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Memories of Marion linger with Texan

Staff writer

Muna Mitchell was 7 years old when she and her two older sisters came to Marion from Iraq with their mother, Donna (Newsom) Tabatabia, to spend the summer with their grandparents, florists Rendel and Gertrude Newsom.

During that summer, Muna learned English from Maude Thompson, a retired, longtime teacher and administrator in the Marion school system.

Thompson was highly regarded. On May 1, 1982, a downtown celebration was held to honor her. It included a parade and the traditional winding of the maypole, which Thompson led every year at Bown-Corby school in the 1940s and 1950s. The third-place plaque in the Marion County Spelling Bee was named after her. She died in December 1993, one year after Bown-Corby closed.

Mitchell said her mother had taught her a few English words, but she spoke mainly Arabic in Iraq, and her mother wanted her to become literate in English.

“I would go to Maude every day, and she would use phonetic charts to teach me the alphabet,” Mitchell said. “I was reading and writing by the end of the summer.

“I don’t remember if the lessons were challenging, but she must have been a good teacher because I enjoyed it. I would go to swimming lessons in the morning and to Maude in the afternoon.”

A year later, the family moved from Iraq to America.

Mitchell’s parents, Kasim Tabatabia and Donna Newsom, had met at the University of Kansas. After living in Kansas for a few years, they spent eight years in Iraq.

Mitchell was born in Iraq. She credits Thompson’s teaching with making the transition to America a lot smoother than it might have been if she had not known English.

“She made my academic life possible,” Mitchell said.

The family settled in Houston, Texas.

When Muna was 10 years old, she spent a month with her grandparents in Marion.

She cherishes the memories she has of small town life and of moving around freely with no rules, which was different from living in a big city.

She became friends with three other girls, and they rode all over town on their bikes.

“Everywhere we went, everyone was so friendly, and sometimes they would honk and wave from their cars,” she said.

She got to visit a farm and ride a horse.

Now she is a structural engineer in Austin, where she designs bridges for Walter P Moore, an international company of engineers and architects. She was recently promoted.

She rides a bike to work every day.

“I’m tapping into my childhood,” she said. “Riding bike is fun, not work.”

Mitchell said she returned to Marion several times to visit Thompson. On her last visit, she was disappointed to learn that Maude had died.

“She had good stories to tell and was fun to visit with,” she said.

To this day, Mitchell enjoys literature as a side interest. She has a degree in liberal arts for fun and a degree in engineering for work, she said.

Marion continues to hold a special place in her heart. She was hoping Marion still has T-shirts that say, “Marion, Kansas: Best Place I’ve Seen,” because she needs a new one.

“It was great to have that experience and enjoy the freedom of living in a small town,” she said.

Last modified Nov. 21, 2019

 

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