Even newcomers to Columbia might be familiar with the name Jane Froman; she sang for countless service men in many parts of the world during World War II. She gave them a bit of happiness, a few moments of respite from the horrors and boredom of military service. Jane was beautiful and charming, always with a smile on her face in spite of the tears that must have been in her heart. Her performances made those uniformed men think of home, loved ones and happy days ahead. But she knew so many would give their lives for their country and would not make it home.
Jane almost lost her own life after a performance as her plane crashed in water soon after takeoff. Her legs were crushed. The pilot saved her life, and she endured torturous surgery time and time again to even be able to be in a wheelchair.
Near the end of life, she returned to Missouri, and it was in her last years that I heard her voice in an informal kind of event at Arrow Rock. Her carefully made Southern belle dress concealed legs that were braced and barely moving - but she was smiling. With her usual dignity and grace, she led the group in informal singing, something I thought was a miracle.
Some of my college students and I had gone on a two-day bicycle ride and were spending the night in a Marshall hotel of early vintage. When we heard that this event was to be held, we all went in the sag wagon from Marshall to Arrow Rock to at least see Christian College’s most famous graduate.
Jane was escorted, by her husband, I think, and, with no embarrassment about wrinkles and unpracticed voice, she led as we all sang. I have no idea what we sang! I was too busy admiring this elderly woman who looked, at a distance, much like her photographs on our album, "With a Song in My Heart." There were tears in our hearts that evening.
Jane was a student at Christian College about seven years before I went there to teach swimming. When her name came up in conversation, people said to me, "Did she really dive from the rafters into the college swimming pool?" I didn’t know. I had opportunities to ask but didn’t. At college receptions, Jane was in the receiving line if she happened to be in Columbia visiting her mother, Mrs. Hetzler.
I loved teaching swimming but was never meant to wear heels and formals. We received the new students in the fall and were lined up in alphabetical order. Froman and Gerard stood side by side. At each little breather, we’d relax, and Jane would step out of the line to a mirror and put drops in her eyes to make them sparkle or visit with other faculty members who remembered Jane as a student. We were friendly but not actually friends.
Did Jane dive headfirst from the rafters? The deepest water was a foot too shallow for safety, and the diving board was in the way!
There was a ladder firmly installed on the north side, and, on my first year teaching, there I went up. A few girls came up, too.
When I looked down, I made a firm decision: "No diving headfirst!"
Two of us stepped off feet foremost, and the others used the ladder, which we removed the following week.
I believe Jane Froman was smart enough to come down feet foremost and that the talk of her "diving" is a myth.