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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Church organist plays for eight decades

Friday, July 19, 2002

Music has played an important part of Naomi Hill's life since she was a young girl. She learned to read music at an early age and began playing the organ at age 12 in the Mount Pisgah Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Bexar at the request of the minister. Hill recalled, "I was scared to death," but that was the beginning of a love for music that would span eight decades. Hill possesses a sharp mind, quick wit and sparkling eyes that belie her 94 years. Her laughter is music unto itself.

Born May 27, 1908, at Bexar, Hill vividly remembers growing up with eight sisters and three brothers. Her mother was a seamstress and her father a farmer. "They're all gone now except for two sisters," she said.

Bexar is located approximately 39 miles south of Viola. Hill remembers it as an active place. "There were two churches when I was a kid," she said. Bexar also had a cotton gin, two stores, a blacksmith shop, a mill and "during the Depression days we had a cannery." And, of course, there was a small school.

She said her schooling actually began at a one-room school at Morning Star, which is located between Bexar and Byron with three miles separating the two towns. The Morning Star School closed because of consolidation, and her family began attending the school at Bexar.

"The two-room school stopped at the eighth grade, but that was considered the 12th grade then" she said. One room was for younger students and "when you got to a higher grade you went to the other room." Testing the knowledge of her students, the teacher would quiz students from the "recitation bench." Hill said the students from each grade would take turns sitting on the bench where the teacher would ask them questions and the students had to give her the answers.

Demonstrating that children have not changed much over the years, she said, "We carried water from the spring (for the school)." Laughingly she added, "We would pour it out so we could get back to the spring to flirt with the boys." She said the boys were mischievous, remembering one time when they put a dog in the school loft which barked noisily at the teacher, and another time when they locked a goat in the school.

Lunches had to be brought from home every day and her mother provided her and each of her siblings with a biscuit and piece of meat in a small bucket "and sometimes a fried pie" Musicals were very popular then, according to Hill. She said, "Musicals were held in different homes and people would bring their instruments and we would play and sing." She commented, "Dancing wasn't permitted." It was at a musical held at her home that she met her first husband, Curtis LaFevers, and they were married in 1926. He passed away in 1954, following a heart attack at age 59.

Hill said they lived all those years in Bexar except for four years when they lived in Kansas City. She said her first train ride was in 1930, leaving from Mammoth Spring to meet her husband in Kansas City. He had preceded her there to secure a place to live.

She said, "I loved Kansas City. I didn't like the farm." Hill and her husband returned from Kansas City to Bexar and built the home she lives in today.

She said her first long trip as a child was by wagon to West Plains, Mo. "The sun blistered my nose," she chuckled. On another wagon trip, the family went to Calico Rock where they "shopped for fall." Hill said her mother would purchase material in bulk to make her children's coats and clothes. "She could look at a catalog and make anything she sewed look like that," she said.

Hill said her parents made sure the family attended church on Sunday and "since we had no buggy we rode horseback to church and also to school." Her favorite mode of travel was by horse and buggy. "I loved to ride in a buggy and hated when cars came in," she said.

Hill and her husband "had the store at Bexar." She recalled gasoline sold for 40 cents a gallon, and since there was no electricity, the gas had to be pumped by hand. Candy bars cost a nickel then, and nails "were not a third as much as they are now." The barber shop, located in the store, was open on Saturday afternoons and offered haircuts for 10 cents and conversation for free. Her husband served as postmaster for 17 years at the post office, which was also part of the store. According to Hill, the store was the community meeting place. She said she enjoyed being at the store and "seeing everyone and visiting and catching up on the gossip, but 12- to 14-hour workdays were not uncommon."

Following the untimely death of her first husband, Hill married Darrell Hill Oct. 22, 1955. Hill said Mr. Hill came to Wild Cherry from Texas and became acquainted with Forrest and Faye Knapp who owned the store at Wild Cherry. The Knapps introduced the two, and they began dating at Christmas, she said. Mr. Hill had a daughter, Reba Hill Latchford, now deceased, who had two children, Alan Latchford and Lynette Latchford Gold.

Hill said during their time together Mr. Hill "wasn't much for words, but he found a poem and gave it to me and said 'this is you.'" The poem was very touching to her as she read the words thanking her for being a good mother, being kind and offering encouragement when things were bad. Mr. Hill passed away in 1991. Hill's future plans include a trip to Wimberly, Texas, to attend her great-granddaughter's wedding. When asked if she would take an airplane for the adventure she replied she thought she would go by car instead.

Hill has led an active life aside from the store and matters of the home, having served as chairman of the Red Cross Committee, teaching Sunday School classes and, of course, playing the piano for her church for 82 years. She said, "I took care of my parents in their last years," and she continues to visit the sick and bereaved.

Hill writes a column for The News. Her column, The Bexar News, provides information on what's going on and "who comes and goes and who's sick." She ends her column with a quote that offers a positive note for her readers. She laughed that musical laugh and said, "Nothing keeps me down, but I did depreciate some this last year." She commented she has few regrets in life, "I was a pretty obedient child, but you say things you could take back. There have been ups and downs (in life), but I tell people don't be sad on account of me."

When asked what she would consider advice to others in order to live a good life. Hill replied, "I accepted Jesus at an early age as my best friend, live a clean life and scatter sunshine wherever you go."

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