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Local History

Fern Nance Shumate

Fern Elaine Nance Shumate Obituary 

“Fern Elaine Nance was born October 3, 1910 in Montevallo, Missouri, to Mary Huff and Samuel Roland Nance. She taught herself to read at the age of four, to the mild surprise of her parents, and thus began a lifelong love affair with language. After many years of farming, culminating in an unfortunate attempt to bring chicken ranching to Cedar County, her family gave up country life in 1924 and moved to Springfield.

“Fern became fascinated by journalism while attending Springfield Senior High. Immediately after graduation, she joined the staff of the Springfield Press, beginning her career by capitalizing on her youth in a series of ‘Little Girl Reporter’ stories. She soon moved beyond that, writing two regular feature columns and covering front-page events such as the 1932 Young brothers massacre. Her later features included interviews with Amelia Earhart, Will Rogers and Jack Dempsey.

“After the Springfield Press merged with the Springfield News Leader, Fern turned to freelance writing. She wrote feature stories for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and for the Kansas City Star, under the masculine pseudonym 'Anthony Gish,' she authored several short books for Haldeman-Julius Publications, including the cited American Bandits. Also under that name, she became the first woman ever to write for Esquire Magazine and had her work published in the Atlantic Monthly.

“During a short vacation in nearby Galena, then home to a small colony of writers and other eccentrics, Fern’s impromptu interview with Ozarks’ folklorist Vance Randolph began for them a long period of friendship and collaboration. He helped her establish contacts with publishers and with other midwestern writers, including Edgar Lee Masters, Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Rose O’Neill. Acting on his suggestion, she produced in three weeks the short novel ‘Girl Scouts in the Ozarks,' intended for juvenile girls. When the book’s New York publisher, Alfred Knopf, found Fern’s chosen pen name ‘Nancy Nance’ problematic, she changed it to ‘Nancy Clemens.’ Under that name, her next book, ‘Under Glass,’ was published by Vanguard Press. In collaboration with Randolph, she wrote ‘The Camp-Meeting Murders,’ also published by Vanguard, and academic articles that were published in the Journal of American Folklore and in American Speech. She was listed in Who’s Who of American Women and became a member of the Eugene Field Society.

“Entering a family partnership in the Nance Greenhouse in 1938, Fern became an innovative floral designer. Her marriage to Roland Shumate in 1947 and the 1949 birth of her daughter Nancy, whom she surrounded with love and support, marked the beginning of a new period in Fern’s life. She joined Hamlin Baptist Church, was baptized there with her daughter, and taught an adult Sunday school class for many years. A childhood fascination with birds returned and led her to a multitude of bird watching expeditions and to a role in founding the Springfield Chapter of the Audubon Society.

“Following the 1978 death of Vance Randolph, Ozarks Mountaineer editor Clay Anderson asked Fern to write an article about her recollections of Vance. She did so, thus beginning a second writing career that lasted well beyond her 80th year. Writing as Fern Nance Shumate, she contributed an article to each issue of the Mountaineer. Having learned photography from her daughter, she often illustrated those articles with photographs - sometimes conveying her vision of the natural world, sometimes capturing the spirit of an earlier time.

“Fern was preceded in death by her husband, Roland Shumate, with whom, only last year, she was able to celebrate 55 years of marriage, and by her brother Lauren (Joe) Nance, her sister Venice Nance, and her niece Lauren Nance. She is survived by her daughter Nancy Shumate, her sister-in-law Wilma Nance, her nephew Jon Nance and his family.

“Fern once wrote that pioneer women planted garden perennials because ‘these flowers represented a living memory of the old home, something of the past that they could take into an unknown future,’ and that the flowers called into her mind ‘the endurance and strength of beauty.’ As gray winter fades and green spring returns, Fern would be pleased to see her friends plant something of lasting beauty in remembrance of her.”

News-Leader, February 16, 2003.

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