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January 29, 1999

Two of the favorite ladies of my lifetime left us this week, and that creates an unfillable void. Fern McCormick was my third grade teacher. I developed a schoolboy crush on her starting with the first day in her classroom, when she was still Miss Fern Folger. That feeling never changed. Wuzzie Jones, together with her husband Monte, was my counselor and confidant in a transitional period after I returned to Perry following military service during World War II. They filled two different roles in two distinct periods of what I call my life. I shall certainly miss them, but what bittersweet memories they now evoke.

Third grade classes in the 1930s met in the old three-story building that used to stand about where the present school auditorium is located. Miss Folger was the kind of teacher who challenged young students and made them eager to learn, frequently in spite of themselves. She was patient, good humored and (this is important) concerned with her students on an individual basis. Because every kid in that class recognized those qualities, each of us adopted her as a surrogate mother. With me, the feeling has continued all these years.

After Fern and her husband, Myrl, moved to Green Valley Nursing Home a few years ago, she began losing her eyesight and hearing. Then Myrl passed away and her health problems continued. Fern's quality of life has not been good for some time, but she seemed to know me when I visited her there. I feel guilty because those times were all too infrequent, but it was painful to see that dear lady incapacitated and trapped in her chair or bed. She once had been such a vibrant, sensitive being, born to teach and eager to learn herself, so it was disturbing to watch her decline.

Wuzzie and Monte came to Perry in 1946 soon after he was discharged at the end of World War II. Monte had been a sales representative for a wholesale drug supply house before entering military service, and Perry drug stores were in his territory. While he was in uniform, Wuzzie took over as sales rep and continued calling on our local pharmacies, so by 1946 the two of them knew quite a bit about Perry. They liked the environment here and soon made an offer to buy Brownie Drug, one of Perry's most popular places of business. Charlie Watson, owner of Brownie's, decided to sell it to them and retire (although he later opened a small prescription shop on the north side of the square). Monte and Wuzzie quickly adopted this town as their own and endeared themselves to the community.

The business was renamed "Monte Jones Drug," and coffee service was added to the soda fountain. Boyd Norman came to town about the same time as Monte and Wuzzie. He was advertising manager of The Perry Daily Journal, where I worked, and the two of us used to stroll across the a alley from the PDJ to the back door of Monte's store for mid-morning refreshments. My usual choice was a Coke and an almond Hershey. One day Wuzzie gently pointed out, in one of our across-the-counter conversations, that there might be a relationship between that candy bar and Coke -- and the outbreak of hickeys on my face. I changed from those sweets to coffee, black and no sugar, and in due time the complexion cleared. She provided a lot of common sense advice, always with a big grin that seemed to light the premises. When Boyd died a year or two later while in the VA hospital at Oklahoma City, Monte and Wuzzie were among the mourners from Perry who attended the funeral. Boyd died young as the result of four years of abuse in Japanese captivity following the fall of Corregidor shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Fern Folger McCormick was a role model and Wuzzie was a friend of all during their years in Perry. They touched many lives in a noble way, and they'll be missed, but I am thankful for the memories that remain for those who were fortunate enough to know them. Our condolences to both families.