Look at what we found!
If you’ve read my Celia’s Gifts series, you might already know a little about my Aunt Mary. Her life inspired that series. I always like to say she was a “woman before her time,” and she helped pave the way for other women in business.
Mary K. Nierling was my grandmother’s oldest sister, and our real life “Celia.” She was the matriarch of our family on my mother’s side. I have snippets of memories of time spent at Aunt Mary’s house, eating fancy hors d’oeuvres off individual silver trays and sipping 7-Up from gold embossed glasses before a nice dinner out with her at a fancy restaurant.
We lived a few blocks from Mary’s pink, two-story home. I remember her third-floor attic, the mural on the wall flanking the stairs, the hushed atmosphere and unique smell of the house, and the way the floor squeaked in the hallway leading to her kitchen. It was a large, stately home for a single woman.
I wish I’d taken the time to get to know her better, but I was young and intimidated by her forceful presence. She died a few years after I graduated from college. I’m left with countless questions I’ll never have the chance to ask. I wish I could sit down with her now to hear a firsthand account of the full life she lived. Or at least however much of it she’d be willing to share!
It’s fun to ask questions of those who knew her, but she died in 1992. Thirty-plus years dims memories. One thing my dad mentioned during our talks about the woman was a wall hanging of some sort in a local car dealership. He remembered it related to an exceptionally large equipment order that involved our very own Aunt Mary.
According to their website, the R.M. Stoudt, Inc. dealership of Jamestown, ND was founded in 1941. But they’d moved their offices in the years since Dad last saw the wall hanging, so we had no idea if it still existed.
Fast forward to last week, when we swung by the dealership’s newer showroom to check if someone might remember anything about a framed invoice. You can imagine our delight when the first person we asked marched us right over to a beautifully framed shadow box, hanging prominently on their showroom wall.
I did my best to minimize the glare on the glass.
The salesman laughed as he told us how they often reference the invoice in the center of the display. Why? Look at some details of the order and you’ll understand.
I’ll summarize the high points as the glare makes it a little difficult to read:
I have no idea what a Ford 1½ ton truck sells for these days, but I know ½ ton pickups cost wayyyyy more than $1,033 each!
The final tally after 29 various older pickups and trucks were traded in came in at $32,981.39. That probably wouldn’t even buy you one half of a brand-new pickup these days, but that would have been a large sum of money in 1946. All these years later, the prices are fascinating, but I find the bottom portion of the invoice to be the best part of all:
W.H. Noel Co by M. Nierling
“M. Nierling” was none other than our very own Aunt Mary. I recognize her signature. When I showed this to my son, he said it looked like my handwriting.
A woman’s signature on the bottom of a sizable invoice in 2023 wouldn’t be remarkable, but this evolution didn’t happen by accident. Brave women like Mary K. Nierling, aka Aunt Mary, defied the odds and carved a path through what was very much a man’s world in the mid 1900’s. For me, this invoice is evidence that Mary really was a force in the business world.
Since I didn’t ask the questions of her while she was still alive, I’m attempting to pull together bits and pieces of her career through old documents. An afternoon spent at the Jamestown Public Library revealed a few things, but I’ll dig deeper. I knew Mary rose to the level of partner during her career at the road construction company. According to her obituary, she retired in 1956 at 53 years old. Her death certificate lists her as “owner / operator / partner in a road construction company”. I’ve even uncovered some answers as to what became of W.H. Noel Construction, but I have more research to do.
Another fascinating piece of information a distant cousin shared with me about Aunt Mary is a brief article from our hometown paper, The Jamestown Sun.
Mary was only 34 years old in 1937; the date penciled onto the clipping. It’s doubtful that many women held the title of President of their state’s Highway Contractors Association back then. I love the quote that she “feels no qualms about stepping into roles usually reserved for men.”
I can’t allow Aunt Mary’s story to die with her. The tidbits I know about her inspired my fictional Celia, but the more I learn of Mary’s actual story, the hungrier I become for more details. I shared some of this history in the back of my book “Celia’s Legacy,” but discovering the Stoudt invoice has reignited my curiosity.
My work continues, but if you haven’t yet read my Celia’s Gifts series, I invite you to take a look. Start with Whispering Pines, Book 1, and enjoy Celia’s tight knit family through all seven books.
Many of our family’s real-life traditions pop up in these books, keeping Mary’s legacy alive.
Thank you, Aunt Mary, for living such an inspiring, generous life. And thank you, Dad, for remembering an old framed document. I suspect those at the dealership would thank Mary, too, for the sizeable chunk of business they received during their early years. After all, the invoice still holds a place of honor in their showroom after seventy-seven years.
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!