IIIa: Writing to Clare Vanderpool
Each morning when I read the newspaper (here, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle) I often skip the obituaries but occasionally pick one or two to read. In June, there was an extremely long obituary published for a woman named Florence Esmay Howar, 1905—2011. I'm so glad this was a day I must have had a few extra minutes, because it was one of the most interesting obituaries I've ever read:
"Florence Esmay Howar, 105, of Cheyenne died April 8. She was born July 24, 1905 in Hope, Kan. She was the youngest of six children born to immigrant parents from Budapest, Hungary."
Already interesting. 105!! Born the year before our house was built and two years before my Grandma Watson! Youngest of six with parents straight from Hungary!
"After high school, she won a scholarship to Bethany College Conservatory in Lindsborg, Kan., majoring in voice and piano. After graduation she taught school in Moorcroft. In 1926, she married a career U.S. Army officer, Rhodolph L. Esmay (Rhody). He served in the Mexcian Border War, World War I European Theater and World War II and was Adjustant General of Wyoming for 35 years."
Seriously, a woman who died in 2011 and her first husband served in the U.S.-Mexican War? And, she went to college on scholarship.
"Florence was very civic minded. She founded the Cheyenne Military Wives Club, was a member of Chapter C.P.E.O., Cheyenne Music Study Club, Wyoming Militia Historical Society, board of directors of Women's Foundation of Composers and president of the Cheyenne Choral Society, which presented "Die Fledermaus," the first opera given in Cheyenne in 30 years. [note: Cheyenne used to be a huge opera town. Strange, but true.] She was a Red Cross volunteer and volunteered at the Wyoming Arts Council for 20 years...she was elected to serve on the National Federation of Music Clubs Board, representing Wyoming for 30 years....she was appointed Wyoming's chairman for the bicentennial program at the Kennedy Center..."
I'm tired just thinking about her calendar. The obituary went on to describe how she traveled all over the world, staying involved in the local music scene throughout her life. Oh, and she also walked two miles a day. She had two sons, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She outlived both her husbands (1965, 1993).
Around the same time I read this I also had recently finished reading Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest, which won the Newbery medal for excellence in 2011. That story revolves around the town of Manifest, Kansas—once a vibrant town full of immigrants that had fallen on hard times by the mid-1930s. Ms. Esmay Howar seemed so much like someone that could have been a character in Moon Over Manifest that I decided to make a copy of her obituary and send it to Clare Vanderpool. Why not?
A little while after I sent off my letter, I received a handwritten envelope in the mail from Wichita, KS—a reply! From a Newbery author! I know, I know, she's a regular person—but still. NEWBERY. AUTHOR. It was all very exciting, especially to my extremely nerdy bookworm self.
She wrote a very gracious note, thanking me for sending her the story of this remarkable woman, saying "we should all live so well." Absolutely. Because in the end, this story isn't so much about crazy people who send off obituaries to famous authors, and more about the amazing life of Florence Esmay Howar: we should all live so well.
(She did say she's working on another book, though, hooray!)