Henry County, IAGenWeb



With the passing of Olive Cole Smith, Death has severed the ties of a fine and continued friendship, which the passing of 60 years and more failed to weaken. Her death is a very personal loss to this writer. We first met Olive Cole on the campus of Old Wesleyan with the opening of the academic year in the autumn of 1887, and it was on the campus, in college halls, and the Cole home, that the roots of a lasting friendship found a firm footing, that time and distance has never weakened.

We remained as classmates for the full four years, graduating together in June of 1891. During those four years our class with each new academic year found familiar faces missing, and new ones taking their places. Of the twenty, who graduated in 1891, only ten were classmates for the full four year course. Of those ten, but two now still are living, Miss Eleanor Bereman, now of Aurora, Ill., and this writer.

We feel very sure that no home in our community ever developed so important or lasting influence toward the general welfare, than the fireside of Reverend W.R. Cole and his able and distinguished wife. They were deeply interested in all good things and the radiant warmth of that fireside was felt throughout the community. In such surroundings and in such an atmosphere Olive Cole was born, and grew to girlhood and womanhood.

We are very sure, too, that among the many splendid family firesides, which in passing years, gave Mt. Pleasant its spiritual distinctive, social, intellectual and economic character, none contributed more than the home, into which Olive Cole Smith was born. The listing of the men and women of state and national fame, who have been guests of that old home, would compose an impressive array of the representatives of the arts and sciences, religious and intellectual activities. Here was to a large degree, the testing ground which developed into the Ladies Library Association and our splendid public library. Here gathered those brilliant minds which formed the Conservation Club, where, in the homes and in the public places, the great questions of the era were discussed. Those were the Golden Days of Mt. Pleasant, “The Athens of Iowa”.

We think it both proper and desirable to examine more closely, the influences which were in a sense the heritage of Olive Cole Smith. William Ramey Cole, her father, came to Iowa and Mt. Pleasant in 1840. The lad, then twelve years old, came with his parents from Dearborn County, Indiana, where he was born. Young William Cole attended here the schools of the day and later Howe’s Academy. Eager for an education, he enrolled at Lombard University at Galesburg, Illinois, and in due time graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. William R. Cole then entered the Divinity school of Harvard University and in 1864 was graduated and immediately ordained a minister of the Unitarian church, and returning to Mt. Pleasant entered upon missionary work in southeastern Iowa.

In 1870, William R. Cole was married to Miss Cordelia Throop, a sister of the well-remembered James A. Throop, and Mt. Pleasant became their future home and to this day that first home, Cedar Croft, is still in the family.

The years of William R. and Cordelia Cole were years of battling against the sinister influences of the day, and for community and personal purity, civic rights, and equal advantages for all, without regard for race, color or condition of life. But the spearhead of their activities was directed to the safe-guarding of youth.

In our examination of the old newspapers of years past, we have been astounded at the columns of matter appearing in the faded pages rallying men and women to the ranks of right living. Not only through the press did the Coles carry the fight, but in the pulpit and on platform, both waging the battle against intemperance and other social evils.

Nothing could illustrate better the sincerity and zeal of the Cole family than the family home. Many years ago the Coles created what is now known as Boulder Lake, or better known as Cole’s Pond. This pond was built and paid for by the Coles, and dedicated to the youth of the community. Later, another pond was created just north of the present pond and north of Courtland Street and shallower for the little folk. Later still Mr. Cole planted on the acreage west of the second pond a grove of hard maple trees where the youth of the community would find a picnic ground where they could enjoy outdoor fun in the best and safest of surroundings.

At one time an organization of young lads and lassies, numbering over 200, found in and on the water, summer and winter, a happy spot where the best fun was at hand, free as the air. We emphasize these facts, for they illustrate the attitude of the Cole family toward the youth of the community.

It was among these surroundings and influences that Olive Cole Smith grew from childhood to young womanhood. She inherited the zeal of her parents in the fight against wrong in all its phases.

Graduating from Wesleyan in 1891, Olive Cole taught in the local schools for a few years and in 1896, she became the wife of Mr. Elbert Smith, Henry County born and raised, son of a fine rural family. The marriage took Olive Cole from the old home out into the wide world and varied experiences. Mr. Smith had developed fine business capacity and he soon was occupying important positions of trust. Thus the Smiths became almost cosmopolitan in their activities. For some years they made their home in Chicago, other years were spent in New England. For a time business planted them on the west coast. Later retiring, with economic security assured, they made their home in Florida, but often returning to the old home, always the old beloved home.

The Smiths knew Europe well and Olive made a trip around the world, visiting friends and leisurely moving from point to point, listening, remembering, storing up information and material to fortify her never yielding determination to carry on the struggle against evil, handed down to her by her parents.

With the passing of the years a yearning developed to return permanently to the old home in Mt. Pleasant. Mrs. Smith’s health, too, was curtailing her activities. The loss of sight of one eye by accident in her youth was followed in the last years by the slow failing of sight in the other. Other ailments she suffered. But her spirit, her courage, never yielded to physical pain. Her husband’s devotion was all that a woman could ask of a mate. And above all was the pride and affection for their son Dan.

As the years slipped by they had the great satisfaction of seeing their son climbing step by step, the ladder to success, and the present distinction of a full professorship on the faculty of one of the graduate schools of Harvard University where his grandfather years before took his degree in the Harvard Divinity school.

The last months of Olive Cole Smith’s life were of suffering, but physical pain could not subdue her mental and spiritual zeal. Until taken to the hospital she carried on brave and unconquered. Death has removed the last of the Cole family from our community. But Cedar Croft, Boulder Lake, the fine old trees, and the gardens, the flavor of the old days, the family fireside, all these unite in a community institution to be remembered long with deepest respect and affection.

[“Mt. Pleasant News”, The Bystander’s Notes-Publisher C.S. Rogers, Thursday, April 22, 1948, page 2]

Contributed by Pat White for Henry County IAGenWeb, November 2, 2017

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