Lifelong writer and former Knoxville Journal contributor Martha Shivvers will celebrate her 99th birthday on Thursday, Feb. 13.
Martha was born Martha Sherwood, the third of eight children fathered by Jonah Wesley. She grew up east of Pershing, on land which her great-grandfather was given after the war. All eight children in her family helped each other, as well as their parents.
She attended the same country school her father had attended. With the intelligence to skip a couple of grades, she earned a teaching certificate from Simpson College after two years.
At the age of 18, she was offered a contract to teach grades kindergarten through eighth for $40 a month at Victory Central School, two miles north of Pershing. In that first year, she had 24 pupils. The next year, she was offered a contract of $45 a month to teach 11 students at North Flagler. She was in class all day for three years.
After the third year, in 1935, she married Woodrow Shivvers. In those days, pregnant or married teachers were not socially acceptable. Communities expected their teachers to be focused on teaching. She had to find another line of work.
Her family life was strong. She and Woodrow had four children together; two sons and two daughters. Woodrow was called to serve his country, but while in the service, he developed spinal meningitis. Martha was called to an Army camp in Arkansas, to aid his recovery. Doctors did not expect him to live long, but he made a full recovery.
Woodrow lived to the age of 91. He passed away in 2002. The couple shared 68 years together.
In 1939, Martha began writing a column for the Journal called “A Farmer’s Wife’s Chatter.” The family moved to town and changed the name to “From Here and There.” Martha also wrote a column for the Marion County News in Pleasantville.
Her writing career expanded, as she developed pieces for the Upper Room, A Secret Place and joined other writing groups. She became an accomplished writer without receiving much formal creative writing training. She took one correspondence course in creative writing from the University of Iowa.
Martha also worked for an office in Des Moines, typing and doing shorthand. She worked in the Mehodist Church and the Church of Christ, working in Women’s Society and teaching Sunday School. Her career also includes employment at the Knoxville Public Library.
Martha was a member of the Knoxville Women’s Club and is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She wrote the book, “Down Memory Lane,” through dictation from Jessie Davis Adams. She and Adams would meet during the day. Martha typed what she was told that night. The next day, the two reviewed the pages and made corrections. The resulting book is now in the National Daughters of the American Revolution Library in Washington, D.C.
Martha has also published books of her poems, called “As the Wheel Turns” and “Across the Plains.” She first wrote poems at age 15. Her work has also been published, since 1970, in editions of “Lyrical Iowa,” a collection of writing pieces from scribes around the state.
Martha has another poem that will be featured in the next “Lyrical Iowa.” She was able to recite it from memory while sitting for this interview.
Martha continued to write columns for the Journal through the 1940s, 70s and 80s. She did not stop writing for the Marion County News until 2004. Her writing was stymied because arthritis has claimed most of the use of her writing hand.
“I didn’t publish for the money,” Martha said. “Just for the love of doing it.”
Her granddaughter recently compiled several of her stories and created a book. A second one is currently in development. The family hopes to assemble her collective works and give them to the Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa.
Martha writes about life, nature and the little things.
Many of her short stories, she says, were based upon real-life occurrences around her. She just changed a few names. Most of her writing was done in a little house in Knoxville.
The ideas and the stories came to her in the night, and she composed them the next day.
Multiple publishers have honored her writing with laureates, honorable mentions and contest placements. Her most recent award was the 2010 National Amateur Press Association laureate, for “Let’s Save Our Prairies,” published in the Buck Creek Press #62.
Martha lives in a garage converted into an apartment, adjacent to her son, Douglas’ home, in the area where she grew up. She has a great deal of independence and windows in areas she can easily look out to enjoy the wildlife around her country home. The quiet life suits her, and she likes her home.
Martha also enjoys evening meals with Douglas and daughter-in-law Carol. Around two years ago, every Friday night became pizza and movie night.
They go to her apartment for pizza – Martha’s favorite food, especially sausage – and watch a movie together.
For someone whose numerous accomplishments include establishing the PTA and milk programs in Knoxville, Martha said she does not like a lot of attention. She just hopes that her life has meant something to someone in some way. Martha has outlived the rest of her family, including all of her siblings.
Though arthritis has slowed her down, Martha’s writing career presses on. Her daughters-in-law help her type her writings and submit them for publication. If Martha has her way, she will keep producing stories as long as possible.
According to her son, Melvin, she wrote to one of her writing friends in 1985, “I hope that I will never put a stop to writing as my soul is at peace when I’m in my little book-lined den, with pen, paper, plenty of reference books and the typewriter.” The den and typewriter are gone, but her passion for storytelling is alive and well.