Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Style and substance

We've been talking a little around Chariton (among those resident now as well as in that great cloud of virtual Lucas Countyans living in exile in exotic places like Florida, Arizona and elsewhere) about Shirlie Yocom, who died in Des Moines on Saturday at the age of 89.

I pulled out the photo here --- taken during 1955 at the big Rotary party held at the Ilion (aka Mallory's Castle) just before it was demolished --- to post elsewhere. If I told you that that I remember Mrs. Yocom most vividly because of her sense of style reflected in how she looked you'd be able to pick her out before I told you that she is the striking woman in black in the center (that's Gov. Leo Hoegh, also a Charitonian at the time, at far right with cigarette in hand).

I didn't know her, just of her, in part because I grew up and attended school near and in Russell. My parents did, however, in a general sort of way. She came to Chariton as a bride after marrying Curt Yocom Sr. in 1947. Although not a physician himself, the Yocoms were, with the Throckmortons, as close as Lucas County came to producing a medical dynasty. Nearly all of us in my generation who are natives were born at Yocom Hospital, delivered in most cases by Mrs. Yocom's father-in-law.

As with all truly stylish people, however, style didn't define her. Nearing 40, she enrolled at Simpson College, earned her bachelor's degree and launched a 22-year-career as an English teacher at Chariton High School --- while earning and working toward advanced degrees. Many of those who remember her most vividly were her students who recall her skill as an educator as well as her empathy and kindness.

Her obituary, which you'll find here for a few days, lists other accomplishments. You'll also see that upon retirement, Mrs. Yocom moved to Des Moines and had lived there since.

In part because of this ongoing conversation, I've been compiling a short list of people with style I've known, but won't share it. You can make your own, keeping in mind that "style" is hard to define, but always recognizable. It seems to be a genetic predisposition since those who aspire to style for style's sake usually fall short. It is not limited by gender; neither great beauty nor extravagant income is necessary and style doesn't make a person better or more worthy. And style is not always reflected in how one looks. True style is, however, always backed by substance.

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