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Neva Howard Griffen shares courtship story

Neva Howard Griffen poses in the wedding gown made by her mother, Maggie Boyd Howard, in 1916. Shared by Lynne McGee Tutor.


Tom Cousins, manager of Roderick Buggy and Implement Co., was somewhat of a fortune teller, living as he did circa 1915 in the 2000 block of Hope Street. At least that’s how it seemed to his young neighbor, Neva Howard.

Neva wrote in a diary entry composed before her death in 1991, “He used to sit on his porch and sometimes he would call to me. ‘Neva, here comes that Yankee bringing you a rose. Something is going to come of that.’”

Mr. Cousins’ prediction did come true.

That “Yankee” was Joe Griffen, the son of Walter and Augusta Griffen, who operated a green house out on Orchard Avenue, west of Hannibal.


“All three Methodist Churches went together for a boat excursion to Quincy, Ill., and through the locks at Keokuk, Iowa,” Neva wrote. “We took a basket lunch along. Mrs. P.H. Rutherford, the Ladies Aid President of our L. A Club, took pictures that were shown on a moving picture machine in the church basement. Coming home from this boat excursion, Joe Griffen asked to take me home. He did take me home and bashful me, almost forgot to thank him.

“I think Joe was won over by the Salmon Loaf Mom had baked to take on the boat excursion. (His sisters) Carrie and Alta ate with us. Carrie said my Mom was such a good cook. That made Mom proud.”

Neva continues with her story:

“I lived on Hope Street in Hannibal and we had to walk from (the Broadway Methodist) church, so Joe walked with me to Market Street and Willow Street, then he took a streetcar to Oakwood. I just had 1 ½ blocks to my house on Hope Street. One time I took my little cousin Alma home with me and she wanted some ice cream, so we stopped at White’s Drug Store (at 1735 Market) and Joe took us in and bought some ice cream. Then we walked on out Market Street to Nerlich’s grocery store (perhaps 1901 Market) where Joe took the street-car home to Oakwood.

“But something almost went wrong because another boy in my Algebra class gave me a sweet violet corsage to wear to the Senior Play. Joe was very upset, and I almost lost him. I told him those violets didn’t mean anything to me. He told me he loved me with all his heart and wanted to marry me – if I would have him.

“He was so handsome with violet blue eyes and deep dimples. I still could not believe what I was hearing. Me of all the other girls he knew at the Broadway Methodist Church! Girls like Gertrude Claypool, the minister’s daughter, Betty Fitzsimmons, Eva Calhoun and several others.

“Of course, I said yes, and I said there could never be anyone else. He held me tight and asked me to set a date for our wedding. My mind was so befuzzled I couldn’t think. So, he said he thought Palm Sunday April 16, 1916 would be appropriate. We would go to church, and not tell anyone except our organist, Elsie Ingram, that we would be married right after church.

Custom gown

Neva, the daughter and only child of Arthur Edgar and Margaret Isabelle Boyd Howard, wore a gown hand crafted by her mother.

“My mother made my wedding gown all by hand. It had an overskirt trimmed with her tatting. It was crepe-de chine all in white. She made my wedding veil trimmed with lilies of the valley. I had white slippers.

“It was a lovely wedding,” Neva wrote. “Somehow, the word got around and the whole church attended our wedding!”

She explained that they did not take an extended honeymoon trip, “because it was such a busy time at the store.”

The store she referenced was Griffen’s Flower Shop, operated in 1916 by her inlaws, Walter and Augusta Griffen.

At first, the “Griffens rented a store at 103 Broadway and Mrs. Augusta Griffen made sprays and blankets for funerals at the little flower shop,” Neva wrote.

“In the spring of 1916, the Griffen family thought they would like to sell vegetables in Hannibal. They grew lettuce and cucumbers in their greenhouse in Oakwood. The cucumbers bore labels around them that read ‘Yankee Produce CO’ (Mr. Griffen was born in New York City so they called him a Yankee). They sold their vegetables to grocery men like J.C. Raible on Market Street and to Duples on downtown Broadway in Hannibal.

Hearty family

“We had five wonderful children,” she wrote, “three girls and two boys. I lost my first baby in 1917. Mrs. Griffen said we could have any of the food in the basement. So foolish me lifted the cellar door by the weight and went into the cellar and brought up some canned goods for dinner. That afternoon the pains started, and I lost my baby. I felt so terrible I didn’t know what Joe would think. Then on Nov 13, 1918, Helen Kathryn was born on my birthday. Walter Arthur (my father-in-law didn’t like it because I named him Walter) so we called the baby boy Arthur, for my father Arthur Howard. He was so proud. Arthur was born Aug. 1, 1920. Then Danny Joe was born Nov. 12, 1923. Betty Marguerite was born Feb. 27, 1927. Doris Neva was born May 30, 1929.

“My Joe became President of the Tilden School Board and Wm. R. Harding was Secretary of the Tilden School Board. Both served 16 years. Joe had the hiring and the firing of the school teachers. They needed a school bus driver to pick up some of the students, so Joe, being the president, appointed me. I liked that because I could use our car for the purpose. I had to make three trips a day. The first trip was out by Spalding Lake, the second trip was out New London way, and the third trip was out Orchard Avenue where I picked up two Loehrke girls and my own family. Those were happy days!

“But Joe’s happiness didn’t last very long. In 1938 he had trouble with his stomach. He went to St. Elizabeth’s hospital for an examination. He was told he had a pancreatic ulcer. His mother and I brought him food we thought he could eat but food didn’t agree with him. He liked Mulligan Stew that I made for him and the rice pudding his mother made him, but nothing agreed with him. His son Arthur had gone to Hannibal High School to enter his senior year, but my Joe died and left me and his five children, Helen, Arthur, Danny Joe, Betty and Doris. He loved his family so much, but the Lord had need of him. I cried and begged to go with him. There was another young man who had the same disease, but Dr. Harry Greene saved him from something he had learned overseas during World War II.”

Note: Thanks go to Lynne McGee Tutor for sharing Neva Howard Griffen’s memories and photos. Lynne is the daughter of Betty Griffen McGee.

Arthur E. and Maggie Boyd Howard, parents of Neva Ethyl Howard. Shared by their great-granddaughter, Lynne McGee Tutor.

A view of Hope Street, where Arthur, Maggie and Neva Howard lived during several of the early years of the 20th Century. Shared Lynne McGee Tutor.

Joe Griffen. Shared by his granddaughter, Lynne McGee Tutor.

Neva Ethyl Howard. Shared by her granddaughter, Lynne McGee Tutor.

Augusta Griffen. Shared by her great-granddaughter, Lynne McGee Tutor.

Walter and Augusta Griffen, parents of Walter Merritt Griffen, Joe Griffen, Vernon Griffen, Carrie Akers and Alta Stewart. Shared by Lynne McGee Tutor.

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