The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Memories Of Stronghurst

The following is a chapter from a book of memories written by former resident of Stronghurst Mrs. John (Bonnie) Giffin, who recently passed. They are being shared by their daughter Julie Giffin Ashton of Omaha, Nebraska, director of the Washington County Museum located near Omaha. Her father John Giffin was of the SHS class of 1977 and Bonnie came to town to teach at SHS. John's father was a pastor at The United Presbyterian Church in Stronghurst. Julie writes: "I pulled together a few writings from my mom, my dad, my grandfather and grandmother – all now buried in the Stronghurst Cemetery... If nothing else, they put some life and faces to the names on headstones (in the Stronghurst cemetery) and are touching to read."

(This is a first of the a short series and will continue next week)


It was May, 1949, the week I was graduating from Murray State College in Murray, Kentucky."  I received a call from a Mr. Layman, principal of Stronghurst High School in Stronghurst, Illinois. He said he had been looking in my file which was located in the placement office and he would like to interview me for the position of English teacher in his school. 

I agreed to meet him that evening even though I was not particularly interested in teaching. I had received my teaching certificate in English, Speech and Drama and I had become particularly interested in writing for radio and a new entertainment medium that was just emerging--television.

While going to school, I had been working for two years at WNBS, the local radio station, where I had a daily children's program and wrote script for the disc jockeys and commercials. I had been asked to stay there after graduation and although the money was scant, I did enjoy the work.

I had also looked into teaching jobs in Kentucky, but the average yearly salary was $1,600. Mr. Layman caught me in a quandary. Should I stay in a job I liked (radio station) and be poor, or take a job in teaching that I did not know if I would like and also be poor.

With these thoughts in mind, I interviewed for the position of English teacher. When Mr. Layman reviewed my transcript, he began putting his staff together. He said if I would teach four English classes, two girls physical education classes, and supervise the library, I could have the job. If I would also teach one speech class a day, they would pay me $2,900 for the first year and $3,000 for the second year. I have to admit, I was dazzled by the money. Where is this town? In the northwestern part of Illinois just across the river from Burlington, Iowa and a town of...750? It was also 400 miles from home. Oh well, I could do it for a year.

Since I had no car, my parents drove me to Stronghurst to begin my job. The school board owned a large house, called the Teacherage, that was divided into three apartments, one each for the coach and his family, the music teacher and his wife, and Aggie, my roommate, who taught Home Economics.

The house was not luxurious but it was comfortable as much as a two Room apartment can be. I had some leeway in furnishing the place so I found my way to the local hardware store to furnish the kitchen.

A young man waited on me and I wondered if he might be one of my students who was working there for the summer. His name was John Giffin and he had graduated from Stronghurst High School in 1942. He also was a partner in that hardware store and also worked as a plumbing, heating, and electrical contractor. I found out all this later. I made my purchases and concentrated on my rather busy school schedule.

I found to my utter amazement I loved the job. I loved teaching, the students, the school, the town, everything. Also my roommate had set me up with a friend of hers from Carthage, Illinois, who drove up just about every weekend. He was nice and fun, but he knew this was going nowhere romantically, and finally he said he would not come back unless I called him. I never called.

My busy schedule included all the above classes, plus coaching the cheerleading squad, directing the school play, selling tickets at sporting events, and chaperoning school activities.

Enter John Giffin. In October, the school sponsored an Alumni Dance and I had to attend to keep an eye on things. To my surprise John attended alone and asked me to dance. He also asked me out for dinner the next night which was a Saturday. He arrived in a great looking sports car (I had no car, remember) and took me to a nice restaurant and a movie.

Of course at the movie we ran into some of my students who were very interested in this turn of events. I had a great time and even though he was somewhat shy he had a great sense of humor, was very well read, and the most intelligent man I had ever dated. I liked him. He asked me to go to a stock car race the next day and I accepted. What was a stock car race? I also made a discovery the next day: he had borrowed the car from his partner. He didn't own a car, just a truck. However, it was transportation.

We dated regularly, several days a week, and then he asked me to marry him the first week of December. I was surprised at the suddenness of it, but I accepted. We had known each other six weeks. Even Mrs. Layman, the principal's wife had put her stamp of approval on him by saying, "He is a VERY nice boy who comes from a VERY nice family."

We set the wedding date for June 1, so John and I drove to Murray for a quick weekend where we took the required medical tests, applied for a marriage license, contacted the church and minister, organist and soloist for a wedding to be held two weeks hence, and drove back to Stronghurst to finish the school year. It was a hectic time, but exciting too.

John's best man was Jake Jacobson, his business partner, and my maid of honor was George Ann Upchurch.

John's parents were unable to attend because his father was bedfast with a stroke. About twenty of my Kentucky relatives attended the ceremony. We had a nice wedding, no reception, no cake, but we had a brand new car, a 1950 sports coupe, so after the wedding we took off for a honeymoon in New Orleans on money my father had given us as a wedding present to buy a set of sterling silver. We arrived back in Stronghurst with just a few dollars between us, but a lot of wonderful memories.