Anonymous donations were made in Springfield in early 1940. Then anonymous gifts were mailed to present and former Ava residents not long after. Many people thought the gifts and donations were from the same person, whom they dubbed the “Angel of the Ozarks.”
The “Angel of Springfield” gave $10,000 to Burge Hospital, $1,250 to the American Legion, $500 to the South Street Christian Church and the Greene County Red Cross, $100 each to the five Women's Christian Temperance Unions in Springfield, $50 each to the Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and the Springfield Boy Scout Band.
That totaled $12,900, which in today's dollars would be the equivalent of $231,935. That’s considerably more than the “Angel of Ava” gave away. The Springfield gifts were not to individuals, but to organizations and institutions. Those were not the only differences between the two. The Angel of Ava was purportedly a man and his identity remained undiscovered.
That was not the case with the “Angel of Springfield.”
Emma Stephenson was born in Indiana Sept. 4, 1858, the daughter of Elijah and Caroline (Farlin) Stephenson. By the 1870 census, the 11-year-old was living with her family near Avilla, Missouri, east of Carthage. Emma completed the eighth grade in school.
By the 1880 census, she was 21 years old and living with her parents and four siblings in Carthage. There she met R. Lynn Hummel, who had been born in Pennsylvania in 1852.
In 1870, Hummel was 18 years of age and living in Illinois. By 1880, he was 23, living in Joplin with his parents and siblings, and making his living as a music teacher. He also sold pianos to supplement his teaching income.
Meanwhile, Emma Stephenson was also making her living as a teacher and worked for the Carthage School.
Lynn and Emma were married in Carthage in 1883. In 1884, they moved to Springfield, where he went into the lumber business. Hummel did very well with his lumber yard.
Eventually, Hummel became an director and shareholder in the National Exchange Bank on the Springfield Public Square. By 1900, Lynn and Emma had moved into a home on East Walnut Street. By 1904, he had moved his lumber yard to a new location on Olive Street between Jefferson and Main, which was prime real estate in those years.
Unfortunately, Lynn Hummel passed away on May 18, 1908. The Springfield Republican ran a story the next day headlined, “Death Comes To Honored Citizen.”
That article concluded with the line, “Mr. Hummel had been prominently identified with every movement manifested for the upbuilding of this city, and for the betterment of conditions of every kind. He gave liberally of his time and means to every public enterprise and his efforts had much to do with the advancement of Springfield.”
At the time of his death, Lynn Hummel was only 55 years old. There were funeral services held both in Springfield and in Carthage. He was buried in the latter city. Lynn and Emma had no children.
Another story in the Springfield Republican on Oct. 11, 1908, revealed that Emma Hummel had agreed to pay Lynn's brothers and sisters $10,500 as a settlement in which she would be sole heir to the lumber yard. A will in which Lynn made Emma his sole beneficiary could not be found.
Emma Hummel was apparently a pretty shrewd business person in her own right and lived frugally and quietly on her inheritance from her husband, which she grew considerably. When she died in 1943, at the age of 85, it was discovered that she had holdings in excess of $100,000, which in today's dollars would equal $1.7 million. And that was after she gave away a whole lot of money.
An article by the Associated Press after her death that ran in the Daily Capital News at Jefferson City, among other newspapers, on Jan. 16, 1943, was entitled “Angel of Ozarks Dies in Carthage.” It was subtitled, “Mrs. Hummel Made Large Gifts to Friends, Institutions.”
It turned out that Emma Hummel was the person who made the donations in January 1940 to institutions and organizations in Springfield. The article revealed that since then she had given $15,000 to Burge Hospital, $14,000 to the Willard Nursing Home in Springfield, and $3,500 to the Christian Church in Springfield.
The Joplin Globe reported in March1944 that Freeman Hospital had received $32,607, and the Mary E. Wilson Home for Ladies in Springfield and School of the Ozarks received the exact same amounts in the settlement of her estate.
As to whether she was also the Angel of Ava, the article said, “Mrs. Hummel, who died January 15, 1943, never would acknowledge in her lifetime that she was the ‘angel’ who made anonymous gifts to distressed individuals and families in various parts of the Ozarks, and if she was the giver she left absolutely no record of the gifts.”
It went on to say, “A painstaking search of her banking and business transactions, and personal effects disclosed she gave away $58,155 in the last six years of her life to charitable, educational and religious institutions, but there was no record of any gifts to any individuals. All checks were made to institutions. […] She never talked about them (the donations) and many were not discovered until after her death when a federal tax settlement was made.”
That $58,155 would equate to $898,056 in today's dollars. On top of that, her estate gifts to School of the Ozarks, Freeman Hospital and the Mary E. Wilson Home that totaled $97,821 in 1944 would be the equivalent of $1.4 million today.
While Emma Hummel was proven to be one of the Angels of the Ozarks, the identity of the “Angel of Ava” is still unknown. What is known however, is that they were both of a generous and giving nature and should not be forgotten.