Most parents attend their children’s graduation, but few sit beside them wearing a cap and gown. But so it was in 1961 that Ann Hall née Loftis ’61 sat beside her mother Irene Dill Loftis ’61 as part of the first Furman class to graduate in McAlister Auditorium. Irene, who is now 105, still lives in South Carolina, and though age has weakened her body, her mind still fervently possesses a love of learning.
When Irene graduated with her daughter, it was the second time she had attended Greenville’s Women’s College, which merged with Furman beginning in 1932. Irene was 18 when she entered the Women’s College, but after two years she left to marry Harvey Loftis ’29 and start a family. But her desire for an education led her return to Furman in the late 1950s to earn her diploma. After graduating with Ann, Irene went on to complete a Masters of Library Science from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She then worked as a librarian at Baker’s Chapel Elementary School in Greenville County until she retired in 1975.
Ann recalls that her mother enjoyed reading encyclopedias, always on a quest for knowledge. But most of all, Irene cherished books. “She liked all kinds of books, but she loved the romantic poets.” Irene even wrote her own poetry and had her work published in the The Isaqueena, the Literary Magazine of the Women’s College. More recently, at the age of 90, Irene entered a poetry competition and won an award.
It seems that a love of learning runs in the Loftis family. “I come from a family of educators. . . ,” Ann says. Her father was a principal, her son is a teacher, and Ann worked as an elementary teacher before becoming principal of M. S. Bailey and Clinton Elementary Schools in Clinton, S.C. Ann also has two brothers who were teachers.
Although her mother Irene is not always communicative, she is spirited and still loves words. “I started reciting nursery rhymes to her, and her eyes would light up and she’d finish the phrase,” Ann says as she recalls singing “Jack and Jill.” Since then, Irene not only completes the phrases her daughter sings, but she composes endings that communicate her memories, such as “Jack and Jill went up the hill to go to Tigerville,” which is the town near Travelers Rest where she grew up.
“She has an incredible will to live; when she was 102 she was at her lowest with a bout of pneumonia, but she recovered and she’s happy.” Irene Loftis will be 106 on Christmas Day.
Romantic Song (Published in the National Poetry Awards in 1964)
by Irene Loftis
“Lilies for a bridal bed
Roses for a matron’s head
Violets for a maiden dead” – P.B. Shelley
“Violets for a maiden dead,”
Plant them thick, and at the head
Set lilies pale on grey-green stems.
These shall be her requiems.
She will not know – who died so young
By lover scorned – unknown, unsung.
But violets thick, with greenery laced,
Will mark her grave with purple grace.
And lilies pale on grey-green stems,
Shall show for aye, her love for him.