NEW MADRID - Her story is being told in the rotunda of Missouri's State Capital but that really doesn't concern Mildred Henry at the moment. What does concern her is if there is enough food for those who will soon gather round her table at noon.
There is fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread, green beans, okra, homegrown tomatoes and pickle relish. She baked a pie and wonders should she open up a another jar of preserves should anyone want some for their biscuits. The 87-year-old New Madrid resident takes pride that no one leaves her table anything but full.
It is that attitude of caring and concern that prompted her daughters to nominate their mother when the Missouri Women's Council announced an exhibition for Missouri Women's History. The exhibit seeks to honor women, both past and present, who have played a role in Missouri as homemakers, public servants, businesswomen, etc. Henry was selected to represent the field of homemakers.
"For Mildred Henry her impact is substantial. Even though she never worked outside of her home or attained much formal education, her examples of generosity, kindness, responsibility, friendliness and honesty are behaviors worthy of modeling," wrote daughter Faye Halferty of Cabot, Ark., for the portion of exhibit which is now on display in the Rozier Gallery.
Mrs. Henry's story is one of 60 the Missouri Women's Council and Foundation Board chose to tell. She is featured along with famous past Missourians including Mayme Ousley, the state's first female mayor, and opera singer Marian Wright Powers and with current leaders such as former Supreme Court Justice Ann Covington.
The display, "The Exceptions that Created the Rule," was unveiled this month in a special ceremony in Jefferson City and the Rozier Gallery attended by three of Mrs. Henry's children and a granddaughter.
It was an exciting time, said daughter Martha Hunter of New Madrid. She admitted to admiring the display that featured pictures, newspapers clippings and a quilt along with a biography of her mother. Also there was a video clip from a two-hour interview conducted by the display's organizers and a special glass case with some homemade lye soap and a hand-written recipe of her mother's.
While they were excited about all the "to-do," Hunter grinned when asked what her mother, who although unable to attend but has seen the pictures and a video of the event, thought about it all. "Do you know my mother? Then you know nothing excites her."
But Mrs. Henry's story is an important one to tell, agreed family and friends.
"Mildred Henry demonstrates strength of character, family values and love. Her life is not 'the exception that created the rule,' but is the exception which should be the rule. The measurement of her life's accomplishments far our distance what most of us will ever dream of reaching," wrote Halferty for the display.
Mrs. Henry was orphaned at age 3 and was raised by her grandparents on a rural New Madrid County farm along the Mississippi River. When she married she and her husband, Whitson, farmed and raised their family at the Higgerson Landing.
Together, they survived the Depression, floods and drought. Mrs. Henry supplemented the family income by providing room and board to the many loggers who cleared the land. Also she became adept at making do as her own family grew by gardening, canning, sewing and quilting.
While it could be considered a hard life by some, the daughters said their mother used that to become a strong, caring individual who welcomes everyone to her door.
State Rep. Lanie Black has pulled a chair up to Mrs. Henry's table more than once. It always is a pleasure, he added.
"One can simply appear unannounced at the door at noon any day of the week and receive a hot meal and the fun and fellowship provided by her family members," said Black. "The food is always excellent. I feel very fortunate to have experienced her hospitality."
And with the word getting out across Missouri, there may be even more hungry fans coming to call.