Granny Basketball video shoot leads to return of rocking chair
By Russell Gagnon
What do 400 women over the age of 50 who play basketball have in common with a Sister at the Nazareth Motherhouse?
The key to solving that riddle lies underneath a rocking chair.
The Granny Basketball League was founded 19 years ago by a woman in Iowa who was looking for a way to provide competitive exercise for women of a certain age.
"My father, who was a girls' basketball coach in Iowa in the '40s and '50s, wrote his memoirs," said Granny Basketball founder Barb McPherson Trammell. "He described the first girls game he saw in Bondurant, Iowa, in 1920, including the costumes the girls wore and the rather prissy rules they had to follow back then."
The rules included only dribbling twice during each play, and no running.
"In 2005 I formed a team of women over the age of 50 to put on an exhibition game in Lansing, Iowa, to raise money to preserve a historic building there. Some other towns in the area heard about it and wanted to play, too, so we decided to have a tournament and play by the 1920's rules for women's basketball."
In the almost two decades since its inception, Granny Basketball has grown to more than 400 players on 37 teams in nine states: Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The national tournament was held this year in Lawrence, Kansas.
Granny players, referees, scorekeepers and other staff are volunteers and do not receive compensation for their time or expenses. All gate receipts are donated to charity. To date, the national organization has raised over $200,000 for charities.
So... what does all this have to do with a nun at the Nazareth Motherhouse?
Michele Clark is a player for the Kansas Grayhawkers, a Granny League team based out of Lawrence, Kansas. A production company was shooting a promotional video for the national tournament in Lawrence, and asked if someone could bring a rocking chair.
"I had this beautiful old rocking chair in my basement that I purchased at an antique shop in Topeka in June, 2018," Clark said. "I was loading it into my car to bring to the video shoot, and I noticed this piece of paper taped underneath the seat."
The paper said: 'For Marcia Allen Concordia, Kansas'.
Clark turned sleuth and began searching for a 'Marcia Allen' in Concordia. When she Googled the name, she found Sister Marcia Allen at the Manna House.
"I was surprised to get the email from her," Sister Marcia recalls. The email set into motion a series of events that peeled away the layers of mystery.
The rocking chair originally belonged to Sister Marie Eleanor Kelly, born in 1894 and orphaned at an early age. It is believed that the rocking chair, hand-crafted and over 100 years old, was a family heirloom given to Sister Marie.
Before Sister Marie passed away in 1974, she gave the rocking chair to Sister Jeanne McKenna, who brought it with her to Marymount College in Salina, where she was a teacher. During her tenure at the college, Sister Jeanne became friends with Sister Marcia Allen, who now works at the Manna House in Concordia. Sister Jeanne intended to pass the rocking chair on to Sister Marcia.
After Marymount College closed in 1989, Sister Jeanne took up residence in the Nazareth Motherhouse but the rocking chair disappeared. "It seemed lost for 30 years," she said.
Until a Granny Basketball player found a note taped to the bottom of a rocking chair she purchased at an antique shop in Topeka, and started making calls.
On Wednesday evening, September 11th, Michele Clark loaded the rocking chair into her car and drove from her home in Berryton to the Nazareth Motherhouse, where the chair was reunited with Sister Jeanne McKenna.
"I'm just amazed to see it again," Sister Jeanne said. "It is such a beautiful chair. I spent many years rocking in it."
Clark gifted the chair back to Sister Jeanne, who in turn gifted it to Sister Marcia Allen. Sister Marcia donated the chair to the Nazareth Motherhouse.
"It will be put on display in one of the Heritage Rooms," Sister Marcia said.
A beautifully crafted chair that provided comfort and ease to women for over 100 years, has been returned to a place of comfort thanks to the generosity of a complete stranger.
Thank you, Michele Clark, for your kindness and largesse, and thank you Sister Jeanne and Sister Marcia for the happy ending to a story that was over a century in the making.