Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Which Alma Clay do you mean?

Someone asked the other day, "What can you tell me about Alma Clay?" Which brought up the related question, "Which one?"

Alma Clay (left), 1872-1928, the beloved educator? Or Alma Clay School (1900-1970), the building named in her honor by a grateful community just days before her death?

Probably not Alma (Scovill) Clay, who may not have been aware that she shared a name with a Chariton school building when she and her husband, Charles, moved to Lucas County during the early 1960s after he accepted a teaching position at Russell Community School. They were natives of Marshall County, unrelated to the Lucas County Clays, but became valued residents during the more than 50 years they lived here --- until their recent deaths.

Alma Josephine Clay, the educator, was perhaps the most widely respected and universally loved educator that Chariton has produced.

She was born in Sweden on April 9, 1872, to Joseph S. and Anna Clay, and arrived in the United States, and Chariton, during 1881 with her mother and younger brother, Oscar, where they joined their husband and father, who had arrived a year earlier and found a job with the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad.

An 1889 graduate of Chariton High School, Alma taught three years in rural Lucas County schools before joining the Primary Department of the Chariton Public Schools, where she taught for 34 years, advancing to the position of principal.

During those years, she studied at both the University of Iowa and the Iowa Normal School (now University of Northern Iowa) as well as at Chautauqua, New York. She also was an active, dedicated member of the Swedish Lutheran Church, now First Lutheran.

Miss Clay became ill with cancer during 1926 and died two years later on Sept. 26, 1928, at the age of 56. Shortly before her death and at the urging of a grateful community that wanted Miss Clay to know of its esteem for her, the Chariton School board voted unanimously to rename as Alma Clay what had been known as Bancroft School since construction during 1900.

The building continued to serve under Miss Clay's name as elementary, junior high and high school until it was closed during the late 1960s and demolished during 1970. Johnson Auditorium and the Chariton Community Center currently stand on the old Alma Clay site.

More about the Alma Clay building, another time.

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