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Mary Luman Shortness (1941)
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Shortness Honored with Education Scholarship

May 15, 2014

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MACOMB, IL -- In 1933, at the age of 19, Mary Luman Shortness traveled the dirt roads from her family's farm near London Mills, Illinois, to attend Western Illinois State Teachers College. If conditions were muddy, she would have to first travel east to Farmington, then south to Canton, to catch Route 9 into Macomb.

"I walked about a mile to my country school at home," explained Mary. "In bad weather, my father would drive us in the surrey or bobsled, so I was prepared to get to the University however I needed to."

Mary lived in Monroe Hall while working on her two-year teaching certificate. Miss Grote and Miss Ray lived in the hall; the rules were strict, but parties were held in the parlor. Students were expected to be "ladies," to mind their manners and respect their elders.

"Monroe Hall was a highlight of my life," said Mary. "We sat at tables of eight for dinner every night and always said grace. We also sang together, in harmony. I formed a group of friends that I remained close to all through my life. We got together annually over the years, until just recently."

Mary enjoyed classes with Drs. Bennett, Tillman, Waggoner and Garwood. Following her graduation in 1933, she taught in country schools at Pisgah, Lease and Pleasant Hill and her beginning salary was $45 per month. She attended Western during summers (and one year in residence) to earn her four-year degree in 1941, thereby qualifying for a higher salary.

At that time, schools did not hire teachers who were married, so when Mary Luman married Mac Shortness in 1943, she gave up teaching to become a farm wife and mother of three.

"There's lots to be done as a farmer's wife," said Mary. "All the cooking, washing, bookkeeping and helping with fields."

Mary returned to teaching when her youngest child started kindergarten, and taught at London Mills Elementary and Valley District No. 4 until her retirement in 1975. She turns 100 June 10, and in her words, is "a farmer's daughter, a farmer's wife and a farmer's mother." Although she spent 27 years of her life as a teacher, her family and the family farm are her principal identities.

The son who facilitated Shortness' return to the classroom when he started school is now the farmer son, and recently endowed a scholarship in his mother's name.

"Education has always been a big part of her life, and of our family's," said Ernie Shortness, a 1975 WIU graduate. "My mother doesn't care for gifts, so this is a way I can honor her. She is one of the few people I know who truly wishes everyone success. It is fitting that someone studying to be a teacher will receive support every year in her name."

"It's unbelievable, really," said Mary. "I'm impressed that Ernie did this, and I certainly feel honored."

What is impressive is this 100-year-old, unassuming, remarkable woman lives in the house she was born in and keeps the books (by hand) for the farming business that was established by her father and continues today with her son. Mary's father did not complete eighth grade, yet she traveled to Western where she earned a degree. She taught school and instilled in her family an educational priority (her sister, two of her children, a niece and a nephew are graduates of Western). Now her legacy will continue with the Mary Luman Shortness Education Scholarship, established to honor Mary by assisting teacher education students.

For information and application for the Mary Luman Shortness Education Scholarship, contact the College of Education and Human Services or the University Scholarship Office at (309) 298-1690 or (309) 298-1414.

Posted By: Julie Murphy, WIU Foundation (
Office of University Relations