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Laura Rollins Hockaday

The first time she graced our pages, we didn’t even know her name: “Mr. and Mrs. Burnham Hockaday of St. Louis announce the birth of a daughter, June 25.” That was Laura Rollins Hockaday, and the date on the cover of The Independent was July 9, 1938. Not quite 80 years later, we count ourselves among the mourners of this gracious lady. Her mother, Clara Stager Hockaday, was a judge’s daughter from Sterling, Illinois. The Stagers’ home, “Larchwood,” has been described as “a beautiful home with large gardens and the reassuring sounds of train whistles in the distance.” (Chicago was one hundred miles away.) To their father’s dismay, Clara and her younger sister Mary left home to pursue careers in music in New York. (A third sister, Joanne, was born when Clara was 18. She was far too young to go with them.) As Laura later wrote, “Music was like breathing to my mother.” The two sisters lived at the Studio Arts Club. Among Clara’s numerous beaux was Cesar Romero. Due to the Depression, Clara and Mary returned to Sterling in 1933, after six years in New York. At that time, she was wooed – and won – by Burnham Hockaday, a manufacturer’s representative from Kansas City, who was then living in Chicago. Clara and Burnham were married on May 4, 1935, Rollin’s 39th birthday. Laura was their first child. Her early days in St. Louis brought her a playmate: her brother, John, was born on September 30, 1940. The Hockadays would live in Washington, D.C. and Port Chester, New York, before settling in Our Town, where Burnham’s brothers, Irvine and Rollins, Jr., lived, in 1947.

Clara was elected president of the Women’s Committee of the Philharmonic in 1953. The following year, Enid Jackson Kemper (Mrs. R. Crosby Kemper) and Clara founded The Jewel Ball. Laura’s preface to a history of The Jewel Ball that was published by The Independent in 2004 began, “Fifty years ago – on my 16th birthday – I attended one of the most beautiful parties I will ever experience. It was June 25, 1954, and it was at the Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art.” Laura, a graduate of Sunset Hill School, was presented at The Jewel Ball in 1957. She continued her studies at Smith College and graduated from Finch College. Her brother, John, was student council president at Pem-Day and also the captain of the football team. He was an undergraduate at The University of Kansas when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. John died in January 1962 at the age of 21. Laura’s 38-year career at The Kansas City Star began on October 8th of that year. She wrote on a variety of subjects. The “Come Into My Kitchen” column predated her. It first appeared in the newspaper in 1955, but she was the first writer to receive a byline for it, on October 9, 1967. That same month, her musings in “Dining – in, and out” were published with the subtitle, “Of breakfasts, tennis, mornings without candlelight, evenings with, and omelets here or in New York.” Tennis was her favorite form of exercise for many years. Friends and colleagues initially were amused by the prospect of Laura writing about cooking, but by the early 1970s, she had honed her culinary skills.

In a 1971 interview, she regaled The Independent with the story of an early error, which included a chicken casserole. “The recipe called for two teaspoons of lemon peel. There was a lot of chicken and this didn’t seem like enough. I had already called the lady who made it several times and didn’t want to bother her again so I switched it to two cups of lemon peel. For weeks afterward everyone on the city desk would pucker their lips whenever they saw me.” Laura was able to tell a joke on herself, but the truth was that she was a consummate professional. In 1975, she became travel editor, and it was with some reluctance that she agreed to become society editor in 1982, a position she held until her retirement in 2000. As her obituary stated, “she agreed only if she was permitted to define ‘society.'” For Laura, this meant reaching out to people in all parts of the city, in order to have the newspaper showcase the diversity of Our Town. Someone with Laura’s background might have chosen to focus on the people she knew from childhood, her schoolmates and her parents’ friends and neighbors. That wasn’t Laura’s way. She was a role model for other journalists, generous with her time and support. All of us at The Independent greatly admired her. Laura’s mother died in 1994. Her father, who lived to be 100, died in 1996. Laura’s survivors include her cousin, Irv Hockday, his wife, Ellen, and their daughters and sons-in-law, Wendy and Grant Burcham and Laura and Dave Hall and their families. In addition, she is survived by her aunt, Joanne S. Gould; and her cousins, Rodney S. Gould, Jr., Anne B. Gould and Courtland P. Gould, as well as many friends.                 

Also featured in the November 25, 2017 issue of The Independent
By Heather N. Paxton

Heather N. Paxton

Heather N. Paxton’s name first appeared in The Independent in a birth announcement back in — oh, never mind. In the mid-1990s, Heather joined the staff as a replacement for a friend who was expecting a visit from the stork. (Let’s hope Heather sent a baby present. The boy is a college graduate now.) Her 20s, 30s, 40s, and now her 50s: Heather has been a staff member for at least brief periods in all of these decades. She is most at home in the office when she is perusing the archives.

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