Saturday, November 21, 2020

Fairview scholars and the "Walkin' Preacher"

The original of this image from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, scholars and teachers at Fairview School in English Township, is not in the best of condition --- faded and slightly out of focus. And that's too bad because the teacher --- Guy W. Howard (1891-1966) --- is of special interest.

As World War II neared its climax in 1944-45, his best-selling lightly fictionalized memoir, "Walkin' Preacher of the Ozarks," became a nationwide best-seller. A later volume, "Give Me Thy Vineyard," also was well received. 

Howard was a native of the Newbern neighborhood, educated in country schools and at Blackburn Academy near Chariton (doing farm work for the owner to pay his tuition), then studying law with Chariton attorney Walter Bulman.

Rather than following the law, however, Guy ended up as a school teacher and itinerant farmer in Lucas County. This image probably was taken in the neighborhood of 1920 when Howard and his wife, Madge (Herron), and their children were living near Williamson --- long before he achieved any degree of fame.

Madge died at the age of 22 on Feb. 25, 1921 --- a deadly combination of diptheria and scarlet fever --- leaving Howard with three young children, including daughter Virginia, an infant who was taken in by her Herron grandparents.

More than 10 years later and after a failed second marriage, Howard experienced a call to preach and took his sons from Iowa to the Ozarks in 1933 where for the next 10 years, incorporating a third marriage and additional children, he served that region's scattered residents as a Disciples of Christ minister, both teaching school and walking an estimated 4,000 miles a year to preach and serve.

He drew upon those experiences to produce "Walkin' Preacher," described as frank, sometimes funny and not especially "preachy." Although very popular nationwide, it was not welcomed by many he had served in the Ozarks, who felt exploited even through their identities had been obscured during the writing process.

The names of eight students in this photograph are written on the back --- but in no particular order: Marjorie and Billie Wilson; Judith, Celia and Arthur Johnson; Irma Brennaman; Laura Hagg; and Estalene Patterson.

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