Saturday, July 07, 2018

Chariton Rotarians and Ruth (Lash) Neumann

Ruth Lash Neumann
I wish (a) that I could tell you more about this photograph and (b) that photographer J.E. Bates had been a little more careful when he dipped the print in fixing solution back about 1930. As it is, the emulsion is fading and the faces are not as clear as I'd like them to be nearly 90 years later.

The men here probably are early Chariton Rotarians and the women, their wives --- Rotary was a men-only organization at the time. They seemed to have gotten together for a Christmas party, grouped as they are around a Christmas tree and a rather spooky life-size Father Christmas. I recognize Charles Wennerstrum at right in the back row, but no one else at the moment. I'm betting that there are those out there who will recognize more. The young woman seated at center actually may be Miss Lash --- I just can't be sure. Judge for yourself.

Dale Watts, of Montezuma, who brought the photograph to the museum earlier this summer while he and a friend were engaged in a tour of painted veteran memorial rocks in the south of Iowa, called it "Rotarians in Training." It was accompanied by five issues of the "Charotarian," 1929-31, a small newsletter printed for distribution to Chariton Rotarians, and the program for a 1929 Chariton High School production of an operetta entitled "Jerry of Jericho Road."

The items had belonged to M. Ruth (Lash) Neumann, 1897-1991, who was a first-cousin of Dale's father.

Mrs. Neumann was a native of What Cheer and ended up spending most of her life there. But when she was in her early 30s, during 1929, she signed on as music director at Chariton High School and spent the next three years teaching here, departing in 1932.

If you've ever attended a Chariton Rotary meeting you'll know that members almost always spend part of their meetings in song. Back in 1929, although she could not become a Rotarian, the then Miss Lash signed on as pianist for the group during its meetings in the private dining room at Hotel Charitone. Occasionally, she brought along a musical group from the high school to entertain. She is mentioned in that capacity in each of the "Charotarian" issues that had been tucked away among her memorabilia.

Miss Lash left Chariton during 1932 and, in 1934, accepted an appointment as postmaster in What Cheer --- a position she held for more than 20 years, until 1955. During 1943, Ruth married a gentleman some 10 years her junior named Howard F. Neumann, also from What Cheer. 

Howard spent three war years working at the U.S. Army Post Office in New York City, then after the war they settled down to live and work jointly in What Cheer where he served as Ruth's clerk and assistant postmaster. Both retired in 1955 when his health failed. Howard died of a heart attack on Dec. 23, 1962, age 55, but Ruth lived on for many more years --- until Nov. 1, 1991, when she died at age 93.

It fell to her cousin, Dale Watts, to curate his cousin's memorabilia --- and that's how these reminders of Rotary's early days in Chariton came home after more than 80 years.

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