Betty and Eddie Maples did so many things together. They were married for 67 years. They raised a family together. They both taught in Springfield public schools. They traveled the U.S. together adding to their extensive collections of rocks and relics. They were active in politics together. They enjoyed dancing together.
And they died together.
“Mom was just waiting for Dad,” says son Chris Maples. “She passed the day after we buried him.”
Elizabeth Lucille Maples was 86 and Charles Edward Maples was 87 when they died, she on May 22 and he on May 12. Betty had resided in a nursing home in Nixa for about three years. Eddie, who had remained active after surviving throat cancer, joined her there for their last month after falling and breaking a hip.
Both were educators in the Springfield R-12 school system. Betty taught first grade for 31 years at Mark Twain Elementary, retiring in 1996. Eddie taught sixth graders at Walt Disney and then Bowerman from 1970 to 1976.
In addition to the hundreds of pupils who learned from Betty, she helped dozens of fledgling teachers during her three decades of presiding in classrooms. Gary Casalo was one who valued Betty as a mentor.
“And so did a lot of other students that I ended up teaching with,” says Casalo. “Every one of them said the same thing: ‘I learned more from doing my student teaching with Betty Maples than I did in my whole degree program!’ It was a common thread in the way people described her.”
Sandra Agostini taught sixth grade at Disney while Eddie was there. She looked him up because she wanted to teach sixth grade — although at first she wasn’t impressed with his professional demeanor.
“Eddie was so very laid back. I wasn’t sure the kids were learning much,” she says now, smiling at the recollection. “But in the achievement tests, his kids did the same as mine, or better. And his kids loved him — they absolutely would’ve put their lives on the line for him.
“The best lesson Eddie Maples ever taught me,” says Agostini, “is that there are different ways to do the same thing.”
Both Casalo and Agostini became personal friends with Betty and Eddie in addition to their professional relationships.
“I was raised in St. Louis, but after graduating from college I decided I wanted to live here,” says Casalo. “Eddie and Betty would drive me around and say, ‘Here’s a farm for sale — you should have this one, and we’ll help you.’
“I did get 80 acres south of Ozark. Being from the city, I knew next to nothing about farming. I was raw. Everything I needed to know about a cow, I learned from Eddie,” says Casalo, who 47 years later still lives on that 80 acres. “Eddie was a resource person for whatever you needed.”
The same held true for family.
Chris never was a student in either of his parents’ classrooms but, he says, “They were teachers all the time. When they got home after work, they still were teaching.”
Granddaughter Holly Stevens agrees: “Grandma was always encouraging me to read books. And on trips we would listen to books on tape as we drove.”
Holly lives near the rural Nixa home built by Eddie and Betty, and she says she also learned from talking with Betty as part of a daily ritual growing up: “Every day we’d always go for a walk down the road. No matter how hot it was or whatever the weather was like, we were going for that walk.”
Holly also echoes Casalo’s praise for Eddie’s helpful nature: “He was always there for anyone who needed help. If somebody’s cows got out or somebody had a vehicle break down, Grandpa would hook up the trailer and go pick it up.”
Eddie was a cable TV pioneer
Chris learned something from his dad that has guided his own work life: the cable industry.
After a few years of teaching, Eddie became intrigued by what one of his brothers-in-law was doing up in Sullivan, Mo. — delivering television programming to homes and businesses via a cable system.
So in the late 1970s, Eddie established the Ozark Cable TV Company, which first wired the city of Ozark, then Nixa. He operated it for the next several years, luring Chris, who had been running his own automotive repair shop, to join him.
Chris continued in the cable industry — which now, of course, includes delivery of internet and telephone services in addition to TV — after his dad sold the Christian County system. It passed through a couple of other owners and is the predecessor of today’s SuddenLink system there.
Chris has worked for American Broadband since the 1990s in the Pomme de Terre Lake area. Eddie and Betty visited him there often, even helping out some with the business. They also gave an assist to his personal life by introducing him to the woman who became his wife 16 years ago.
“I worked in a little grocery and hardware store in Schell City, and Eddie and Betty would come in to shop when they were up with Chris,” explains Susan Maples. “They were so nice. I fell in love with them. In fact, Eddie always joked that I fell in love with him first but then found out he was already married, so I had to go on to Chris.”
Susan didn’t initially realize that Chris was related to Eddie and Betty; she just knew he was “the cable guy” who came into the store to order custom meat-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch. “I didn’t know his name for probably a year,” Susan recounts with a laugh. “Then one day he came in with Betty. That’s when I made the connection. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Other sorts of history were a special fascination for Betty and Eddie. They were avid collectors of all things ancient, including Native American artifacts, antique farm tools and homemaking gadgets, and especially fossils preserved in rocks.
The Maples home is a virtual museum, filled with their finds neatly placed on shelves and in lighted cabinets. Displays include a dizzying variety of stones and rocks, ranging from brilliant gemstones to geodes that have been cut open to reveal colorful interior crystals to petrified dinosaur poop that has been polished into softball-size globes.
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Other collections include figurines of frogs, cats, donkeys and horses, plus delicate decorative glassware, antique dolls and hand puppets, and an extensive assemblage of political campaign buttons — all touting Democrats, a reflection of the couples’ staunch political leanings. (Eddie ran for Christian County offices a couple of times, but didn’t win.)
Betty and Eddie recruited family and friends for collecting expeditions, especially for journeys out West to prospect. Ronnie Agostini says he and wife Sandra were persuaded to join on “a 1,000-mile trip to Wyoming to search for rocks. We didn’t know one rock from another, but we learned from them. It was the teacher in them — they were so interested in having us see those places and things.”
The couple’s collecting extended to contemporary art, chiefly the paintings of the late Edythe West, a longtime faculty member of the art department at Drury College (now University). West was Betty’s aunt and was another mentor to Casalo. He helped the Mapleses acquire an impressive catalog of West’s paintings, many of which they prominently hung throughout their house.
In her declining years, Betty suffered some cognitive issues and wasn’t always able to recognize old friends nor to communicate vocally. But an exception was her cousin Mary Edith Jelinek Moss.
Mary Edith recalls playing with Betty when they were children: “We loved to climb up on haystacks and slide down. We had a lot of fun. But sometimes we got into trouble.”
Shawna Moss, Mary Edith’s daughter, says that when her mother visited Betty in the nursing home “they’d hold hands. They didn’t have to say much. It was beautiful.”
Shawna also recalls wheeling Betty up to Eddie’s bed the night before he died: “She reached out her hand and touched his, and she said, ‘Good night.’”
As per their instructions, Betty and Eddie’s remains were cremated. Half of Eddie’s ashes were interred in nearby Delaware Town Cemetery where his mother and other relatives are buried. A portion of Betty’s ashes were sprinkled there.
The remainder of Betty and Eddie’s cremains are buried in Payne Cemetery in Nixa.
Together, of course. Forever.
Mike O’Brien is a former longtime newspaper reporter, editor and columnist and is also a college journalism educator in Springfield. To suggest a person who might make a subject for Lives Remembered, email him at LivesRemembered@sgfcitizen.org or email@example.com.