Mary Alice Hadley demurs for a moment when asked about the two years she spent as a student at Joplin Junior College. As she begins thumbing through a copy of the college’s 1947 yearbook, however, the memories come flooding back.
Today, Hadley lives alone in a retirement village in Lee’s Summit, Mo. But 71 years ago, she was a Neosho High School graduate whose firm belief in the importance of a good education was as strong as it is today.
‘THAT’S WHAT IT TOOK’
It was the fall of 1945, and news of Japan’s surrender – bringing World War II to an end – had spread across the country.
“There were five of us girls who commuted to Joplin Junior College together,” says Hadley, who was then Mary Alice Dabbs. “They didn’t have dorms then, so you had to stay at home and commute or live in Joplin.
“One of the girls bought a used Studebaker and we commuted for two years in it. We nicknamed it ‘VJ,’ for Victory over Japan.”
The junior college had a great reputation in the region, Hadley says, and it was an easy decision to attend.
“I had never wanted to be a career woman, but I always felt it was just as important for a woman to have an education as it was for a man,” she says. “I felt that’s what it took in order to one day be a good mother.”
Established less than a decade earlier, the college at Fourth Street and Byers Avenue was seeing a major influx of students as servicemen returned from the military. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the G.I. Bill, which allocated veterans up to $500 to cover tuition, books and fees.
In 1946, enrollment would hit more than 480 – a record for the young college. It was an exciting time, but Hadley says her primary focus was her studies. She was impressed with the faculty, who more than lived up to their reputation for excellence.
“I think back about Edna Drummond … she was the dean of women and taught biology,” she says. “She did more to influence me becoming a teacher than anyone else ever had. “Martha McCormick was teaching in the math department. It was always said that when a student transferred to the Missouri School of Mines (and Metallurgy, in Rolla), staff there always knew if they’d had Martha for a teacher (because of the quality of their mathematics knowledge).”
Hadley joined the Alpha Kappa Mu sorority – serving as its vice president in 1947 – as well as the Young Women’s Christian Association.
Socializing wasn’t high on her list of priorities, however. “We’d drive to school in the morning, go to class, have lunch and drive home around 3,” she says. Occasionally, she and her friends would eat lunch at the Connor Hotel (though it was a bit expensive, she says), and she enjoyed catching a movie in downtown Joplin.
But much of her free time was spent studying or with her boyfriend, Jack, who was a year behind her. In 1947, she was named “Pigskin Princess” in conjunction with Homecoming festivities. Hadley can’t recall who nominated her, but says it likely helped that a number of young men on the football team were from her home town and supported her coronation.
LESSONS PASSED ON
When she graduated from Joplin Junior College, Hadley transferred to the University of Missouri in Columbia to earn her degree in secondary education with a major in biology and a minor in geosciences and chemistry.
She applied for her first teaching position in Joplin, though lost out to a former classmate, Floyd Belk – who would later become the college’s vice president of academic affairs. “I really liked him,” says Hadley. “He was a fine person.”
She took a teaching job in Carthage instead, earning at the time a very respectable $200 per week. Her teaching career eventually lost out to her passion for motherhood. She and Jack were married in 1950 and had four children. He worked for Firestone and the family moved several times, though they always seemed to wind up back in Carthage.
Hadley would later work for 13 years in the accounting department at Bass Pro in Springfield. Having learned the value of a good education from their mother, all four of their children would attend Missouri Southern.
When her husband passed away, she moved to the Kansas City area to be closer to her children. Sitting at her kitchen table on a recent fall afternoon, Hadley says her time at Joplin Junior College may not have been exciting compared to others, but it remains very important to her.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she says. “I wanted my parents to be proud of me. Education was very important to them and I tried to instill that in my children as they were growing up.”