John and Lena Conran

Kenneth Westhues

Written in 1993 for a volume of community history being compiled at that time in Glasgow, Missouri. The book did not materialize. This entry was first published on the web in August 2003, in the Tributes section of the K. Westhues Homepage.

John Henry Conran was born on a farm near High Hill, Montgomery County, Missouri, in 1872, the son of James Conran (1830-1922), an immigrant from County Wicklow, Ireland, and Anne Bardon (1837-1929), of American Irish ancestry. In 1900, he married Bertha Lee Whitman (1876-1915). of Anglo-American ancestry, and moved with his bride to a nearby farm. There they had three children: Mary Olive (1902-2003), John Douglas (1903-1976), and Francis Lee (1906-1988). Then Bertha fell ill of consumption. In a desperate effort to restore her to health, she, John, and the children moved to Colorado Springs in 1910, settling the next spring on dry prairie land east of the city, land recently released for settlement under the Homestead Act. The move seemed to improve Bertha's health, but not enough. In 1915, she died at home on the treeless plains, in the shadow of Pike's Peak.

Three years later, John brought his children back to Missouri and moved to Glasgow, attracted to the rivertown by friends and by the availability of a Catholic school. Here he married Lena Oser in 1921. She was then 39 years old, living just north of town with her widowed father, Joseph, an immigrant from Baden, Germany.

John and Lena lived first on the farm he had purchased southeast of Glasgow, later known as the Denny Place. In 1935, they moved to a nearby farm astride the Hurricane Creek, earlier owned by the Dougherty family. In 1951, as John neared his eightieth birthday, they moved to an apartment in town, while retaining ownership of the farm. John died the day after Christmas, 1955. One year and six days later, Lena was killed in an auto accident, while returning from a visit to Mary Naberhaus, then a patient in the Boonville hospital.

Of John Conran's three children, only the eldest remained in the Glasgow community. Olive married John Westhues. Their farm was in the mainly German-Catholic neighborhood northeast of Glasgow. They had six children: John, Jr., James, Eugene, Dolores, Margie, and Kenneth.

Doug Conran married a Glasgow girl, Louise Hackley, and then his brother, Lee, married Louise's sister, Dorothy. Doug and Louise had three children: Bertha Marie, Darlene, and James. Lee and Dorothy had four children: Shirley, John, Joyce, and Judy. Both these families lived first in Glasgow. Doug and Lee worked on the river and in various trades.

In 1943, out of concern for Doug's health, he and Louise moved their family to Colorado Springs, where he worked as a rancher, custodian, and carpenter. Louise worked for many years at Aircraft Mechanics. Lee and Dorothy meanwhile moved to Kansas City, where Lee worked for General Motors on the Pontiac assembly line. Both these families maintained close ties with the Glasgow community, and traveled here often to visit relatives and friends.

John and Lena's farm is still in the family. John and Olive Westhues bought it from Lena's estate following her death, and sold it in 1969 to Lee and Dorothy's daughter, Judy, and her husband, Kenneth Suttner. Judy is the only Conran grandchild to have made her life in the Glasgow community.

John and Lena Conran never accumulated even modest wealth. They lived simply on their farm without electricity, telephone, running water, or indoor plumbing. When rains would swell the Hurricane Creek and flood the revetment on the lane, their home was inaccessible. They were still driving a 1929 Ford when they moved to town. Yet both of them radiated a joy and good will, an easygoing acceptance of life that earned them the community's respect and made visits to their home a treasured memory for all their grandchildren. John was a great storyteller and could find humor in almost anything. The term "Conran stretch" derives from his tendency to embroider the truth in telling tales of his childhood and of frontier life on the prairie. Lena was gentle, soft-spoken, and self-effacing, forever baking coffee cake or cookies for her guests. Both John and Lena were practicing Catholics, though their grandchildren witnessed their faith most clearly when each would kneel and pray silently beside their bed at night, in the soft glow of a kerosene lamp.