Our storyteller for the month of November is Denise Grow, dedicated entertainer, writer and educator from Cass County, Missouri with a passion for historical lives of everyday people.
Born in Kansas City, Kansas, but before she was 5 the family moved to Belton, MO. where she grew up, to a two- room shack, outhouse and all! Denise was the oldest of 6 and remembers her humble beginnings. Eventually though there would be indoor plumbing and a bathroom of sorts in the corner of the kitchen, just draw the curtain.
She wasn’t exposed to a lot of storytelling in her early days, although she does remember an Uncle who had a dry sense of humor and could spin a good yarn. There was more music in her household; her father was a jazz musician, as well as many of her uncle’s. Daddy didn’t make a living playing his trumpet, a gig player in Kansas City on the weekends mostly, she fondly remembers he loved his family more than his music and made a living as a bricklayer. She also remembers the family cramming into an old Studebaker Flatbed Truck to visit Grandma who still lived in Kansas City, KS. Yes 6 children and 2 adults!
Denise would marry and have 3 children, 2 sons and 1 daughter and was fine with being a stay at home Mom. She did odd jobs here and there but her love was raising her children. Her storytelling journey would begin later in life; she had always enjoyed writing, and is a published author of short stories and essays in magazines, literary journals and periodicals. It was when she began working as the Schoolmarm for The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead that her storytelling began. She did extensive research on one room schools that led to doing presentations and programs for schools, senior homes and other places about the one room schoolhouse.
While doing her programs for the farmstead she partnered up with The Cass County Living History Guild who wanted to do a major production of The Orphan Train History. Many children came to that area and a living granddaughter of one of the Orphan Train Riders arrived in Cass County. Denise was tasked with writing the drama, with her skills as a writer and a researcher, she delved into the history of the Orphan Trains of America, and the drama was presented on the platform of the Belton, Grandview and Kansas City railroad train station in 2005 and numerous times throughout 2006.
The actors, “orphans” actually arrived on the train, the kids leaning out the windows and pulled in to the station! It still gives her chills talking about it.
The Orphan Train is a controversial subject in our history. Some say it was not right for the children to be exploited and taken away to strangers. Some say it was a blessing for these poor wretches of human society, living on the streets of New York City. The Orphan Trains began in 1854 and lasted 75 years ending in 1929. Dr. Charles Loring Brace started an orphanage in New York City, seeing the need, but the need was too great for that. He realized as the trains went further and further to the west that maybe there was a better life for these children and started a grass roots movement, spreading the word. Some children even went as far as Alaska. Of course with any movement like this there is going to be good and bad but Dr. Charles’s heart for these children was in the right place.
Nowadays Denise makes her home in rural Cass County near Harrisonville, MO, on a little hobby farm where she raises heritage poultry and heirloom vegetables. Due to health issues has not been able to tell in recent years but hopes to return to it soon. She joins us on Zoom as often as she can and looks forward to tell her favorite personal story Larry the Lizard with her original song that goes with it, in fact Denise writes and sings an original song for all the stories she tells which distinguishes her from many tellers!
Denise’s favorite song is the Bluegrass Classic, There is a Time, by Rodney Dillard and we will end with that great last verse!
So do your wanderin’ in the Springtime, find your love in the summer sun
Frost will come and bring the harvest; you can rest when day is done.