For several weeks I devoted my columns to the girls of Seven Springs and their mastery of the basketball courts for the decade of the 1930s.
Each girl on those teams would make an interesting case study and be worthy of writing about. I’ve heard from several of their children and grandchildren. Have received individual photographs of some in their unique uniforms. But alas it would take volumes to tell the story of each.
In a past column I paid special tribute to a 1938 graduate and star player, Eleanor Gibbs, simply because she is the oldest living member from those teams. I recounted a visit that I had with her as arranged by Iris Price Kilpatrick. Well I would like to share findings of another visit in Eleanor’s home, also arranged and attended by Iris. However this time I invited a surprise guest. It was none other than Robert McDonald, the son of “Mr. Mac” of whom I wrote last week.
What a sweet meeting it turned out to be. Robert, Iris and I sat in chairs opposite Eleanor. Her eyes and smile warmed our hearts. But lo and behold was I surprised when she smiled and said, “Bobo, it’s good to see you. How are you doing?” I must say I was a bit stunned when she blurted out the nickname by which we all knew him through high school. I thought it may have been a moniker we had tagged on him, but I guess he was “Bobo” from his beginning.
A young Bobo takes a turn milking the cow. The astute observer will see right away that he’s missing the bucket by at least 12 inches. It’s right there! Can’t you see that white stream? Let it be known that the udder he’s stripping was attached to a cow belonging to Eleanor Gibbs and her family. I suppose that with Eleanor’s keen eye for hitting the basketball goal that eventually she helped Bobo improve his aim.
After introductions I sat waiting for memories of minds to be shared. I would not be disappointed. Here I sit, pen and paper in hand with a 97-year-old former babysitter chatting with the 82-year-old former child that she diapered when he was a babe in arms.
In my mind I could envision a teenage basketball player walking across the street to care for a yet-to-be potty trained infant. For a number of years she would fill that role. When the McDonalds needed a break or had social engagements to fulfill, they called Eleanor. The family rented a home from her dad, Walter Raleigh Gibbs. No doubt Eleanor saw plenty of Mr. Mac, for he was also her high school principal.
By the way, Mr. Gibbs either had a sense of humor or he was serious in making a dinner table statement to the family on a weekend when the girls, Eleanor and Hilda, were home from college. He had sold his milk cows. When asked how he felt about it, he was quick to reply, “Well, to tell the truth, I don’t know which I miss more, my girls or my milk cows.”
As I sat with Eleanor, Iris and Robert I knew I was in the presence of special folks. Before, during and following my interview I engaged inner reflections about each. Let me share.
As stated, I shared some brief thoughts about Eleanor in my column of March 3, titled “A bouquet for Eleanor.” Without a high school yearbook there is no way for me to tell how “book smart” she was, but my guess is that she was near the top of her class. Probably an honor roll student. She graduated from Meredith College with a degree in chemistry, a tough field of academia for anyone.
She spent a career, more than 50 years full- and part-time, working in the food science research lab at North Carolina State University. Her name was mentioned several times in scientific journals along with others on her team; that under the guidance of Dr. Ivan Jones.
Of course we know of her athletic skills. She played just about every sport offered at Meredith. Perhaps all throughout her adult life some of her greatest pleasures were walking the links with her friends and a golf club. She played the Raleigh Country Club course for years, giving it up around 2000, somewhere near her 80th birthday.
Obviously she had a way with a camera. In her junior and senior years she served on the “Oak Leaves” editorial staff as the photographic editor. I have reviewed, online, her yearbook activities through four years of college. One would be hard pressed to find a name more often repeated in the 1942 edition, the year she graduated.
Her mind is still sharp. She laughs easily, although a fall or two has taken its toll on her mobility. As long as she was able, she attended “her” church, Seven Springs Baptist, which was built on the Gibbs property. It sits within easy view of her home.
She especially enjoyed her senior Sunday school class. Though I am told by her teacher that most folks are reluctant to move up into her group because they know where the next and final graduation will be taking them. Eleanor vouches that her teacher is a great one. The teacher’s name? Iris Price Kilpatrick. Iris says that folks in the church are mighty good at looking after the elderly and those in need. Said she, “Everyone is a hero at SSB Church.”
When the congregation needed a place to build a new church, Eleanor and her sister Hilda donated the land. When I asked how that decision was made, Eleanor said that really Hilda deserved more of the credit than she did. When she asked Hilda why she would want to do it, her answer was straightforward. “Because God told me to do it.” And Eleanor said, “Who can argue with God?”
Would it surprise you to know that each year Eleanor is in charge of her high school class reunion which she most often hosts in her home? There is little need for invitations, however, as the only other surviving member is 99-year-old Dortch Price.
Eleanor takes great pride in her scrapbook collections. Certainly it delighted me to see the pleasure it brought her while sharing them with us, albeit not in a boastful way.
When folks grow into their senior years, one can often name an aspect or two of living that accounts for a wonderful life of joy and fulfillment. When I asked Eleanor to what she attributed her long life, she looked me in the eye and smiled wistfully, “Because I never got married I guess!” As I write I’m still smiling at her answer.
His white stream of bucket-missing milk is proof that he had much to learn. So, did Eleanor ever teach the boy how to hit the target? She or someone else did, for in high school the lad seldom missed a basket on the hardwood. Smoothest wrist action I ever saw.
So, there I wuz back in Eleanor’s cozy den, with three former brainy athletes. And I don’t care what you say, I can tell you right now that each is walking proof that brawn plus brain equals success. Next week I’m gonna let Bobo and Iris help prove the point! They were ready to do it today, but I just got too doggone long-winded.
Yessiree, I was in good company!