Farewell to my mentor

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Kay Hively was my teacher, my mentor and my friend.

When I learned of her passing this week, I was both stunned and saddened.

She and her husband Russell have been part of my life for a very long time.

Long before I met Kay, Russell was one of my high school English teachers.

Then, as a college freshman, I walked into her Creative Writing course at Crowder College.

We didn't use a textbook - we wrote.

We wrote a little bit of everything, trying our wings at essays, poetry, and fiction.

And, we were required to submit some of what we wrote.

It was a Wednesday night class and I soon looked forward to that three hour block of time.

Kay talked about her own experiences as a writer and for me, as a newbie and beginner, that was fascinating. Despite her experience, she never talked down to us - she was always friendly, wise, and encouraging.

I took both creative writing sections at Crowder.

And, later, after I had finished my college education at Missouri Southern, I got my first job thanks to Kay.

One day, working at Wendy's in Neosho and doing some subbing for the local schools as well, I received a phone call from Dave Winegardner, general manager at KBTN Radio. He invited me to come in for an interview for an advertising copywriter job - because he'd reached out to Kay Hively who recommended me.

I didn't know anything about writing ad copy but I was game to try. At my interview, Dave turned me loose with a typewriter and told me to write some ads. After a few minutes of sheer panic, I wrote some ads. I didn't think I'd ever hear from him again but instead a few days later, he offered me the job and I accepted.

And I sent Kay flowers to say thanks.

That radio station job was a beginning. During my years at KBTN I wrote at home. I penned poems and short stories and essays. And, as I was taught by Kay, I submitted them and eventually I began to receive a few acceptances among the rejections.

Around that time I joined a local writers' group, The Writers of the Six Bulls. Most of the time, we met at Crowder College but at least once a year, the Hivelys invited us over to their home for homemade ice cream and writer talk.

At the time, Crowder hosted some Ozark Writers and Artists conferences. Our writers group hosted some Saturday seminars we called "Dollar Days" because we charged a dollar to attend.

The first time I went to a writers' conference at the College of the Ozarks, Karen Jennings (still a writer, still a friend) and I went with Russell and Kay. It was a wonderful trip and I can't imagine having any better company.

Writing the story about Kay on page one of today's edition was very emotional for me.

If it were not for Kay, I might not be the writer you see today. She served as a mentor and she served her community in more ways than I can count.

Perhaps that story and this column serve as my long overdue final exam in creative writing - and if so, I have no doubt that Kay could take her red pen in hand to write a few lines of constructive criticism.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is a writer - thanks to several mentors along the way, one of which was Kay Hively.