Born on June 4th, 1915 to Frank and Elsie (Canfield) Smith, Audrey Mavis grew up nurtured by her mother, Elsie, and her maternal grandmother, Anzella (Jones) Canfield, after her parents divorced when she was a young girl. Three generations of women would maintain their home and outbuildings, their gardens and animals; theirs was a life of many chores and much hard work, a life of sacrifice for and commitment to each other that would ultimately shape the personality and character of Audrey.
After graduating from Ottumwa High School in 1932, Audrey Chisman attended Parsons College and later graduated from William Penn. Her dedication as an educator began during the height of the Depression, when she received her first teaching position at the Elm Grove Country School, just north of Fairfield. Audrey would teach and mentor her students for two years in this one room country school before taking another position at the Attica Consolidated School.
During WWII, Audrey would begin teaching at the Blakesburg Community School. Marriage and motherhood would not dissuade her from teaching, which she continued to do until 1980 when she retired at the age of 65. During this long teaching tenure, Audrey would also be active in her community and her areas of passion; she was a member of the Y.W. Quilt Club, the Blakesburg Quilt Club, Wapello County Historical Society, Blakesburg Historical Preservation Society, and Blakesburg Garden Club. She would volunteer her time for the Blakesburg Corn Carnival and for church activities, and was always ready to take a meal to someone who was sick or shut-in. Gardening was just another reason to share vegetables and flowers with others, and many in Blakesburg still cherish their fond memories of Audrey’s beautiful gladiolas she grew every year.
Audrey’s retirement from teaching meant her classroom was gone, but she none-the-less never ignored a teachable moment with anyone. And in her later years, Audrey was a “living history book”—a treasure trove of wonderful stories to tell about a way of life quickly disappearing in a world now run and ruled by technology. Forever a teacher in everything she did, Blakesburg would be her home until her death in 2012. Audrey Chisman lived a remarkable 97 years; she will always be remembered by those who knew her well, and perhaps now—by some she never met.