Elfie Alice Bowen Messenger Tolle 1929-2009

An amazing woman left us on Tuesday morning, June 9. Her name was Elfie*, but to us it was always Elfie Alice. She claimed nine children, eighteen grandchildren, eleven great grandchildren and one great, great grandson. Yet she married for the first time at age 49, was widowed after six years, remarried at 62.


Both husbands were from the community of Roxbury, Kansas (too small to even be listed among Kansas cities and towns) where she moved with her parents and older brother in 1952 when they purchased the Roxbury Telephone Company. Her dad, my great Uncle Roy Bowen, died of congestive heart failure in 1959 (the first funeral I attended at the age of nine). Her brother, Elvin, died of a heart attack at age 42 while pitching a softball game in Topeka, Kansas.


With both of their men gone, Elfie Alice and her mother, Aunt Esther, operated the Roxbury Telephone Company by themselves for nine more years from the old patch cord switchboard in their living room. Whenever we visited, one of them was at the desk, calling out “Number Please.” It was the last phone system like that in the State of Kansas. They finally sold out in 1977 and Roxbury had an automated phone system, catching up with the rest of the world. The old switchboard is a prize possession of the Telephone Museum in Abilene, Kansas, a stone’s throw from the Eisenhower Museum and Library.


Elfie Alice was the little sister my father never had, though actually his first cousin. Dad was an only child, so maybe he valued his cousins more than most. Elfie Alice was eleven years his junior. They teased each other and fought like brother and sister. She depended on him for advice and they talked often on the phone. After my mother died in 1984 and Elfie Alice’s first husband, Ray, died in 1985, Dad would often stop by Roxbury and bring her with him to visit us. When she remarried in 1992 to the widowed husband of one of her closest friends, Dad lost his “date” for visiting us or going to the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in nearby Lindsborg. But he stayed in close touch with Elfie Alice and her husband, LaVerne Tolle, a wonderful caring man.


After Dad died in 2002, my siblings and I had to decide how we were going to stay in touch, opting for a biannual reunion, with hosting responsibility rotating through the five. This was for the five of us and our families exclusively, but with one major exception. Elfie Alice and LaVerne were always invited, and they never missed, even when it was held in northern Minnesota. She had her own 39 children, grandchildren, greats and a great great, but she knew she was included in our family too.


I took the news of Elfie Alice’s death rather stoically, until I called my youngest daughter, Andi, to break the news to her. Her response triggered my own emotion as she referred to Elfie Alice as the “grandma I never had on the Macy side of the family.” Elfie Alice was just one of countless cousins of my father, but far more than that, she was more like Dad’s sister, a favorite aunt and a grandma extraordinaire. Goodbye Elfie Alice! We love you!

* My father often reminded us that when you name a baby, you are actually naming an adult. I suspect he was reacting to the unusual name of his favorite cousin. But then Elfie Alice would not have been Elfie Alice if she was given any other name. He wouldn’t be happy with me calling her his favorite cousin either because he didn’t believe in favorites, but I stand by my assertion. Another possible influence on my father’s advice that you are naming an adult, not just a baby, was the name of his father in law, whose given name was Benny, though he had a large name plate made for the parsonage porch that read “Benjamin G. McCormick, Methodist Minister.”

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