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Women's History Month — Thelma "Toots" Heflin

16 Mar 2021 2:47 PM | Anonymous

Happy Women's History Month! Each week during this month we will highlight and learn about women from Shelby County and their lives.


Pictured is Thelma "Toots" Heflin (1913-1995) helping Dave Schechinger organize the Shelby County Historical Museum's store room in 1990.

On May 18, 1913 Thelma was born in Grafton, NE to her parents Clifford and Elizabeth Cade. In 1916, her family moved to Shelby County. At the age of 16 Thelma graduated from Harlan High School (Class of 1929). Three years later on June 2, 1931 she married Gaillard Heflin.

For many years Thelma wrote a Harlan Newspaper column, "Down on the Farm". This article covered many different topics, but mainly she shared the history of Shelby County in a gripping way. On May 30, 1977 she wrote, "... We had been going past those two big cement (or rock) pieces at the west end of the new Nishnabotna River bridge and I kept wondering if they could possibly have been a part of the old Chatburn Mill, which had been on that exact location when it was built... I stopped by to see Gladys Reynolds, because J.W. Chatburn, builder of the mill, was her great-grandfather and I felt she'd KNOW. She got out her collection of pictures of the Mill and, sure enough, there didn't seem to be any place where large chunks of cement would have been used... It was fascinating, as always, to hear her tell about the Mill. How it was opened with a dance on Christmas Day, 1876. The 'forby' and the 'mill-race' and the 'dry bridge' close by are all intriguing terms..."

Thelma was a charter member of the Shelby County Historical Society. Not only did Thelma help preserve the history of Shelby County, she volunteered locally for over 60 years. She spent time volunteering for 4-H, Eastern Star Lebanon Chapter # 8, Church Women United, Shelby County Farm Bureau, Shelby County Extension Service, PTA, Harlan Community School Board, Baptist Memorial Home, Harlan Literary Club, and many other organizations.


The Shelby County Historical Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1964. This four building complex is located at 1805 Morse Avenue Harlan, Iowa 51537.

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