Hitting their stride in the sunset years

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July 31, 2010 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — At 71, Ellery Robertson is a first-time exhibitor at the Allen County Fair.
“I just never got around to it,” he said.
A shame.
His photographs of fauna, flora and landscapes are surely ribbon-worthy.
The fact is, Ellery and Eileen, his bride of almost 24 years, are still “finding themselves” even in their elderly years.
“Living is fascinating,” said the perky Eileen, now 80.
They’re not a couple who necessarily live life in tandem, but their interests compliment the other’s.
Eileen is devoted to seeing Humboldt’s history well-preserved and promoted.
In that effort she serves on a host of committees including Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area and the triennial celebration of Humboldt’s Civil War Days. She helps the Humboldt Historic Preservation Alliance, Biblesta, the Southeast Kansas Tourism Region, is a Kansas Explorer and writes the weekly Humboldt Quiz for the Humboldt Union.
“How can you wake up bored when you have so many things to think about?” she asks rhetorically.
Ellery said their sleep patterns may in fact be a secret to their happy marriage.
“I don’t know when Eileen comes to bed,” he said with a laugh, noting he’s an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type of guy while Eileen burns the midnight oil and doesn’t mind missing a sunrise.
Eileen revels in her large study recently converted from a screened-in porch and looks across at her Wulf family’s heritage, Monarch Cement.
At the crack of dawn, Ellery can be found manicuring a pocket park on Humboldt’s downtown square. A few years ago Ellery completed a master gardener’s class through the Kansas State Extension office in Iola. He puts his talents to work for his adopted hometown as well as in his own extensive garden which is now replete with tomatoes, peppers and ripening cantaloupe, among other things.

THE COUPLE met in Chanute where both were teachers at Royster Middle School. He in math, she in English.
He was a widower; she a divorcee.
On their first date, before she even set foot in the car, she got one thing straight.
“Do you know the Lord?” she asked in her most identifiable fierce tone.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied.
She got in.
Their faith is a common bond that has helped them weather life’s challenges.
“It has a lot to do with how we look at life,” Eileen said.
They also are each other’s biggest fan.
“Ellery is a very nice man,” Eileen said, “And he’s very observant.”
She notes his skills at identifying plants, insects, primitives and antiques. He’s had a booth at Kennedy’s Attic in Chanute for 15 years where he sells his discoveries made at area garage and estate sales.
He’s also a collector of postcards, fishing lures, guns and Civil War artifacts.
A fan of the outdoors, he devoted many hours to the development of Humboldt’s new Neosho River Park.
Ellery brags of Eileen’s inspiring ways as a teacher.
“I’ve never settled for mediocrity,” she said. “I started each year pledging I’d give 150 percent of myself and asked my students to do the same. Not for me, but for themselves.”
Ellery taught across Eastern Kansas for 37 years. He also served as an administrator for about one-third of that time, including as high school principal.
Eileen taught for 26 years, the first 12 years in Southern California, the last 14 in Chanute.
Her move to southeast Kansas in 1985 was a joyful homecoming, she said.
“I always said I’d at least be buried at Mount Hope,” Humboldt’s cemetery. “But then I figured I didn’t have to wait until I died to get back here.”
She said she loved the ocean, “only to see the sunset,” and as for mountains, “I couldn’t see around them.”
Spoken like a true plainswoman.
Ellery can’t help but chide Eileen about her “condition.” She suffers from “math trauma,” he said.
“It’s true,” she admits, saying she completed her degree in education with nary a math class, but satisfied the requirement through a curriculum of science.
When she turned 80, Eileen said she learned an important lesson.
“I learned to go with my strengths,” she said. “I’m just now hitting my stride.”

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