The rugged terrain that families of the Ozarks had to travel on a daily basis likely increased the level of poverty in the Boston Mountains during the first half of the twentieth century. Even when a year-round job could be had in Fort Smith, Van Buren or on the other side of the mountain in Fayetteville, it was always a struggle to get to the jobsite or the factory in the middle of winter. In those days, just to get a truck out of the holler, to climb up steep snow packed roads without sliding down into a canyon, was a major undertaking. Ice or snow could shut everything down for weeks, and not many steady employers could tolerate such prolonged absences from the job.
This was the world Clara Muxen drove into that foggy day so many decades ago; the world she became a part of when she settled in the Boston Mountains, and, it appears from her letters, the reason she became intent on building the Craft School of the Ozarks.
Teresa . . .” something should be done to teach these people a way of making a living. May God grant that the school will help them to learn a skill that will be profitable to them.”
Clara Margaret Muxen was 58 years old when she arrived in the Ozarks. A retired educator, she sought to lift the local people out of poverty. Being a devoutly religious woman, she also worried over their spiritual well being.
Miss Muxen not only founded the Craft School of The Ozarks, in the ensuing twenty-one years following her fateful arrival, this single woman founded Our Lady of the Ozarks, Virgin of the Smile Shrine, located next door to the craft school, a shrine Danny Thomas has paid homage to, as well as the Winslow Thrift Store; an amazing legacy for one woman.
It is not often we encounter someone who has the faith and fortitude to make such a tremendous physical difference in the local community as Miss Muxen did.
She was so taken with empathy for the area’s poor, that she would dedicate the remainder of her life and all her material wealth and well being, to address the needs of the families of the Boston Mountains.
The Craft School of the Ozarks was to be her ultimate gift to the community; the jewel on the mountain that would shine so brightly and lead those in poverty to a more sustainable, even profitable, life style.
So with pencil and paper in hand, a gift from her brother and the support of numerous friends from across the country, Clara Muxen began to set in motion a dream that had once been only in her head.
A dream that would inevitably come so close to her heart’s desire, so close to her vision, so close . . . that it is painful to look into her future.
But Miss Muxen knew none of that then, all she knew was the soreness of her muscles from pouring cement, the sweat on her cheek from the midday sun, and all she heard, as she leaned back to rest, was a symphony ringing out over the hills of the Ozarks, of hammer hitting nail, and nails hitting good solid wood.