Metro-East Living

‘You will go to school if I have to beat you all the way to the bus stop’

Ann Travous had to quit school after eighth grade in the 1930s, so she was darn sure her children would know the value of an education.

Husband Odell, who had two years of high school, felt the same way.

“Mom would say, ‘You will go to school if I have to beat you all the way to the bus stop,’” recalls her daughter, Kathy Morganstern, 72, of Belleville.

Ann was joking, of course. The Travous children loved to learn. All five ended up with bachelor’s degrees, three earned graduate degrees and one went to law school.

“It just shows the importance your parents have on your life, especially when it comes to something like education,” said Kathy’s brother, Ken Travous, 66, of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Ann and Odell are deceased. Their children gathered in Belleville this month to catch up and meet with Southwestern Area College officials, who consider them an alumni success story.

All five siblings graduated from Belleville Area College, now SWIC, before transferring to four-year universities.

“Mom was a stay-at-home mom (in Swansea), and dad was a machinist in St. Louis,” said daughter Sue Hoffmann, 65, of Swansea. “Economically, five kids going away to college wasn’t an option.

“BAC had a good reputation, and we knew that we could get those first two years in and that it would be affordable.”

Ann also was a BAC graduate — sort of. She took a class to prepare for her GED, which she got at age 50.

“We were proud of her,” Sue said. “We knew that, as smart as she was, it always bothered her that she didn’t have a diploma.”

Sue was attending Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at the time. She already had graduated from BAC in 1971.

Sue later went from teacher to principal to superintendent at High Mount School, where she had been a student, Odell had been a school board member and Ann had been active in Mother’s Club.

“We figured out that from start to finish, except for high school and college, I was at High Mount for 50 years,” Sue said.

Sue earned master’s and specialist degrees at SIUE along the way. She now works part time for St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools and teaches at McKendree University.

The Travous education story really goes back to the 1920s. Ann’s mother died when Ann was 2, and her father, a Belleville coal miner, sent her to live with grandparents in West Virginia.

“After she graduated from eighth grade, all her friends went on to high school, but her grandparents wouldn’t let her go,” Ken said. “She had to stay home and help with their general store.”

Odell had a similar situation. He quit school after his sophomore year to work on the Belleville family farm.

The first Travous child to attend BAC was Sharon Gottschall, now 73, of Belleville, who graduated in 1962 before getting a bachelor’s at Illinois State University and a master’s at SIUE. She worked as an elementary school teacher in Smithton, Dupo and East St. Louis.

Next came Ken, who graduated from BAC in 1971. He went on to earn a bachelor’s at Illinois State University and master’s at University of Utah and worked his way up to director of Arizona State Parks.

Kathy was a single mother with a full-time office job when she attended BAC.

“Mom said, ‘If you want to go to night school, I’ll watch the kids,’” Kathy said. “So they went to her house every Monday and Wednesday night for seven years while I was at BAC.”

Kathy graduated from BAC in 1979 and McKendree University in 1982 before embarking on a career as a legal and financial administrative assistant.

The youngest sibling, Paul Travous, now 56, played a key role in his sister’s education.

“In 1978, I was trying to get through algebra, and Paul was a senior in high school,” Kathy said. “And he came over every Sunday afternoon to tutor me.

“I would fix him spaghetti or lasagne or whatever he wanted. That’s the only way I could get through that class.”

Paul graduated from BAC in 1980 before heading to University of Illinois and St. Louis University School of Law. He’s an attorney in St. Charles, Mo.

Older brother Ken was named SWIC’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 1992.

College officials learned of the five Travous siblings when Sue ran into SWIC president Georgia Costello at a retirement party recently.

“I said, ‘All five of us went to SWIC,’” Sue said. “And she said, ‘Oh, that’s a success story.’”