Clare County Review & Marion Press

Postcard from the Pines: It Takes a Village of Working Women

Working women and women in business are nothing new to this neck of the woods. They are a necessity everywhere and especially if you are part of a community like ours. Every woman who has called this place home was a working woman in some way. Those who kept a home, raised a family, and were involved in a business, service or anywhere outside their home, worked doubly hard. These ladies made a difference, not only for themselves and their families but for all of us. They gave to both family and community, providing better and often necessary things for us all.
Marion Clark 1845-1933, was the first official working woman in our fledgling Village. She was not only the first school teacher, but came to this wilderness to be the camp cook and company store keeper for her husband’s new lumbering company. Mrs. Clark was not afraid to bend her back to hard work. The Clark’s were highly motivated to settle a place and turn a profit while doing so.
Ellen Corwin 1857-1948, of the Corwin Cash Store and Opera Hall fame, was another hard working woman early in our history. Mrs. Corwin was thrown into operating her Marion business when husband Alva died in 1911. He left her with two young daughters, a large, thriving business and a new house, all in need of her support. She rose to the challenge and successfully ran Corwin’s until the mid 1930’s when the Depression and her age forced her to leave. She wisely leased all to her future son in law.
M. Alice Chapin 1866-1957, was another well-known working Marion woman. She took over management of the Chapin farms, her husband’s grist mill and his horse business when he became incapacitated due to a long illness. After his death she continued with the businesses and her residence in Marion. After more than 60 years in the Village, Mrs. Chapin went to live with relatives elsewhere. Having no children, she generously offered her home on Pickard St. to be used as the Village library. Upon her death she left her home and a sizable estate to the Marion Library Association.
The upstairs rooms also housed our first museum. Although her home eventually out-grew the needs of the library and moved into its present location in 1989, we still honor her generosity and the library still formally bears her name. Mrs. Chapin had no children of her own, yet she touched the lives of hundreds through her generosity. She knew it takes a Village.
A great many women worked at Riverside Electric, beginning in 1948. These were truly hard working women, some the sole support of a family. For others the pay check added to the family income and truly made a difference. Some worked on the family farm before and after a shift, some worked to help support another small family business, and for some there was a part-time job. Most employees had children and other family members to care for and worry about. The end of eight hours on the line did not mean that the day was done for these ladies. There was a house to keep, laundry to do and others who needed attention.
Women in Marion have always owned and operated their own businesses. They were the proprietors of restaurants, beauty shops, clothing stores and even the Sun Theater. Esther Martin Ellis, along with her second husband Harry, did a lot of ‘babysitting’ on Friday and Saturday nights from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Kids of all ages regularly attended the movies here, no matter the subject matter or later the rating. Going to a movie at the Sun was truly a big social event. It was an evening ‘on the town’ with your friends and was much anticipated and planned. There were refreshments to be had, gossip to share, hands to hold and maybe even a movie to watch. No one wanted to run afoul of Mrs. Ellis, or the Mr. for that matter.
Mona Wooten Bugbee 1929-2011, first operated the highly successful Eagle’s Nest, the popular teen hangout and lunch counter of the mid 1960’s. She went from being the mom to her brood of four, to being a mom to all. She served up soft drinks, fabulous burgers, a neutral ear or shoulder when one was needed, and a good place for a kid to go in an era when there really wasn’t one in our town. A couple of generations of Marion kids will always have a soft spot in their hearts for the Eagle’s Nest, Mona and her predecessors.
Another working woman who influenced a lot of young folks, but in a different way, was Lola Schumacher, 1917-2002. She was the driving force behind the Marion Food Market, later Bernie’s IGA Foodliner; the first grocery store in our town to put the super in market.
Lola began her grocery career in the 1930’s when she was in high school. She graduated from Marion High School in 1936, married and had her only son, Jack, while she worked. It was the Depression and times were tough. She was thankful for her grocery store job when husband Kendall Nevins was killed in an oil field accident. Suddenly she was a widow with a small child to support.
In 1943 Lola and her husband Bernie purchased what was known as the Lowry’s Store from George Lowry. Lowry’s became the Marion Food Market, and in 1956 expanded to become Bernie’s IGA Foodliner. Marion’s first supermarket was born. In this span of time, Lola had survived crippling polio and a near fatal car accident, yet she still greeted customers each day and did her part to run the business.
From the days of the Marion Food Market through the heyday of the Foodliner, the grocery store employed school aged kids. Someone was always needed to stock shelves, fill coolers and to bag and carry out groceries. Those were the days when such service was given and expected. It didn’t matter if a customer was parked half-way to the bank; groceries were dutifully carried and deposited in the car.
During the twenty seven years the Schumacher’s were in business, they employed countless stock and bag boys. Many saw it as a positive experience, others not so much so. Lola was a fair employer. She let you know what you were expected to do and she let you know if you did not do it. The late Dr. Peter Stine, MHS ’57, who spent his teens in the 1950’s in Marion, wrote of his IGA days and Lola in a 1999 issue of the Millennium.
“Sometimes she made me feel as if I was in boot camp, but from this faraway perspective, I acknowledge that working up to expectations was good discipline. Lola was never unkind, just determined to get her fifty cents an hour out of Tom Wilson and me. Bless her heart, she even sent me a CARE package during my freshman year in college.”
The IGA building has seen many changes since it ceased to be a grocery in the 1980’s. The former grocery space has become part of the Artesian Springs Medical Center, which in the fine tradition of working Marion women, is owned by Trish McGillis, another in the long line of hard working women and mothers who know that it takes a Village.
Here’s to the ladies and here’s to all of the hard working folks who work on behalf of our times…because it always takes a Village.
During Old Fashioned Days 1966, we had both bagpipers in the parade and carnival rides on Main Street. Note the Ferris Wheel on the left.

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