Evelyn Hitchman Divelbiss

Honored by:Mary E. Richards, Ann Richards, Sarah Richards and Robin Richards
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Evelyn Hitchman Divelbiss



Hermia Evelyn Hitchman Divelbiss was born September 8, 1906, in the hamlet of Butler, Ohio, the second of the four daughters of Jessie Lewis Hitchman and Albert Hitchman, Sr. As often happens with second children, she developed an adventurous personality. In fact, she was a bit of a tomboy. She was the sister who built a wagon from a wooden crate and baby carriage wheels, who ran track in high school and played softball in college, who still remembers with delight a one-mile sled ride with a high school friend made at such high speed that her eyes shed tears, and whose face peers out solemnly from behind her drum set in photos of the high school band. At age five she went to the grade school when classes were dismissed to escort her older sister home and beat up the first grade boys who had been bullying her. And Evelyn was the girl who one April first told her straight-laced bachelor neighbor that he was wanted on the phone at the house down the block that boasted one of the few phones in town. She yelled “April Fool” as he was about to knock on the door, and then ran like the wind with him in hot pursuit.

Evelyn was always a very small person—her height never exceeded 4’ 10”—which earned her the nickname “Dot,” but her energy and enthusiasm were never small. She inherited a love of the theatrical from her mother, and the boy who grew up to be her husband remembered her as the star of the high school play “The Little Clodhopper” in which he had a bit part. That stage triumph took place only a few days before Evelyn and her sisters lost their mother to pneumonia. Their father remarried within a year, and Evelyn and her older sister went to live with their maternal grandmother. Those three women—Evelyn, her mother Jessie Lewis Hitchman, and her grandmother Elosia Minerva Ross Lewis—were powerful role models for the three generations of women who have thus far followed them.

Evelyn maintained a life-long love of nature and the environment. She enjoyed bird watching and the active encouragement of nesting songbirds—and, coincidentally, the discouragement of critters harmful to them. She had no qualms about nailing a nest-robbing squirrel with a twenty-two rifle, or removing a cowbird egg from a songbird nest with a long-handled plastic iced tea spoon. She never hesitated to hive a swarm of bees, though being stung made her swell up remarkably. She was interested in reptiles and amphibians (especially toads) and spiders, and sometimes kept a praying mantis on our screened porch, feeding it crickets for dinner and drinks of water from a teaspoon. Her example fostered a love of nature and biology in her children as well.

Evelyn was the first of her family, and the only one of her generation, to continue her education after high school. She accomplished that as so many others did: by attending Normal School for a year and then plunging right into teaching. She first taught in a one-room school a couple of miles from Butler, to which she walked every day early enough to start the fire on cold days. The next year she got a job in the town of Shelby, one county away from her home, which seemed a long way to her.

The Normal School days cultivated the relationship between her and Charles Divelbiss, who had gone to Normal School the year before and was driving from Butler the fifteen miles to Mansfield to teach each day. At her grandmother’s suggestion, Evelyn began making the drive with him. The rest is family history, to borrow a phrase. Their courtship continued until they were both twenty-four, when they married in the first full year of the Great Depression. The decision to marry ended Evelyn’s classroom career except for occasional substitute teaching, since married women were not considered suitable teachers, but it also launched her on a career of community service and leadership in her church. She also devoted much time to extended family and child-rearing activities. Her daughter and two sons all grew up to graduate from college and go on to earn graduate degrees. She fostered in the three of them a curiosity about and a love of the physical world, an empathetic concern for others, and regard for the lessons of history and for intellectual endeavors in general. She taught by example the difficult parenting skills required to give support while encouraging independence. She never pried into her children’s possessions or lives, and throughout her whole life remained open to new ideas and cultural change while maintaining a solid moral compass-point.

Evelyn and her husband lived a relationship admirable for its equality, mutual respect and love for each other. They opened their hearts and home to many people besides their own family, and folks as far away as Montana and Korea called them "Mom and Dad." Their joint beekeeping hobby took them around the world, and gained them friends in many countries. Despite being a world traveler though, Evelyn remained, to quote one of her granddaughters, a straight-from-central-casting grandma, with a never-empty cookie jar and always open arms. Her full and meaningful life remains an inspiration to her family and all who knew her.