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'You can do anything you want.' Take it from Susan Croce Kelly's great-aunt, the Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks

A photo of Susan Croce Kelly holding up a copy of "Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Marie Upton."
Dominique Hodge
Susan Croce Kelly signs copies of her book, "Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Morris Upton" at the State Historical Society of Missouri on March 12.

Susan Croce Kelly always knew she wanted to write books. Her most recent book, “Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Morris Upton,” tells the story of Lucile through her own words. She was a journalist and author who had a deep passion for the Ozarks and its history. Using love letters, notebooks and speeches, Kelly invites people to learn about the notable newswoman who happens to be her great-aunt.

KBIA’s Dominique Hodge spoke with Kelly to learn more about their connection. Here's an excerpt from their conversation:

Dominique Hodge: Lucile is your great-aunt, right?

Susan Croce Kelly: She was my grandfather's sister, and my great-grandmother lived with her when I was a little girl. I grew up in St. Louis, and we would come and visit. But, she was pretty scary. I didn't really know her until I was grown.

Dominique Hodge: Knowing that she was your great-aunt, what made you decide to make her the focus? I know you kind of touched on it a bit. But like specifically, what made you decide, 'Yes, I'm gonna write a book about my great-aunt.'

Susan Croce Kelly: Because it was the story of Lucile and Betty Love the photographer. The two of them, together, were so well known. And the stories about them were so terrific that a lot of them were funny. And it turned out, happily, that she had — I don't know how else to say it — that she thought of quite a lot of herself. And she saved her papers.

"I always wanted to write books. And writing a book about Lucile just seemed like the right thing to do. And like I said, I think she would have thought that, 'Of course it was.'" - Susan Croce Kelly

She saved the boyfriend’s love letters, and she gave a lot of talks. Being a newspaper reporter, she wrote them all down and kept them in notebooks. And it was just, you know, incredibly valuable to me. And then in her speeches that she gave, she talked about her career. So, I got a really, really good picture of who she was. And, you know, the more I read, the more intrigued I got.

Dominique Hodge: Thinking back on Lucile — I know in childhood, she scared you, and then later on you worked together. What do you think she'd say? If she knew you wrote a book about her and her legacy and all these things, the letters, everything else?

Susan Croce Kelly: I think she would say that she expected it. I do. I look back, and Lucile never had children. So, my mother was special to her and my mother grew up wanting to go to journalism school, and then times and circumstances. She ended up at Northwest Missouri Teacher's College majoring in French.

But, she was a frustrated writer. And she wrote mostly stories and would send them out to editors. And we knew that if the manila envelopes came back in the mail, it was a rejection. And we should lay low. So, I was encouraged in all the writing that I did. Then I was editor of - I'm one of those people. I was editor of the junior high paper, the Senior High paper. And, I became infatuated with history. I have a master's degree in history. But I came back, you know, and I wanted to write. I always wanted to write books. And writing a book about Lucile just seemed like the right thing to do. And like I said, I think she would have thought that, "Of course it was."

Dominique Hodge: Yeah especially with the keeping of things all in one place. My last question is, what can we learn from her? Like, kind of what does she teach us? What does her story teach us?

Susan Croce Kelly: Lucile always said, "You can do anything you want. Make sure you know enough about it." Get yourself trained in some way or another, and then do it. Women can do anything. And even in the 1920s, she said, "You know, there's women executives and newspaper reporters and movie stars." And she just went through this whole list. And then later, right before she retired, she gave a lot of talks. She spoke to women's groups, often, and sometimes to school girls, and she said the same thing, "You can do anything you want. Just go about it methodically and persevere."

And I think that's the big message. And especially if you look at Lucile's world and all the other women that were out there that nobody told us about, you know. I think it verifies that if you want to do it bad enough, you can figure out a way. And I think that's my big takeaway from the book. Certainly.

Dominique Hodge is a junior at the University of Missouri studying cross-platform editing and producing. She is a reporter/producer for KBIA's Missouri Health Talks.
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