Nell Currey

Honored by:Eileen and Morris Mericle
Brick location:B:14  map

One memorable woman, a remarkable feminist and activist decades before her time, was Nell Currey, aunt to Vida Mericle (a home ec prof at Leander Clark College) and great aunt to me, Morris Mericle (EE prof at ISU).

As I remember, Nell died in 1947 at the approximate age of 80 years. I believe that this is a reasonably accurate date since I saw her last in early 1946 when I returned to Los Angeles area on the USS Wilkes Barre, a light cruiser as returned from the Pacific at the conclusion of WWII. Nell was the younger sister of my maternal grandfather, Hiram Morris Currey.

My contact with Nell was when she lived with the Mericle-Currey family on East High Street, Toledo, Iowa, from about my birth in 1925 until we moved to South Church Street in 1935. She was present from and during my earliest childhood. As I remember, she moved in with her adopted son, Harold, at that time because he had finished college and gone into banking jobs in Council Bluffs, Des Moines and Griswold, Iowa. However, I spent a month with them in Griswold in 1937 at the age of 12. That was a great summer as they had a pool in Griswold and I was free of chores and could go with other kids to catch snakes and fish for catfish in the Nishnabotna River.

Following the Griswold job, they moved to California and lived in Los Angeles on Coronado Street near Griffith Park. I visited them in 1944 or 1945 before I went overseas and a year or so later when I returned. I know only a bit of her life in the West. I do know that she and her son Harold were excellent and competitive bridge players and played at a high level (duplicate) at every opportunity. Harold took excellent care of Nell through all her final years. No natural son ever was more devoted.

Nell was a remarkably accomplished woman. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and was a teacher of the classics. At some time early in her youth, she was nearly killed in a horse accident. She retained scars and a limp the rest of her life. This was no deterrent to her as she earned her own living by teaching, was a very accomplished artist and was a social activist. In 1902, in her mid thirties, she adopted Harold, whom she supported brought up and had a close mother-son relationship with for about 45 years.

At the turn of the century women didn't have the vote, did not act independently, did not support themselves - basically did not work in middle-class or white collar jobs. Amid criticism, innuendo, gossip and general social disapproval, Nell just "did her thing" and forged a completely different lifestyle. When my mother, Vida, graduated from high school it was Nell who furnished the necessary push to have her go on to college and graduate. Nell furnished money but by far the most important thing she gave Vida was the development of intellectual rigor. Nell also provided the constant inspiration and coercion for Vida to see her education through. She was, I believe, the chief force who molded Vida's character.

Nell was the primary influence on me in those first few years. It was she who defined excellence for me, showed me the beauty of learning and rather gently forced me to develop good reading habits, define goals, respect education and learning. At the time she was in our extended family home, Harold was in college in Grinnell, Iowa, and later in training in various local banks. Nell was teaching in a private school in Mathiston, Mississippi, during those years. How she excited me and stimulated my imagination during those years. She would tell me about the snakes and animals down there, the habits of the people of the area, the plight of the blacks and sharecroppers. Once she brought me a snake, another time a turtle. She filled me full of wonder and made me want to travel the world either physically or mentally. Every spring she would drive up to Iowa in her old 1927 Buick - about 1000 miles - then drive back down in the fall to resume her teaching. How about this from a teacher whose specialties were Latin, Greek and the classics?

The unique thing about Nell was her perception of what you should learn and know. Vida and Roscoe were interested in how fast I could count, how early I could read and my general development (to make a more efficient farmer, I suppose). Nell had a much broader definition of personal development than just being an efficient bean counter (which I later became). She sought to teach both Vida and me to look outward at the world, not to circle the wagons and ford up. Of course she failed in both cases, but think of what we would have become without her influence.

To summarize, my great Aunt Nell was the only great person I have known intimately. I have met a few great people since, but in her time frame with what she accomplished and imparted to her students, to Vida and myself she was almost unique and the most talented person I have ever known. Her paintings used to hang all over our house. I doubt if any even exist anywhere now.