Nellie (Smith) Bass

Honored by:Jane Haahr
Brick location:A:4  map

Nellie May Smith Bass was born January 23, 1891 on a farm near David City, Nebraska, the youngest child of Rollin 0. Smith and the only child of his second wife, Artemicia Emelline Butler Smith. Nellie's siblings were from 11 to 16 years older than she, so she essentially grew up as a lone child and developed the resourcefulness and initiative often expected in the single child. The family moved to a farm near Emerson, Iowa, in 1898, and into Emerson four years later. There she lived through her high school years, graduating from Emerson High School in 1907.

During the next five years she cared for her ailing mother, kept house for the family, and prepared household linens and her trousseau for her coming marriage. On June 19, 1912, she was married Elmer A. Bass after an engagement of four years, exactly one week after his graduation from Iowa State College at Ames. After traveling by train to Fremont, Nebraska, and honeymooning there, they established their home on a farm my grandfather had purchased in 1898. There, both my brother and I were born and lived to adulthood.

In due time our respective families joined with Mother and Dad in forming a family corporation, and in 1948 Nellie and Elmer Bass were living in Red Oak where they lived out their lives, Dad until 1965 and Mother until 1972.

As I review the years I knew my mother from the vantage point of a daughter, several qualities made her a memorable person and a worthy example. She was versatile; she was able to adapt; she was dedicated to her family and home, to her Church and community, and to a few special friends. She was "on the spot" for neighbors and friends in need. She was punctual and unobtrusively organized. She was a doer more than a talker. She was what my father called "accurately intuitive" about people and about issues. She was a lover of nature and she was comfortable with who she was.

She was many things to many people. She was recognized as an accomplished seamstress, as an artful quilt maker, as a master in embroidering and in crocheting. Her angel food cakes from "scratch", her special baked beans, her glistening array of canned fruits, vegetables, pickles, jellies, and jams bespoke her skills in culinary areas. She presided over her cook stove while the rest of her family gardened, gathered in the produce, helped with early process before the actual canning and preserving.

She loved all kinds of flowers and house plants, especially African Violets from leaf cuttings, even from seed. Her "green thumb" was legend among her family and friends and even among her fellow Garden Club members. Even during her early years living in Highland Acres (a retirement care facility) she lovingly nursed her most cherished violets.

She spread her homemaking skills beyond her home into the particular community groups she believed to have real impact locally and in a larger area. Her sewing skills and those of her service-minded friends were banded together in a busy organization aptly called "The Christian Home Aid Society". This group met in members homes for all-day meetings every month to produce clothing for children living in Council Bluffs' Christian Homes.

Her homemaking and her organizational and teaching skills brought real growth experiences to the many 4-H girls she served in the Garfield Go-Getters 4-H club that she organized when I was ten years old. Eventually, she served her turn on the Montgomery County 4-H Committee. She said she shook for an hour following her selection as it's chairman because she felt unequal to the responsibilities. But she served well.

In the same era, she participated in the Farm Bureau Women's Home Project activities. These same skills, plus a deep abiding faith, were long shared in the Emerson Methodist Church where she worked in the Ladies Aid Society and in the Primary department of the Sunday School as a teacher and as it's superintendent. When she moved to Red Oak she gradually became one of the "Coffee Ladies" for Women's Society meetings and for Church wide dinners. Her Friendly Class in Sunday School associations brought her such joy, and the afternoon monthly parties remained a high light as long as she was able to attend them.

Not to be forgotten in our family was her part in making our summer two-week vacations from the early 1920s through the mid 1930s the high point of each year. We camped amid western Nebraska's sandhills in selected small towns, along favorite rivers at Estes Park, at Grand Lake at Colorado Springs, and in Denver.

Though my mother always said she preferred to work "behind the scenes", I noted early on that she often seemed to wind up in a "front and center" position as soon as she gained her confidence. In the ten year period when my father served the County as its Representative in the Iowa General Assembly, Mother accompanied him to Des Moines for the four-month session. When my father's ;pve;y efficient secretary decided she must spend more time with her family, my mother moved from being an alert and knowledgeable observer to becoming my father's clerk.

Throughout my years at home,  I observed in some of her contemporary neighbors and wives of family friends. Often when my brother or I approached our father on some matter before we approached mother, we heard Dad say, "I'll have to talk it over with Mama". She long had her special account in a Road Oaks bank, though the family considered the account in the Emerson bank as "ours". At the time I did not realize the fact was not the usual practice for the farm families nearby. I now assume her extra "egg and cream" money may have been part of the source of that special account.

Mother was free to drive the car to meetings when the dirt roads were dry. If they were muddy, she stayed home, or Dad put the chains on and drove. She lived as a cherished, important woman, and seemingly did not need to channgel her energies into "great causes" calculated to produce societal change. Perhaps this is why I have long known I grew up as a liberated woman. I had observed my mother and grandmother, both of whom were never anything else.

Updated: 11/2013