[Transcript of interview with Jo Hensley, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

JR:  My name is John Rutherford and I work for the recollections and connections project for the Springfield library.  And today we are going to be talking on March 2, 2010 with Jo Hensley.  Jo, what would you like to talk about?

JH:  Well, I’d talk about my childhood and right up to today.  I’m 90 years old.

JR:  Where were you born?

JH:  I was born in Savannah, Missouri, four miles east of Savannah on a farm.

JR:  I know that you have an immigrant grandfather.  Where did he come from?

JH:  Oh, he came from Switzerland when he was 15 years old with his family and four brothers and sisters.

JR:  Where did you grow up and go to school?

JH:  I went to a country school near my home, a one-room school.

JR:  Did you always have the same teacher?

JH:  Oh no.  Maybe two years have the same teacher, always change every year nearly, but good teachers.  My sister was older than I am.  She taught me in the eighth grade and I was so thankful about it cause I graduated with honors.  I don’t think I could if she hadn’t been insistent that I learn stuff. You had to pass a test in order to graduate.  It would count as so much of, your grades at school counted as something and then the test counted as something.  That’s what she drilled me on so I would pass.

JR:  And once you got out of school, what did you do next?

JH:  Went to high school in Savannah, Missouri; that’s where I graduated from.

JR:  How did you get back and forth from school if you lived 4 miles from there?

JH:  Well the first year, my freshman year, I walked the four miles back and forth.  But the next year I stayed in town in a house.

JR:  When did you graduate?

JH:  1937.

JR:  How many students were in your class?

JH:  Oh, about 400.

JR:  Oh, it was big.

JH:  Mm, hmm.  Yeah.

JR:  Oh, wow!  Well what did you do after high school?

JH:  I went to business college in St. Joe, Platte Guard, I went there.  I had taken a business course in high school so I went on to business college to get more knowledge. 

JR:  Did you graduate from that college?

JH:  Yes, I did.  I graduated from there.  Called Platte Guard in St. Joseph.

JR:  Did you go to work after college?

JH:  I met a lady at the cafeteria where I worked for my meals.  It was the leading cafeteria in St. Joe and I met a lady there.  She came every day and ate lunch. She asked me what are you doing?  And I told her going to business college.  And she said well you stay with it and in the spring I’ll have a job for you.  And that was good because jobs were hard to get then back in those days.  So that’s where I went after I graduated.  It was Meierhoffer Funeral Home, of all places.  I went there as secretary and bookkeeper; that’s what I had taken in college.  And I was there quite a while.

JR:  What other jobs did you have?

JH:  Well, from there my husband went in the Navy when the war came along so I went to the bakery and checked in the salesmen when they came in.  I would check their money and what they sold.  And that’s where I learned to count money.

JR:  So you were responsible for the finance of the company.

JH:  Yes, to make the bank deposit and that was the Lord’s leading, because when my husband in the Navy out of Norfolk, Virginia I went out there after a while.  He got to be an instructor and so he was going to be there for a while.  So I went out there, and the first day they sent me out to the army base to count money from the post exchanges.  And I knew how to count money so I got a job right away.

JR:  How did you come back to Missouri?

JH:  How did I come back?  Oh, not for a long time.  I worked there about five years worth before I came back.  But I kept that job for about five years and then my husband went to sea.  So I got to go to Houston, and Charleston, South Carolina and then San Diego because I knew he was on a ship and knew if he got on the west coast, he would come in to San Diego and I would be there but he didn’t come in for a long time so I got another job at a freezer store bookkeeping.  And then the war was over with Japan and they sent his ship back and he called he said I’m going home, I’ve been a long time and hadn’t done punch to go home.  I said oh I just got a job.  He said well quit it.  So I had to tell them that I was going home and I couldn’t keep the job.  So that’s what he did, came home.

JR:  And what did you do after the war?

JH:  Well, we went to Kansas City and he went to work for General Motors and I worked for War Assets, they called it, cleaning out the warehouses from the war.  I worked there for a while and then I had my son, so I quit work and he got transferred with General Motors down here.  So we came to Springfield.  Well first we went to Nevada and my daughter was born there, and then we came on to Springfield and been here ever since.  And when the children were older I went to work for IDS, it’s insurance and bonds and stocks, insurance and stocks.

JR:  What kind of community activities did you like to get involved in?

JH:  Well, I belonged to the Lion’s group, my husband was a Lion, and we belonged to Lion’s group.  Of course, I’ve been active in the church all my life and in the church I had was present in the women’s group.  Also I had charge of the church dinners.  Decorating the tables and getting them ready, and getting the food ready for them.  We had a bunch of Sunday school parties at my house.  We always had somebody at our house.

JR:  How big was your family?

JH:  My family, my siblings?

JR:  Once you got married.

JH:  The ones in my family?  My brothers and sisters?

JR:  OK.

JH:  I had one sister and two brothers.  There were four of us.  And then I had two children myself, Bob and Nancy.  My son now has his own business in Hartford, Connecticut.  He has financial services and estate planning and insurance.  And my daughter is a hygienist married to a dentist in Republic, Missouri so I do have her close.  That’s good.

JR:  So you have family still around you here?

JH:  Well, I couldn’t get along without her.  She comes and takes me to different things and on trips.  This summer I went to Kansas City to my grandson’s graduation from dental school.  And now he’s down here doing dental work.  Then later on I went to Indiana north of Fort Wayne to my great, I guess it would be, nephew’s graduation from high school.  And then I went to Nashville, Tennessee to my new granddaughter, great granddaughter, my grandson had a little girl, and went there.  And it seems like I went someplace else; I can’t remember what it was.  But I had got to travel this summer.  But I couldn’t have gone if my daughter hadn’t taken me.

JR:  That’s wonderful to have family who can travel with you.

JH:  Yeah, oh yeah it really is.  We drove all the places except Connecticut and we flew up there.

JR:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JH:  Well, how I met my husband.

JR:  Ok, great.

JH:  When I worked at the cafeteria there was a lady there that worked at the Frog Hop, that’s a big dance place where all the big bands came in.  She said they pay you $20 a night if you go out there, Saturday night, well I never heard of $20 in that day, when we think now, but it was lots of money then.  So I said I’ll sure go with you.  So I went out there and served 7-Up, and people, stuff for the drinks.  They brought their own liquor. You just served the 7-Up.  Well after I worked out there several Saturday nights they wanted me to be an instructor on dance floor.  Men would line up on one side and we’d line up on, then you circle whoever came up, lo and behold it was my husband, I didn’t know then of course.  But I liked him very much and he liked me.  So we danced all evening.  And then we started going out.  So, we went together about two years I guess, then we got married.  That’s how I met him, at a dance hall.

JR:  Do you both love to dance still?

JH:  We did then, mm, hmm.

JR:  Wow, that’s great.

JH:  When we were in Norfolk, Virginia we didn’t have much money.  He was in the Navy and I used my salary to pay for things.  So we’d go on Saturday night up to where the streetcars turned around to go back to the city.  We’d get a bag of popcorn and a Coke and watch people, we were people watchers, but once a month we saved up and we’d get on the ferry going to Baltimore, Maryland.  They had a dance floor and you had your supper in there.  That was our treat for the month.  We’d go up and turn around and come back. It was about an hour I think going up and coming back, but you had a good supper an evening of dancing.  So that was good.

JR:  Wow, that is a terrific story.

JH:  Mm, hmm.  Later on he got transferred with General Motors down here to Springfield.   And that’s, we were here quite a while and raised those children here and they went to Parkville, Parkcrest High School.  Bob was a football player and Nancy was a cheerleader, so that was good.  And then after they were raised we took lots of trips overseas.  When they were home with us we had a motorhome and we traveled every state, and went northeast and southeast, northwest and southwest and saw lots of things and enjoyed the motorhome very much.  Then after they were gone we started going overseas. We went to Italy, and Switzerland, and Germany, Austria.  We always landed in London, England but saw the history over there.  I got to see where my parents come from, my grandparents came from, in Switzerland.  So that was good.  It was kind of [garbled], they called it.  But we saw that, it was lots of fun.  Then my husband got sick and we didn’t get to go anymore.  In 2006 I had a stroke.  I don’t know why but the Lord knows, and He had watched over me all those years so I know He’s watching over me now.  And I never had used my left hand; I thought I never could use it, mm, hmm.  So my stroke was on the right side so I had to use my left hand.  I missed my mouth quite a few times but now I can hit it, and I couldn’t write without practice so I can write my name pretty good.  So you can do things if the Lord helps you.

JR:  The gifts that are passed out are just amazing when you think about it.

JH:  They really are.  So that’s about my story. I loved, when I was little, I loved to climb trees and find out birds’ nests and find out what kind of birds and what kinds of eggs they laid.  I felt so funny if I went someplace and they didn’t know what kind of bird was in the tree.  We had lots of trees in our yard.  And I climbed all over and I knew what bird, what kind of nest, and what color of egg.  I thought it was funny.  Later on in my life I collected birds, I collected birds, lots of birds, but four years ago I started collecting frogs and the reason I did it is frogs never go backward, they always go forward and I was down to Silver Dollar City and I found a little plaque “Fully Rely On God”, it was a frog, it said “Fully Rely on God, F-R-O-G”.  And so I started collecting.  Everybody gives me frogs.  I’ve got so many in my room I’m going to have to move out and let them have it I think.  Then I’ve got two real little frogs in a jar.  Somebody gave them for my birthday; they gave me two little frogs.  I have to feed them twice a week, little pellets.  One’s big, and one’s little.  I named them Freddy and Franklin.  And they always know when it’s time to eat.

JR:  So you’re a pet lover too, huh?

JH:  Yeah, so I’ve got a lot of frogs.  Must have about 60.  So I when I had my stroke I was in St. John’s for six weeks and they were awful good to me, and helped me to learn to walk again.  And I can walk with my cane, but I have my electric chair, and it’s so much fun to get in it.  I’d rather, than walk, I’d rather ride in it.  But then I went to Manor for about a year over there, stayed there, and I heard of this place, assisted living.  I came out here and I’ve been out here since, six, seven, yeah the fall of ’07.  So I’ve been here about three years.  And when they build the new apartments in the back I’m going to live in them.  I have two bedrooms, a living room, and a little kitchen. Mm, hmm.  So the Lord’s been good to me I give him all the praise and glory and honor cause if it hadn’t been for Him I think I’d be dead.

JR:  You have just been a jewel of information today.

JH:  Well, thank you.

JR:  I really appreciate you coming in and sharing some of your memories with us Jo.

JH:  Ok, thank you for listening.

JR:  Sure.

Recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  For more information contact the library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web at thelibrary.org.

[Transcript of interview with Jo Hensley, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]