Mamie Ruth Abernathy
After 96-year-old Mamie Ruth Abernathy's death on Jan. 1, 2015, The Sentinel-Record published an article about her that described her many achievements as an educator, author, musician, and historian. What has struck me is how intertwined her life was with the history of our community. Rather like our own Forest Gump, if something was happening, Mamie Ruth was likely there.
One of the first places I researched at the Society was Lonsdale. Sure enough — Mamie Ruth was there. Mamie Ruth had moved from Hot Springs to Lonsdale for her second-grade year in 1926, when her mother taught at the Lonsdale School. She never forgot anything, so decades later she recalled every neighbor, friend and building. She remembered hurrying during recess to wave at the Missouri Pacific engineer, conductor, and passengers as the train left Lonsdale station, baptisms in Ten Mile Creek, and riding the Missouri Pacific No. 19 into Hot Springs on Friday nights.
In 1932, she was a Spanish dancer in the Centennial Pageant that celebrated HSNP's 100th anniversary, and in 1941 she was a Grecian maid in the grand Saga of Waters pageant at Rix Stadium. She took part in Christmas Eve and Easter sunrise services at the national park and was a charter member of the Hot Springs Choral Club. She was part of the Girl Reserves honor guard for Eleanor Roosevelt at the Arlington Hotel in 1936, and —
one of her favorite stories — had made the dress and scarf for the Girl Reserve marionette presented to Eleanor.
She worked at Kress & Co. downtown in 1935 for $1.37 for an eight-hour day, was secretary for the Hot Springs Bathers baseball club for two years, and was the director of the Y-Teens at the YWCA. During World War II, she volunteered at the USO club and also saw the POW camp at Lake Catherine, later describing its high fence and a carved water wheel made by German prisoners.
Many people remember her as a teacher at Jones School (19461981) and recall the elaborate student operettas she wrote and directed. The organist for church services at Second Baptist Church for 40 years and Central Baptist for 15 years, she also played at 327 weddings. Most memorable? The wedding when the minister was late so she played for an hour and 45 minutes without repeating a selection until he appeared. She graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1936 and guided President Clinton through the alumni exhibit at the school reunion in 1997.
A very enthusiastic participant in our community for nearly 10 decades, Mamie Ruth received many honors, including the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal and the Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year award, but her legacy is in the thousands of lives she touched, especially the 9,335 students she taught at her beloved Jones School. As Hot Springs School District Superintendent Joyce Littleton Craft once said, “People like Mrs. Mamie Ruth Abernathy come along so rarely in life that when you see them, they leave an indelible imprint on your life and lives of others.”
Abernathy has her Jones School T-shirt signed by NBC weatherman Willard Scott, 1992.
Abernathy was a church organist for over 50 years.
Above: Abernathy takes second graders to visit thermal spring, 1952. Below: Abernathy makes presentation to Don Cooper at a GCHS Christmas banquet.