A Moment in the Spotlight

Sometimes I sneak back to previous postings and quietly correct glaring typos, misspellings and grammatical errors, though I usually let historical mistakes stand as they are, while earmarking each one with an asterisk and a brief footnote directing the reader to updated material.  I have a feeling that wrong turns are worth preserving as part of the journey.  Lately I broke my own rule on “Grief Encounter,” and “Basketful of Trouble” when I realized that I had given Ethyle Stofer a birth year that is clearly mistaken.  

I was feeling lazy and “The Lovewell Family” was sitting in front of me already opened to the page on Ben and Mary Stofer’s children.  The 1979 book gives the date of Ethyle’s birth as April 2, 1900, and the spelling of her middle name as “Dolores.”  Now, I’ve come to accept the fact that being off a year or two on birth dates goes with the territory, but in this case even one year seemed to matter.  If Ethyle had been born in 1900, then her mother would have been pregnant with her when little Jessie Lloyd died in 1899.  In the end, the exact timing of events probably made little difference, but the idea that Mary Stofer lost a second child within two years while carrying her third, would seem worth noting if it had happened.  Apparently, it didn’t.  In fact, the Stofer children may have been spaced even further apart than we think. 

Rhoda Lovewell’s updating of the family saga lists Ethyle’s birth year as 1901, as does Ethyle's headstone.  I’ve noted before that headstones can be notoriously unreliable historical documents, and in this case I’m afraid there are a few pieces of evidence that contradict it.  The most compelling of these is the 1910 census, in which it appears that Ethyle turned 8 years old on April 2nd, a few weeks before the census-taker dropped by at the end of the month, a situation that nudges her year of birth into 1902.  The next three available census returns largely agree with the 1910.  In 1915 her age is listed as 13.  In 1920 she’s 18.  However, while the 1930 census puts her age at 28, by the time the 1940 census was taken exactly one decade later, Ethyle had aged eleven years.  Her given age that year was 39, and she grew older at the usual rate from that day on.  

Ethyle and Bennie

Not only does most early evidence point to the year of her birth as 1902,* but in tracking down the right year, I’ve come across so many alternate spellings of “Dolores” that I’m not sure there is an incorrect way to write her middle name.

Instead of a picture of a girl who is four years older than her baby brother, the portrait on “Basketful of Trouble” may show a doting sister who’s older by only three years, but arguably by as little as two years plus some change.  Have another look at the photo and tell me how much older than Bennie you think she is.  Whatever her age, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re seeing Bennie and Ethyle in this picture.  They look like Ben and Mary Stofer’s two older adult children - just smaller.

It seems only fair that their younger sister Pansy should get a picture on this page, and Ashley Gresham sent me one a few weeks ago that I’ve been waiting for an excuse to share.  There can be no doubt about Pansy’s personal stats, since that same 1910 census lists her age on that day as one year and four months.  She died in Oregon in 2012, a few days shy of her 103rd birthday.


A girl in step with her time, Pansy sports what we might call a “flapper 'do,” a style most of us associate with those recurring film productions of The Great Gatsby, the novel F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote one year before Pansy graduated from Sinclair Rural High School Rhoda Lovewell’s book features a completely different pose (and a completely different hairdo) which seems to be from the Sinclair yearbook.  The photo of Pansy on the right could have been taken to mark the completion of her studies at Concordia Business College.

Although her cousin Greta Granstedt wouldn’t light up silver screens for another few years, it’s clear that Hollywood magic was already leaving its mark on portrait photography in rural Kansas.  Everyday camera artists were giving their clients the star treatment, molding features with soft, flattering shadows, making eyes dance with sparkle-lights, and using narrow depth of field to concentrate the viewer’s attention within a sharp sliver of focus.

You too could reenact your favorite star’s glamour shot, the one in the current issue of Photoplay magazine.  Every girl could enjoy a moment in the spotlight.

*After further research, Rhoda and the headstone seem victorious.  Ethyle was indeed born in Oklahoma in 1901.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com