudjo Kuwornu was present at this screening of his documentary, “Inside Buffalo”. When I initially heard of the film screening, I was interested in learning more about the gastrointestinal workings of such magnificent creatures, but I was misinformed in a similar manner to my assumption that “The Secret Life of Bees” was a nature documentary, which led to me staring, mouth agape, in front of a promotional poster decorated with not the strong and studious workers of our ecosystem but instead the smiling faces of utterly boring humans.

What “Inside Buffalo” actually explores are the actions of the African American men that served in the 92nd Infantry Division during World War II, otherwise known as Buffalo Soldiers. Disappointment with the lack of buffaloes aside, I was drawn to this particular film because most representations of World War II document the heroic actions of “real” American heroes and tiptoe very carefully around the ugly truth of the blatantly racist ideology of the time. While posters were printed of the heroic American man, square jawed and broad shouldered, standing in the face of the hate-filled and discriminatory Nazi regime or the ruthless, alien Japanese, the African American was depicted as corruptive, disgusting, stupid, and animalistic (or at least until the United States started a targeting campaign to recruit African Americans to join the war effort, as discussed in “Inside Buffalo,” although this depiction of course promptly resumed when their usefulness expired).

The film itself opens with shots of racial violence and hatred, wasting no time in tackling the subject matter head on. The documentary contained no lingering shots and instead flashed the necessary image on the screen and then abruptly cut to the next. This ceaseless, frantic pace is telling of the scope of the film itself. Director Fred Kudko Kuwornu, in a Q&A session after the film, told the audience how when starting the production of the film, he realized that he could not talk about the actions of the 92nd Infantry Division without also addressing the issue of race relations of the time. This necessitated contextualization is a massive undertaking, and so the documentary attempts to do this by taking the arm of the viewer and dragging them along while sprinting at a breakneck pace past years of history and complex social forces. While it is disappointing that a lot of important information was completely neglected, the emotional response elicited by such powerful images was palpable.

The telling of the experiences of the men who served in the 92nd Infantry Division highlighted many ironies of the time. This was achieved through talking head segments, stock footage, and reenactments. The interviewed veterans of the 92nd Infantry Division divulged how they were treated fairly by the Italians they encountered in their tour of duty, but as soon as they returned home after the war, they were still subjected to the discriminatory nature of American society. This brings up the fallacious lunacy of the entire situation: black men that were discriminated against died in droves to protect white people that were being discriminated against to return home to continue to be discriminated against by those now freed from the oppressive and deadly yoke of discrimination.

Perhaps my appreciation for this film is rooted squarely upon the fact that this film commemorates the sickening hypocrisy, the twisted irony, and the appalling contradiction that permeates the whole of our existence; it grows like mold in every crack and crevice, in every thought and word. We have fought and continue to fight to protect the United States of America—the beacon of liberty and safe refuge for the persecuted. How convenient that our public consciousness sees beneath our feet free soil and not the blood drenched reward of genocide.

However, I found myself in great admiration of the actions of the 92nd Infantry Division. Despite their awareness regarding the injustice of their situation, they still did what they felt they had to do. These veterans fought to protect the democracy and freedom that they were yet unable to attain. Perhaps they are the model for which we should continue to operate in despite our desperate and futile lives—the fight for an ideal in the face of the fact that it may be impossible to attain, paradoxical to desire, or naive to believe.