The Death of Mrs. Henry Groseclose (7/26/2019)

Would you be surprised to learn that the wife of Henry Groseclose, the Father of the FFA, passed away three months ago? I certainly was. When you realize that the FFA started in 1928 it is somewhat incongruous that his wife died in 2019, some 91 years after the establishment of the FFA. I wanted to publish this Footnote as soon as I learned of the death of Mrs. Henry Groseclose but had just started the World War II series, so I have waited. Since we deviated from the FFA and WWII schedule last week, we will continue to deviate this week. Now for the rest of the story.

Marie Carr Groseclose (Mrs. Henry Groseclose) passed away on May 5, 2019 in Wytheville, Virginia. She was 98 years of age. Marie was born in Bland County, Virginia on January 31, 1921 – only seven years before the national Future Farmers of America was established. She graduated from Bland High School in 1938 and earned a B.S. Degree in Elementary Education from Radford University. She began her teaching career for Bland County Public Schools in 1940 at Oak Dale, a one-room school located at Walkers Creeks. She taught there for three years until she was transferred to Bland school where she taught seventh grade for 35 years before retiring.

Marie married Henry Groseclose in 1947. Marie was 26 and Henry was 55 (Henry was born in 1892 and died in 1950 at the age of 58). She had been his widow for 68 years at the time of her death. According to her obituary, “She was very proud of his role as the father of the Future Farmers of America and enjoyed carrying on his legacy.”

Marie was a great storyteller and historian. In her retirement years, she enjoyed giving presentations depicting historical women. She also volunteered at the Rock House Museum in Wytheville. She was a skilled quilter, a devoted Hokie fan, and an avid bridge player. Until late in life she belonged to two bridge groups.

The above information is typical of what you see in obituaries. Now, let’s really meet Marie Carr Groseclose and we might understand why Henry married her. The following is a story told by Marie to one of her grandsons, George Groseclose, on a drive from Richmond to Bland on December 26, 2004.

The Christmas Shoe Story

Marie grew up in the country in Bland County. There were no immediate neighbors, and her family was poor and made do on very little, as most people did. Marie’s closest neighbor was Mr. Gibbons, who lived in a small house nearby and was very poor. He was an elderly man and unable to do everything for himself.  As part of her chores during her childhood, Marie went to Mr. Gibbons’ house to help him out, mostly taking in wood and fixing up the fire.  Sometimes Marie didn’t feel like going to Mr. Gibbons’, but her mother would always remind her that he needed the help and that it was part of her daily chores.

One day, near Christmas, when she arrived at Mr. Gibbon’s house she found that he had company. A man and a boy were at the house talking to him about hunting dogs. The boy was wearing a sweater that caught her eye immediately.  It was in her favorite color and had a beautiful stitched elk on the front. It was the most beautiful sweater she had ever seen. While the boy’s father and Mr. Gibbons were talking she asked the boy where he got the sweater. He said it came from the store in town.  She asked him how much it cost and if there were any left. He said it cost $10.95 and yes, there were sweaters left, but she had better hurry because they may sell out.

Marie decided then and there that she wanted the sweater for her Christmas present that year. When she went home she looked in the jar where her mother kept the family’s money to see if her mother and father had enough money to pay for the sweater. She saw that there was plenty of money to pay for it, so she asked her mother later if she could buy her own Christmas present that year. Her mother asked her what she wanted to buy, and she told her about the sweater she had seen the boy wearing at Mr. Gibbon’s house and she said that it was for sale at the store in town for $10.95. Her mother said it would be all right for Marie to buy the sweater for her Christmas present, but that she would have to wait until Saturday to go to town, and that she must bring the sweater home to her right away so that she could wrap it and put it under the tree.

Marie could hardly wait for Saturday. When the day arrived, she went to Mr. Gibbons’ house early in the morning to do the chores.  She mentioned to him that she was going to town that day, but she didn’t say anything about the sweater she had seen the boy wearing earlier in the week. Mr. Gibbons asked her if she would mind doing him a favor and take his shoes to town for repair. He said that the soles on his shoes were worn and that he needed half soles put on.  She said, of course, she wouldn’t mind taking the shoes to town for him. He gave her the name of the man who repaired shoes in town and told her the location of his shop where he worked. He said that he would wait right there by the stove where it was warm until she came back.

As he took his shoes off, Marie noticed that Mr. Gibbons’ socks were in very poor condition.  They were threadbare and had holes in many places where they had been darned.  She told Mr. Gibbons that she would be back as soon as she could, but before she left him he gave her $2.30 and said that it was all that he had but he thought it would be enough to cover the cost of the half soles on his shoes.

When she arrived in town she found the shoe repair shop and she went inside.  She told the shoe repairman that Mr. Gibbons had asked her to take his shoes to town for half soles.  She asked him if he could repair the shoes that day while she was at the store and whether the $2.30 Mr. Gibbons had given her was enough money to pay for it. The man said that he knew Mr. Gibbons, and that, yes, he could put half soles on that day. He said that the $2.30 would be enough to cover the cost.

Marie then left the shoe repairman and went to the store where the boy had said the sweater was sold.  She was so relieved to find the beautiful sweater she had wanted so badly.  She bought the sweater right away and the salesman wrapped it up and gave it to her. She paid the salesman $10.95 and left the store and went back to the shoe repairman to check on the shoes and to wait for them to be repaired. When she arrived, the shoe repairman said that shoes were too worn to be repaired – that the tops of the shoes had worn so much that there was no place to sew the half soles. He mentioned that he had a good pair of used shoes in the same size, which he showed to her. She asked him how much they were, and he said $13.95. She said that Mr. Gibbons only had $2.30. Marie looked at Mr. Gibbon’s old shoes told the shoe repairman to wait a few minutes while she went to see about some money.  She returned to the store where she had bought the sweater and told the salesman that she had decided that she did not want the sweater. She asked him if it would be all right if she returned the sweater for the $10.95 she had paid. The salesman was very nice and said, yes, she could return the sweater and he gave her back the $10.95, which was the money her mother had given her to buy the sweater for herself.

Marie returned to the shoe repairman and asked him if the $10.95 plus the $2.30 that Mr. Gibbons had given her would be enough for the shoes. The shoe repairman said yes it would be enough. As they were putting the shoes in a bag for her to carry home he said that he would throw in two pair of nice, warm wool socks for Mr. Gibbons, which he also placed in the bag.

Marie’s mother had always told her that if she had good news and bad news to tell someone to always tell the bad news first because the good news would make the bad news not seem so bad. When she arrived at Mr. Gibbons he was sitting by the stove where she had left him.  She told him she had some bad news, and he asked her what it was.  She repeated what the shoe repairman had said, that the tops of the shoes were worn so that he had nothing to sew the half soles to, and that he was unable to repair the shoes at all. Mr. Gibbons said, “That’s all right. Those shoes have plenty of life in them. They’ll do without the new half soles. I’ll get along just fine.”

Marie then said that she had some good news for him, and he asked her what it was.  She said she had a Christmas present for him and she gave him the bag containing the shoes and the socks. He opened the bag and looked inside, and when he saw the shoes and the nice, warm wool socks tears started to stream down his face. He sat there for a few moments before he got up and said that he had a Christmas present for her, too. Marie said, “You do?” He told her to go over to the pillow on his bed and look under it.  She went to the pillow and lifted it up and there, folded neatly, was the beautiful sweater with the stitched elk that she had wanted for Christmas.

Marie asked him how he knew that she wanted the sweater and he said, “You don’t think I didn’t see you eyeballing that sweater the other day. After you had gone I asked the boy if he would trade the sweater for a puppy, and the boy said he would trade me straight up.  So I traded him a puppy.  That’s how I got it.”

She and Mr. Gibbons hugged each other for a long time as tears fell from their faces.

Concluding Remarks

It is somewhat sad that we wait until someone passes on before we remember them and say good things about them. So, don’t pass up the opportunity to say good things to your colleagues and loved ones while they are still alive.

I want to thank Curt Friedel at Virginia Tech and Marvin Hoskey, a retired agricultural education professor in Missouri for alerting me to the passing of Marie Groseclose.