|Regina Brown Fineran
Mabel Nair Brown's life and living stand as a symbol of personal integrity, human dignity, and altruism. Her humble beginnings, enthusiasm for learning, warmth and caring for others, and community involvement have made her a gift to those who have known her. She has made a connection with family, friends, neighborhood, and community wherever she has resided. Her accomplishment have been without thought of publicity or fanfare.
Mabel Nair Brown was born March 20, 1911 in a tenant house on the Ed Brafford farm in Scranton township to Benjamin Harrison and Edith Thomas Nair. Dr. Arthur drove out from Scranton, Iowa to the farm in a horse and buggy to make the delivery. Weighing in at three pounds, Mabel was wrapped by her Grandmother Thomas in flannel and placed in a shoe box on the open oven door of the kitchen range. This was the home version of today's premature baby unit.
From Mabel's first day at the "Hardscrabble" country school in the fall of 1916, she was in love with learning. Her first school year was cut "short" because of distance and weather. However, the next year her family moved and was just around the comer from the Shield's school house, Willow No. 2. This school had special meaning for the Nair family. Seven of the Thomas family (Edith's brothers and sisters) had attended school there. Now Mabel and two of her brothers attended Willow No. 2. Later, she would be a teacher in the school while her youngest sister Mildred attended there as one of the pupils.
Mabel remembers her childhood as a time of family, sharing in work and play. There were the simple joys of box socials, the hanging of May baskets, country school Christmas programs, special observances as decoration day, Chautaugua time, and get togethers at her grandparents. Also, a big part of growing up were the activities centering around the small community church, Providence Methodist.
In a family history, Mabel says "I know we all worked hard at the many farm jobs and around the farmstead and Mamma always had a big garden (and with flowers of course), but we didn't mind because we were sharing and working together, and oh what wonderful times we had together in those growing up years."
By the time Mabel was in the seventh grade her teacher encouraged Mabel's family to let her study for the 8th grade examinations (rural students had to pass these in order to be eligible for high school). Mabel's work was advanced and she was ready for high school level courses. She did study for the test and passed, but due to her family's inability to pay the bus fee for getting to the "town school", she was unable to proceed to high school. Instead, her supportive teacher, Leotha Rider, worked with her in advanced work, anticipating the time when Mabel would be able to go on to high school. Miss Rider was an inspiration, providing extra reading materials, including literature classics and even a music appreciation class.
The next year found Mabel's family still unable to pay the fees and Mabel hired out doing day work for neighboring families to help accumulate funds for the family. In September 1926 Mabel finally entered Scranton High School as a freshman. She says "I was a mighty timid little country girl indeed." Much of her ability to enter was due to that of a neighbor, Inez Hunter. Mrs. Hunter was one of the neighbors for whom Mabel worked. Mrs. Hunter encouraged Mabel's parents to send her and helped make special travel arrangements. She also came over with clothes from her sister for mother Edith to "remodel". Mabel credits Inez Hunter as being the person who helped keep her dream alive and make it a reality.
English and History were Mabel's favorite high school subjects. She was editor of the school paper in both her junior and senior years. In her senior year she even wrote a serial for the paper, which ran for several months. Contrary to most of her classmates, she loved English theme assignments. By the time she was a senior, Mabel's English teachers were telling her she should be thinking of "doing something about her writing". Mabel also took up declamatory work and was in both her junior and senior class plays and debate.
All during this time the depression seemed to be worsening, it indeed looked as if college would be beyond the family purse strings. A friend suggested she apply for the Normal Training course so that she could teach at a rural school. Mabel applied to Iowa State Teacher's College at Cedar Falls, to attend a summer session to be held in Shenandoah. She received assurance that she would have a job teaching at Willow No. 2 in the fall if she completed the course. Her Papa accompanied Mabel to the bank to see about a loan. The bank agreed to loan Mabel $100.00 if both her Papa and Grandfather Thomas would sign the note with her. She says "I was one of the lucky ones in those sorry times--they loaned me the money to get my start."
On May 16, 1930, Mabel graduated as valedictorian from Scranton High School and June 4th found her beginning summer school in Shenandoah. Mabel's grandmother Thomas had written a letter to Leanna Driftmier (a radio personality on KMA), to see if she would help find a nice home for her granddaughter who was coming to summer school. Leanna Driftmier did answer back and the arrangements were made. Summer school was an exciting and happy time for Mabel and the beginning of her life-long friendship with the Driftmiers.
Mabel taught three years at Willow No. 2, loving every minute and creatively supporting her students in their studies. She shared her love of drama and writing, as demonstrated by many school presentations and special activities to which families were invited.
In June 28, 1933, Mabel married Dale Louis Brown at her parent's home. Dale was farming with his parents, a neighboring family who also attended Providence Church. Their married life began with them sharing a household with Charles and Maude Brown. Mabel always held her in-laws in high esteem and they treated her as a dear daughter. Dale and Mabel were the parents of three children, Carroll Dale, Regina Edith and Sharon Ruth.
Early married years found Mabel active in the neighborhood and Providence Church community. An avid gardener and promoter, she helped with the Fall Festivals, children's programs, and other neighborhood events. She was always ready to write an original skit, poem, or reading for any celebration or event. Following their move in the early forties to the Glidden and then Lanesboro area, Mabel began working with the youth in the community. Along with being P.T.A. president, Mabel led a choir of over forty youth. In addition, she helped them take on the tremendous job of obtaining, remodeling, and decorating a building for a Youth Center. This was such a success that she was asked to submit an article about the project to the Des Moines Register. The Register accepted the story and came to Lanesboro to take pictures to accompany the article. Thus began a career of writing for the Des Moines Register's Farm and Home Section for nearly ten years. Her writings expanded into the Farm Journal, Successful Farming, and other magazines and local newspapers in Iowa. About this time, she was approached by the Driftmiers to write for Kitchen Klatter magazine and did so for over forty years until they ceased publication in 1986.
In December 1947, the family moved to Ogden where they had purchased a farm. Mabel continued her writings and also developed a reputation as a speaker and was in demand from many groups as a speaker. One highlight was a presentation called "Timely Tips for Table Personalities" to the Des Moines Federated Women Club, held at the Hoyt Sherman Place. Through the years, Mabel's writings expanded into fund raising events (for band uniforms and the like). She authored historical books for several central Iowa towns as well as writing historical pageants and the directing of community home talents shows.
Mabel was a long time member of the Ogden, Iowa Women's Club and the Business and Professional Women's Club. She was presented the Ogden Community Service Plaque in 1966. Mabel was the secretary of the committee which established the Hickory Grove Schoolhouse museum at Don Williams Lake (near Ogden).
Mabel would always accept a challenge and when her husband's health forced them to sell their farm in 1955, she found herself as co-owner of a family department store. An avid seamstress, she used the tools of the trade to give the store a prestigious reputation in the area and sponsored annual style shows which found their way into trade magazines. Through these lean years, Mabel and her husband supported and saw that their children received a college education, something Mabel has always wanted for herself. Carroll and Regina both graduated from ISU and Sharon from AIB in Des Moines.
Despite her active participation in community and church, Mabel never forgot friends and family. Through the years she made 100’s of original cards, often including original poems or songs, as she remembered birthdays and other personal special events. Mabel was never too busy to send someone an appreciation note, a cheer up card, or to remember an anniversary, etc. She spent hours creating her masterpieces and remembering those around her in a special way. Retiring full time to Florida with her husband in 1984, Mabel continued her activities. During the previous years that they had spent wintering in Florida, Mabel and Dale had sponsored church service at their campground and Mabel led the choir she was already involved in!
Mabel's husband Dale died in 1986 and she continued to "show her courageous" colors by maintaining her own home despite health problems. She remained active in the church with a special emphasis on mission giving for children's projects, particularly to migrant families. She even began writing again professionally for the Home Talk magazine. Mabel's love of writing and genealogy led her to author/edit three family histories for the Thomas, Nair, and Brown sides of the family.
In 1996 she moved to Belmond, Iowa to be near family. Mabel died on September 8, 1997. May the spirit of this woman and her continued loyalty and service to family, friends, and community be an inspiration to others.