Beth (Lenora) Mackey Stiffler
Dec 18th, 2015
Beth (Lenora) Mackey Stiffler died peacefully at her home in South Yarmouth on December 18th. She was born in Chadwick, Illinois, in 1921 to Guy and May (Zugschwert) Mackey and spent her childhood on a family farm outside of the town. She told stories of bringing cows from the pasture at sundown and riding her favorite horse, Star, but her real love always was going to school. After high school she attended Illinois Wesleyan University where she majored in English and Journalism, edited the school newspaper, The Argus, and became president of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
After graduation in 1943, she worked for a short time as an insurance investigator in St. Louis, Missouri but as she has explained, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy WAVEs “because a close cousin was in the boiler-room of the Arizona when the planes hit. My pilot cousin was missing in the Pacific. My brother was missing in the Atlantic. And I was in a good job in St. Louis and thought I could make a difference.” After completing officers’ training, she was sent to live at Radcliffe College and study at Harvard College, and later at Smith College, and was then commissioned in the Supply Corps and stationed at Bainbridge Naval Training Center, Maryland. There she met her future husband, Lieut. Harold S. Stiffler. The two were married in April of 1945, and he left several days later for an overseas assignment.
She was transferred to the Naval Mine Warfare School in Yorktown, Virginia, as a Supply and Disbursing officer. There, she was responsible for large sums of money that were ordered from Washington each week and sent to a small bank in Yorktown. She delighted in telling stories like this one: “To get the money, I traveled by station wagon with an armed Marine on each front fender, one in the front seat and another in the rear beside me. I was also armed. As soon as we entered the bank, all customers fled. I went to the safe where the little banker nervously counted out my money and was glad to see me on my way.”
In addition, and because she was a photogenic young woman, the U.S. Navy used photographs of Beth in some of their recruiting efforts. One picture shows her with clipboard in hand standing prominently in front of a fighter plane.
Beth had her first son, Eric, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her second, David, in Freeport, Illinois. Randall was born in Carbondale, Illinois. The family of five then settled in Macomb, Illinois, where Beth began teaching second grade in the Western Illinois University Laboratory School, a school her three sons attended. Several years later she joined the English Department and taught junior high and high school English and Journalism, and sponsored the yearbooks and newspapers at the Lab. School. At its closing, Beth joined the English Department at Western Illinois University (W.I.U.) where she taught undergraduate and graduate classes and eventually rose to the position of Chair of the Department.
One of Beth’s proudest achievements was seeing each one of her three sons receive a degree from Yale. She herself, while teaching at W.I.U., took courses at the University of Illinois in Champaign in order to earn her Ph.D. in English. She received that degree in 1981, the same year her son Randall received his Ph.D. from the same university and department.
Beth was active in the First Presbyterian Church of Macomb and she belonged to numerous organizations and societies. As president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Macomb, she spearheaded a four-year long effort to establish a mental health facility serving McDonough and Fulton counties. Author of the successful grant, she received word in March of 1972 from Congressman Tom Railsback and Senator Adlai Stevenson that over three million dollars had been approved for mental health services in the two counties. She was also a founding member of the McDonough County League of Women Voters, a group in that day characterized by some as a “wild-eyed organization of radical women.” She was also active in organizations involved with her profession, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Illinois Association of Teachers of English.
After retirement, Beth and Harold divided their time between Macomb, Illinois, and Cape Cod. On the Cape, they owned and ran Harbeth Cottages, a small colony on Nantucket Sound, and Harbeth Antiques that at one point had locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Beth’s specialty in the antiques business was fine linens and textiles. She was herself a lifelong knitter so proficient she could knit with her eyes closed. She made innumerable socks, sweaters, scarves, and wonderfully durable hats. On the Cape, she continued to be active with her organizations, notably AAUW and Cape Cod Kappa Kappa Gamma, of which she was president.
Her husband Harold and oldest son Eric preceded her in death recently. She is survived by her two sons, David B. Stiffler and H. Randall Stiffler, her nephew Thomas G. Mackey, who lived with Beth and Harold from the age of twelve when his parents died, five grandchildren, Jessica, Nathan, Matthew, Caroline, and Laura, and one great-grandchild, Ashlyn Grace.
Beloved mother, inspiring teacher, wife to Harold for nearly seventy years, Beth’s life touched many people and she did much good in this world. She will receive cremation rites as did her husband and son, and plans for memorial services are to be determined.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Beth’s honor may be made to the Western Illinois University Foundation, c/o Western Illinois University, 1 University Drive, Macomb, Illinois, 61455. In the memo, please note Beth M. Stiffler Scholarship in English.