Myrtle Margaret Kirkey

(Contributed by Joan Scism Stark Lowther.)

Myrtle Margaret Kirkey was born at Massena, New York on July 24, 1909, the second of four daughters born to Edward John Kirkey, a farmer, and Elizabeth LaCombe Kirkey, a housewife. A sister, Hazel Florence, four years older, was already a family member and then, each four years apart, two additional sisters Dorothy May and Grace Elizabeth arrived. The family lived on a rented farm at an area called Massena Point. At one point, Edward Kirkey also worked as a policeman.

Myrtle graduated from Massena High School and during her school years was a live-in child care worker for a family that lived in town. This position afforded her the opportunity to attend school in the city at a time when there were no school buses. Most academic courses were required then. Myrtle has frequently reported that she enjoyed Latin but not physics.

Near the time that Myrtle graduated from high school the Kirkey family bought a farm on the road linking the towns of Potsdam and Canton. This enabled Myrtle to enroll for the three-year course of study at the Potsdam Normal School leading to a teaching certificate in primary education. She joined a sorority on the campus but, for the most part, her father transported her daily to and from the campus by early Ford car. In November 1930, before concluding her study, she married Ormonde F. Scism, a recent graduate of St. Lawrence University. Because normal school students were expelled if they married, the marriage was kept secret until Myrtle's graduation.

After a series of temporary positions in and around Massena during the early years of the Depression, Myrtle and Orm moved to Stottville, New York when Orm became Principal of Rossman School. During their time there, and in nearby Stockport, from the early 1930's to the mid 1940's, Myrtle did substitute teaching at several surrounding school districts and belonged to a bridge club. A daughter, Joan Carol, was born in 1937.

During the early war years, Myrtle worked summers in the General Electric defense plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The family moved temporarily to Pittsfield where Joan attended day care. In 1944, they moved to Fultonville, New York where Orm became principal of the elementary and high school there. During the summer of 1945, both took positions in the General Electric defense operation in Schenectady, New York and they purchased a home in Schenectady. When the war ended in Augst 1945, Orm accepted a junior high teaching position in Lockport, New York, over 300 miles away. Myrtle and Joan remained in Schenectady where Myrtle continued her work at GE until November.

After the family's arrival in Lockport, Myrtle had an opportunity to complete a year of teaching in first grade for a teacher who resigned. She enjoyed this opportunity but, by the end of the year, a second child was expected and the family was on its way to live in Nunda, New York where Orm would teach high school science.

The second daughter, Paula Ann, was born in 1947 in Nunda when Myrtle was 39. The pregnancy was a difficult one and Paula was considerably premature, weighing in at 3 pounds and 10 ounces. Myrtle recovered rapidly, however, and within two years was teaching first grade in Nunda. At this point, the family found their ``ideal'' house on Massachusetts St.---small and cozy for Myrtle, but with a large tract of land for Orm's gladiolus empire. It need a great deal of renovation and much of 1949 was devoted to that task.

In 1957, Orm suffered a stroke that left Myrtle not only the sole wage earner but the sole caregiver for a young child an a husband who could not easily help himself for some years. At this time, Joan was just completing college and Paula was 10 years old. Myrtle not only continued to teach but, with Orm's encouragement, completed the final year of college work leading to the bachelor's degree at the nearby college at Geneseo. The additional education enabled her to meet new requirements to keep her teaching job. This turned out to be fortunate since Orm died in 1965 and Myrtle taught for some years, including the time necessary to sponsor Paula's college education.

One of Myrtle's notable characteristics is her propensity for cleanliness; she has always been a meticulous housewife and a good cook. Orm had a proclivity for practical jokes, which led him to arrange situations in which she was embarrassed because she thought guests had discovered dirt she had missed. Her summers were usually spent canning and freezing the output from Orm's garden. One memorable year produced over a hundred jars of pickles, more than any family could eat in ten years.

As a first grade teacher, Myrtle was in high demand. Because children in her classes actually did learn to read and concentrate on their studies, parents requested her as a teacher. Each night she would diligently correct the children's papers, encouraging them to make their letters properly. For holidays, she always had a pleasing bulletin board that fit the occasion. She had little time for hobbies and admitted to being terrible at music but enjoyed playing cards. Even at age 81 she can remember the whereabouts of all the cards in a hand of bridge.

In the twenty-six years since Orm's death in 1965, Myrtle has lived alone in the small house they remodeled, tending it and the large yard by herself. She retired from teaching in 1974 at age 65 and has enjoyed the company of several other widows who are retired teachers in the community. She attends many community functions, including senior citizens groups and church affairs. Occasionally, she ventures off on a trip to visit her daughters, and has even traveled with tours to Europe, Bermuda, and Hawaii.