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Ellen Gray Massey Left Her Mark on the Ozarks

Missouri Folklore Society

As so often happens when an elderly person passes away, a wealth of knowledge and information goes with them.  Such was the case with the death of Ellen Gray Massey.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Ellen Gray Massey had lots of stories to tell—mainly about the Ozarks, which was her passion, but also about life in general.  And she told them in books and shared them with her students.

Massey died July 13 at the age of 92 after living her life to its fullest and touching many others in the process.

The teacher, writer, editor and mentor lived her childhood years in Washington D.C., but spent her summers at the family farm, Wayside, near Nevada, where she fell in love with the Ozarks.

She settled with her husband, Lane, on a farm in Laclede County in the 1940s, and, when he died young, she and her three children ran the farm by themselves.

During her years teaching at Lebanon High School, she and her students published the Bittersweet Magazine.

Author Veda Jones was a friend of Massey’s.

"She sent those kids out into the boonies interviewing old time Ozarkians about how rough it was, how they made do with what they had, how they embraced the culture.  It was wonderful," she said.

Jones met Massey when they were both writing for Avalon Romance.  And she says they hit it off even though Massey was quite a bit older.

"Here's what I loved about her:  she encouraged writers so much," she said.

According to Jones, Massey held what she called “The Five W’s” at her house:  Well Worn Women Writers Workshop.”  She invited about a dozen women to spend the night, and her son cooked for them.

"We read to each other.  We performed.  We had to go on a little hike and observe things.  It was all about writing," she said.

Another person whose life was touched by Massey is author, Laura Valenti who worked with Massey on the historical magazine, Briarwood, which the Lebanon Daily Record put out quarterly.  Massey edited all five of Valenti’s novels and was a valuable source for information about Ozarks history.

"The type of person that you saw her in Walmart or, you know, a grocery store, your eyes would pass over her and, 'oh, she's just a little old gray-haired lady,' and you wouldn't think twice, and yet, she was just a treasure trove of information and all kinds of lessons about life," she said.

According to Valenti, Massey’s greatest contributions were the people she touched and her writings.

After retiring from Lebanon High School, she continued teaching—sharing her love of the Ozarks with various groups in and out of Missouri and at Drury University where she taught graduate education courses.

She was one of the charter inductees into the first Writers Hall of Fame of America and won several awards for her writing.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.