Vinnorma (Shaw) McKenzie – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 19, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the third of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

Shaw Elmer Franklin Vinnorma & Ida
The Shaw family of Downs, Kansas.  From left: Railroad engineer Elmer Shaw, son Franklin, daughter Vinnorma, and wife Ida.

Her unusual name, and then her talent, drew attention to her all of her life.  Vinnorma Shaw was born on September 27, 1890 in Downs, Osborne County, Kansas, to railroad engineer Elmer McKee Shaw and his wife Ida Vinnorma (Rudy) Shaw. The arrival of her younger brother, Franklin B. Shaw, four years later completed the family circle.  While still quite young “Norma” proved to have an innate gift for sketching and other artwork, and over the years her rising talent drew the interest of the entire community.

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“Vinnorma Shaw has demonstrated that she has much natural ability as an artist and her parents contemplate sending her to an art school when she completes her work in the Downs High School.  By all means, she should be encouraged with her drawing, for it is not only possible, but probable, that in a few years she will gain an enviable reputation as an artist, and command a good salary on the Chautauqua platform, should she desire that class of work.” – Downs Times, May 27, 1909.

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And so it was that after Vinnorma graduated Downs High School she enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she continued to excel in her studies and was duly invited to participate in the 1911 Lincoln Park Chautauqua, held just a few miles to the east of Downs.

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Vinnorma Shaw, Artist

“It is with no small degree and pride that we introduce this young lady for evening program at Lincoln Park, Wednesday, August 9th.  She is a Kansas girl who has developed a decided talent for crayon work, and for the last year has been in Chicago attending the Art Institute preparing to make this line of work a profession.  Many of our patrons have seen and heard Miss Shaw before she took up this work seriously, and they will no doubt be pleased to have an opportunity to congratulate her upon her advancement.  She has received several Honorable Mentions from the Art Institute for her work in both drawing and painting, and is exceptional serious and conscientious in her work on the platform.” – Osborne County News, August 5, 1911.

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Honor for Miss Vinnorma Shaw.

“Downs can well feel proud of the high success attained by one of our fairest young ladies, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw.

“In June Miss Shaw completed a three years’ course at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and graduate with high honors.  She then remained in Chicago and took up special work in the art line, just returning to her home here last Friday.

“The last of this week the young lady will go to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she has accepted a splendid position as instructor in the Manual Training high school of that place, one of the very best schools in the country. This position was secured on meritorious work, as the officials who employed Miss Vinnorma went to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and personally investigated with a view to securing an exceptionally good instructor, and we are sure they have made no mistake.  Miss Shaw’s work in drawing and art, and the high grades in her studies, coupled with her pleasing personality, proved a powerful magnet.  She had many other good offers but this seemed the most attractive and pays a high salary.

“We are very glad, indeed, to note the young lady’s progress and we trust she will continue till she reaches the highest pinnacle of fame. This is an age of efficiency and, it is pleasing to note that honest and hard work efforts are appreciated.” – Downs Times, September 3, 1914.

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She makes Art Pay in Chicago

“A Kansas girl who is attaining success in advertising poster work and commercial art is Miss Vinnorma Shaw, of Downs, Kansas. Miss Shaw has been teaching art in the [Technical] high school of Indianapolis. Indiana, but as a side line she does all the designing and poster work for the stationery find advertisements of the Missouri State Fair.

“Miss Shaw is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw, of Downs, and is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the Chicago Institute and the Fine Arts School of Yale. She also holds a Master’s degree from Yale.

“During [World War I] she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings. Miss Shaw has been doing the mechanical drawings for the Winchester Rifle Company, and has handled the Missouri fair work for two years. The Montana State Fair association has asked her for some posters.  She does the art work for several theatrical associations in the East, and for some time has done all the drawings for the Stafford Engraving Company of Indianapolis.

“Although she is at present making a specialty of poster work and artistic advertising, Miss Shaw’s exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticisms. Miss Shaw’s secret ambition, which she admits reluctantly, is to illustrate a ‘Best Seller’.  Already Miss Shaw has broken into the magazine field, and has designed covers for ‘The Imprint’ and ‘The Horseman’, a sporting monthly.” – Topeka Daily Capital, August 15, 1920.

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“Miss Vinnorma Shaw of Downs, who has won fame in New York art circles because of her ability as an artist, will be married at the home of her parents in Downs Saturday to John McKenzie of Michigan.  Miss Shaw has for a number of years been the instructor of art in the Indianapolis Ind., high schools, and continued her work in designing and painting besides.  She [has] designed all the advertising matter for the Missouri State Fair for several seasons.” – Osborne County Farmer, July 7, 1921.

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“An unusually interesting home wedding was that which occurred at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw at eight o’clock on Saturday evening, July 9th, when the only daughter of the household, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, plighted her troth to Mr. John Harrison McKenzie. Only about sixty of the relatives and close friends of the bride were present, and the weather being very warm, the guests were seated on the lawn; and there in God’s out-of-doors, just as the setting sun had spread a glow of purple and gold over the western sky, the beautiful, sacred ceremony took place. [State] Representative Charles Mann, his wife accompanying him on the piano, sang the tender song, ‘I Love You,’ as the bridal party came down the stairs and stationed themselves against a lattice of vines and flowers. The bride, always beautiful, was charming in her gown of charmeuse satin and georgette crepe with decorations of iridescent pearl; while caught back from her face with a wreath of white roses was the filmy bridal veil. She carried a huge shower bouquet of bride’s roses, lilies of the valley and Maiden hair fern.  The bride was attended by her cousin, Miss Gladys Bottorff, gowned in rose taffeta and carrying pink tea roses. The groom, who met his bride at the improvised altar, wore a suit of white serge and was attended by the bride’s brother, Mr. Frank Shaw. The beautiful ring ceremony was used, and the solemn and beautiful service was read by the Rev. A. S. Hale, of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

“The festivities attendant upon the close of the ceremony were interrupted by the receipt of telegrams from the groom’s mother at Port Huron and Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lindley, of San Diego, California, offering long-distance felicitations to the contracting parties.

“The guests much enjoyed the delicious refreshments served by the Misses Violet Cushing, Margaret Tamm and Aveline Heshion, young neighbor girls who enjoyed the honor of assisting in this happy occasion.  The gifts from Downs and from abroad were exceedingly numerous, costly and beautiful.

“No finer girl has ever gone out from Downs than Miss Vinnorma Shaw.  She has made for herself an enviable record . . . During the war she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings . . . Her exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticism. She has also broken into the magazine field and has designed covers for some of the popular American magazines. But all the aforementioned are simply side lines. Her real job for the past six years has been teaching art in the high schools of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The groom, also, is not without his accomplishments.  He rose to the rank of captain in the World War, and is leader of the Boy Scout activities in his home town.  He is also identified with the Y.M.C.A. and in the Business Men’s Club of Port Huron.  The coming year he will teach mathematics, electrical science and athletics in the schools of Port Huron half of his time, and the remainder he will be busy representing the Toledo Scales Company.

“Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie left that night for the East. They will take a furnished cottage at Edison Beach, on Lake Huron for awhile, and in October will go to housekeeping in their own home at Port Huron, Michigan.

“Out of town guests at the wedding were: Mrs. Chas. Hoverfield, Indianapolis; Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Myers, Orange, Calif.; R. C. Young, Baltimore, Md.; Frank Shaw, Buffalo, Wyoming; Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Kaup, Portis; Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Mann, Osborne; Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Beatty, Osborne.” – The Downs News & The Downs Times, July 14, 1921.

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Designs Poster for Missouri State Fair

(By Journal Correspondent)

“DOWNS, July 23.—Mrs. J. H. McKenzie, who until less than a month ago was Miss Vinnorma Shaw, is the designer of the beautiful poster that is being used to advertise the Missouri State Fair on its fiftieth anniversary. The porter combines, in striking effect, the spirits of the earliest Missouri and the modern hundred years-old commonwealth. The foreground of the poster is occupied by three figures. The foremost of the group is an Indian, seated and covered with a blanket of bright orange. Standing beside him is a Missouri pioneer, whose dull coon skin cap and leather suit speak the life of hardship and self-dependence which he leads. A woman, representing Missouri, is pointing out to the pioneer and the Indian a vision of the future Missouri, one in which characteristic buildings of the modern day are the central figures. Mrs. McKenzie has gained national fame as an artist, and her parents as well as the people of Downs are proud of her achievements. She became Mrs. John McKenzie August 9th and is now a resident of Port Huron, Michigan, where her husband is one of the teachers in the high school and is active in the business life of the city as well.” – Salina Evening Journal, July 23, 1921.

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Local Interest Adds Appeal To Michigan Art Exhibit Shown Here

“No previous art exhibition held during the past year by the Port Huron Art Association offers so much local interest as the one now open to the public in the public library, where 25 oil paintings lent by the Michigan Artists association are hung.

“Michigan is a picturesque state and her artists have found subjects of interest and beauty within her borders. The present exhibition also offers variety, much color and several pictures that border upon the modern method used with restraint and good taste.

“‘Sunshine and Shadow,’ by Mrs. Vinnorma McKenzie of this city is naturally attracting the major portion of interest. Mrs. McKenzie was formerly supervisor of art in the city schools and is widely known. Three of her canvasses were recently exhibited in Detroit and received much favorable comment.

“Her subject in the portrait on exhibition here is one of interest and character. It is a study of a doctor, she says, when he is off duty and is enjoying the out of doors. The figure is nearly life size against a background of trees and expresses, relaxation of manner with particularly keen expression of face. There is vivid color in the broad sun hat and blue shirt, the strong hands and green foliage.” – The Herald Times, Port Huron, Michigan, 14 March 1929.

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On July 9, 1932, John Norman – or “Jack”, as he was most often called – was born in Port Huron, the only child of John and Vinnorma McKenzie.  Throughout the 1930s Vinnorma continued to teach in the local public schools and held private art classes at home.  She was considered a master in easel painting, printmaking, and graphic design and in the medium of lithography, and was admitted into the National Association of Women Artists.

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Former Downs Girl Now Famous Artist

“At Port Huron, Michigan, all during at Port Huron, Michigan, all during December, Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, famous artist, is showing her collection of paintings in an art exhibit at the Port Huron Public Library.  The showing opened December 5th and tea was served to 300 friends from 2 to 5pm in the hall where 48 of her canvasses were being shown.

“Mrs. McKenzie, whose maiden name was Vinnorma Shaw, was born in Downs.  She received the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts of Yale University, where she worked under Sergeant Kendall.  She has also studied at the New York Art Students Summer School at Woodstock, N.Y., and at the Chicago Alumni Summer School of Painting at Saugatuck, Michigan.  The past summer she has spent at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she painted under the direction of Umberto Romano, a foremost classic modernist.  She has taught art in the Technical High School [at] Indianapolis [Indiana].  She has exhibited in New York, Indianapolis, Detroit, and in many of the larger cities in Michigan.  She holds memberships in the American Artists Professional League, Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, and the American Federation of Arts.

“Port Huron daily newspapers gave Mrs. McKenzie’s opening exhibit much space and the citizens of that city crowded to see the exhibits many of which were sold at fancy figures.  Osborne County people and especially her old schoolmates in Downs will be much pleased to hear of her success in the world of art.  Mrs. McKenzie’s mother, Mrs. Ida M. Shaw, is at Port Huron to visit with her daughter and attend the art exhibit.” – Osborne County Farmer, December 30, 1937.

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Hundreds at Exhibit and Fellowship Tea

“Apparently the fellowship fund for women, supported by the National Association of University Women is the richer today for the benefit coffee sponsored Thursday in Public Library hall by the Port Huron branch of the association.

“Early in the afternoon a good number had already arrived, toured the hall where Vinnorma McKenzie had hung 71 of her paintings, lithographs and water colors, drunk their tea and departed; and folks kept arriving right through the evening hours, until time to close the library for the night.  There were about 300 in all.  Perhaps it’s not too much for a layman to say that Port Huron is richer, too, for the exhibit.

“It has been some years since Mrs. McKenzie has shown her pictures publicly here and in the meantime she has been winning honors among Michigan painters and has extended her technique both in oils and water color. Her paintings filled the walls and two or three screens about the room and the fragrance or steaming tea from the tea table plus a lot of chatter made a pleasant hubbub of the occasion.

“Mrs. Andrew Murphy, a charter member of the Port Huron branch, Miss Ellen L. Kean, state fellowship chairman, and past presidents of the local branch. Mrs. Albert Fenner, Miss Marjorie Muhlitner, and Miss Blanche Peters poured.  Miss Norene Bushaw, AAUW president here, received with Mrs. McKenzie, and Mrs. Lillian Forbes and Miss Jean Thompson and a large committee assisted. The exhibit will be open to the public until Jan. 15.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, December 29, 1944.

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Mrs. McKenzie Will Exhibit Paintings in New York Gallery

“Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, local artist, and Mrs. Agnes M. Lindemann, Grosse Pointe artist, will leave Sunday for New York to exhibit their paintings, in the Argent Galleries.  The exhibition will formally open Tuesday with a tea, and continue through May 22.  Both artists will show 18 oils and eight watercolors each.

“Mrs. McKenzie is a member of the National Society of Women Artists, the Michigan Academy of Arts, Science, and Letters, and the Michigan Water Color society. She was a student of Umberto Ronano, Gloucester, Mass., and Yauso Kuniyoshi, Woodstock, N.Y.

“‘Picnic,’ a recent painting of Mrs. McKenzie’s has received acclaim as one of her best oils. It was exhibited at the Michigan’s Artists show in the Institute of Art, Detroit, and through special invitation was included in the ‘Detroit By Detroiter’s Show’ held at the Women’s City Club, Detroit.

“Another painting, ‘Memories’, is on display now in the Detroit Society of Women Painters show in the Scarab Club, Detroit.

“Mrs. McKenzie’s latest show in Port Huron was in December, 1947.  She and Mrs. Lindemann previously exhibited their paintings together in 1946 in the Scarab Club.

“‘Christ and the Penitent Thief,’ ‘Sun Through The Clouds’ and ‘Boats Moving Under a Bridge,’ all in abstract, and ‘Northwest Blow,’ ‘Sarnia Bay,’ ‘Emily’ and ‘Old Pot Belly,’ are some of the paintings Mrs. McKenzie will show in New York.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, May 7, 1948.

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It was a year after the New York show when Vinnorma, back working and teaching in Port Huron, began to feel unusually tired and weak.  Her husband John, now the dean at Port Huron Junior College, felt that she had been working too hard and suggested that he take some time off and they spend a few weeks together at their summer home on Lake Huron just north of Sarnia in Ontario, Canada.  But the change of scenery did not help and Vinnorma became worse.  She was taken to the nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sarnia, where she died within a few hours of her arrival.  She was 58 years old.  Her cause of death was diagnosed as leukemia.  A shocked and saddened Port Huron community joined Vinnorma’s family in mourning the beloved artist at her funeral in the First Presbyterian Church and later at a burial service in Port Huron’s Lakeside Cemetery.

At the time of her death Vinnorma was a member of the First Presbyterian Church; the auxiliary to Charles A. Hammond Post No. 8, American Legion; Port Huron Musicale; the Detroit Museum of Art Founders Society; the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors; the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters; the Michigan Watercolor Society, American Association of University Women, National Association of Women Artists, and American Artists Professional League.

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Twenty Years Later . . . A Dream Comes True

“When leukemia claimed the life of artist Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, she took an unfulfilled dream with her to the grave.

“Today, nearly twenty years later, her works and influence live on in Port Huron and her dream of a permanent art center for the community is a reality.

“Next weekend a retrospective exhibition of her work will open in the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History, Sixth Street, where her oil painting ‘Girl in Bohemian Costume’ hung for many years when the building housed the old library.

“The Kansas-born artist’s son, John N. McKenzie, owns the largest single collection of her work in both oil and water colors, but the pictures to be displayed have been borrowed from many Port Huron homes.

“The Museum Board of Trustees feels that the exhibition will be a tribute, not only to the artistry of Vinnorma McKenzie, but also to her influence in promoting art appreciation here. Many of her former pupils have continued painting as an avocation and have won honors in area exhibitions.

“The McKenzie exhibit will be held from September 7-22. A members’ preview and reception is scheduled from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, September 6, with the Women’s Association of the First Presbyterian Church as hostesses.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, August 30, 1968.

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Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie continues to be an inspiration to artists from all over the Great Lakes region.  Both the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History and the St. Clair County Community College Library have displays of her works.

McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw tombstone 2 Lakeside Cem
Grave of Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie in Lakeside Cemetery, Port Huron, Michigan.

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A few of the paintings of Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie:

McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Light on Lilacs
“Light on Lilacs”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Boats
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Zinnias


McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Steamer Horuhic
“Steamer Horuhic”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Bend of the River
“Bend of the River”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Boat Passing Under Bridge
“Boat Passing Under Bridge”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Autumn at Klaineth Moor
“Autumn at Klaineth Manor”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Melting Snow
“Melting Snow”
McKenzie Vinnorma Shaw Melting Snow signature
Artist’s signature

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Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (Active before 1945), compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian, University of Kansas, August 2006

Who Was Who in American Art. Compiled from the original thirty-four volumes of American Art Annual: Who’s Who in Art, Biographies of American Artists Active from 1898-1947. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985

Who Was Who in American Art. 400 years of artists in America. Second edition. Three volumes. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999

Who’s Who in American Art. 18th edition, 1989-1990. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1989. The Necrology is located at the back of the volume

Who’s Who in American Art. 19th edition, 1991-1992. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1990. The Necrology begins on page 1387

Who’s Who in American Art. 20th edition, 1993-1994. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1993. The Necrology begins on page 1455. (WhoAmA20N)

The Downs News & The Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), July 14, 1921, Page 1

Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), May 27, 1909, Page 5; September 3, 1914, Page 1

Osborne County News (Osborne, Kansas), August 5, 1911, Page 5

Osborne County Farmer (Osborne, Kansas), July 7, 1921, Page 1; December 30, 1937, Page 1

Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas), July 23, 1921, Page 9

Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), August 15, 1920, Page 19

Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan), July 20, 1949, pg 23

The Michigan Daily (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), May 26, 1940, Page 2

The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan), March 14, 1929, Page 2; December 29, 1944, Page 56; May 7, 1948, Page 24; July 19, 1949, Page 1; August 30, 1968, Page 19; August 31, 1969, Page 5


Willis Acton Pyle – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 26, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

Pyle Willis color photo

It was over five miles north to the nearest post office at Bellaire and over eight miles northeast to Lebanon, the nearest town of any size, from the farmhome of Benjamin Harrison Pyle and his wife, Maudine “Maude” Mae (Acton) Pyle, in Crystal Plains Township of southeastern Smith County, Kansas.  But being farmers they were used to having to travel a distance for the weekly mail and supplies.  Then in 1914 a new complication arose after Maude became pregnant with their second child.  The impending birth prompted the need to travel some ten miles to the south to the nearest doctor, where on September 3, 1914, son Willis Acton Pyle was born just over the county line in Portis, Osborne County, Kansas.  Their daughter, Lorraine Farrel Pyle, had been born the previous year.

When Willis was two years old the family moved to the small town of Bethune, in Kit Carson County, Colorado, where they lived in a sod house.  The Pyle’s third child, Denver Dell Pyle, was born in Bethune on May 11, 1920.  Willis became a local celebrity when his first drawings were showcased in Cora’s Restaurant in Bethune.  In the early 1930s the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where Willis attended school and graduated from Boulder Prep High School.  He then worked a year in a grocery store before he entered the University of Colorado as an art major. While there Willis served as art editor of the college’s satirical magazine, Colorado Dodo, and worked an advertising illustrator for the Denver clothing store Gano-Downs.

In 1937 Willis saw a bulletin board with a big poster of Pluto with the words: “Draw me and earn $25,000 a year”.  Now, $25,000 was quite a large sum in 1937, so Willis sent his samples, covers, and cartoons to the Disney Studio.  He received a letter saying he wasn’t yet skilled enough to sit right down and start working in production, but he was offered a job in the Traffic Department carrying art supplies to the animators at $16.00 a week, if he was willing to attend evening art classes in its art studio.  The 23-year old Willis dropped out of his senior year at university and moved to Hollywood, California, where he found a room within walking distance of the studio and starting work at Disney in November 1937.  His schooling included classes with Rico Le Brun (“one of the great draughtsman of our age”, Willis later recalled), Donald Graham and Gene Fleury.  Every day Willis went to his classes and tackled assignments like animating a bouncing ball or a flag waving on a flagpole.  Later assignments involved animating a character walking, running, or jumping, sometimes to a soundtrack.  Willis worked hard and in less than three years he was finally given the chance to sit down at an animation table and start doing production work.  His excellent draftsmanship landed him in the 1940 musical fantasy Pinocchio unit assisting one of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men, the top animator Milt Kahl, who was also Pinocchio’s designer.

Pyle Willis at Disney
Willis Pyle at work for Walt Disney Studios.  Courtesy the Disney Corporation.

“Willis made drawings in between Kahl’s main pose drawings, cleaned up them up, and added details.  Kahl was ‘a ‘tough master,’ he recalls, ‘who’d grab a piece of film out of the moviola [a projector] cause he didn’t like it.  And it’d be his own work!’”

“Easy-going Willis, however, did a great job on the very first scene Kahl handed him: Jiminy Cricket, late on his first day at work as Pinocchio’s conscience, dressing on the run, a scene that is a Milt Kahl tour de force of personality, clarity of action and superb timing.  ‘He complimented me after I did it,’ Willis remembers proudly. ‘That’s the thing that got me in good with Milt.  We got along great!’” – from John Canemaker, “Happy Birthday Marge Champion and Willis Pyle,”, September 2, 2010.

Milt Kahl was responsible for the final design, going for a “cute boy” look rather than the “wooden puppet” persona of two previous incarnations that Disney believed would not elicit sympathy from audiences.  Willis then brought Pinocchio to life with his pencil drawings – making him walk and talk, and giving him different facial expressions – that were passed on to the artists in the inking and painting department.

“‘The character had to act – raise his eyebrows, turn and jump, and react to other characters,’ Pyle said.  ‘And the way you could do it was by looking at yourself in a mirror to see what that expression looked like.’” –, June 21, 2016.


Pyle Willis pinocchio sketch b
A sketch of Pinocchio by Willis Pyle. Courtesy the Disney Corporation.

Willis continued to work for Disney Studios as an assistant animator.  He drew the cupids for the mythological setting of the Pastoral Symphony scene in Fantasia (1940), and in Bambi (1942) he drew the white-tailed deer of the title, his girlfriend, Faline, Flower, the skunk, and Thumper, the rabbit.

Pyle Willis
A dapper Willis Pyle.

In 1941 Disney workers went on strike in a dispute over differentiations in staff pay and benefits.  While Willis had no personal beef with Disney (he was then making $40.00 a week), he joined the strike because, “All my friends were on strike, and I couldn’t pass them in the picket line!”  When the strike ended Willis returned to finish Bambi and then worked for Walter Lantz’s studio drawing Woody Woodpecker cartoons for about six months.  During this same period he went to night school to study celestial navigation and was set to take a job with American Airlines, when Willis was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 6, 1942.  As he entered World War II the 28-year old Private Pyle stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 137 pounds.

Willis spent the war years in military service with other Disney alumnae in the First Motion Picture Unit film unit at the Hal Roach Studio in Culver City, California, animating training and propaganda films such as Flathatting, a brilliant John Hubley-directed short released in 1946.

After the war Willis married Virginia M. Morrison in West Riverside, California, on October 27, 1946.  He then joined United Productions of America (UPA) as an animator and also worked as a fashion illustrator for the magazines Vogue and Harper’s.  He was animator for the Oscar-nominated cartoon shorts The Magic Flute (1949) and Ragtime Bear (1949), the first film to feature the near-sighted, accident-prone Mr. Magoo.  He also was chief animator for the animated short Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), which brought a Dr. Seuss story to the big screen for the first time, and included Pyle’s sequence of the title character performing sound effects for a nationwide radio audience.  The cartoon won an Academy Award in 1951 for Best Animated Short Film.

Pyle Willis Early sketches by (A&S’37) for first Mr. Magoo film Ragtime Bear (1949) aka Strike Up the Banjo
Sketches by Willis Pyle for the 1949 short Ragtime Bear, a.k.a. Strike Up the Band, the first cartoon featuring Mr. Magoo.


In 1950 the Mr. and Mrs. Willis Pyle moved to New York City.  There he formed his own studio, Willis Pyle Productions. For 30 years, Willis worked alone as an animator and rented a studio from the Abbey Victoria Hotel, located near the Rockefeller Center.

“I was offered [full-time studio] jobs, but I wanted to get up from my desk and go to the Museum of Modern Art at three o’clock in the afternoon if I wanted to, or go to Macy’s and buy a tie.” – Willis Pyle.

Willis created numerous television commercials over the next three decades.  He also worked as an animator on such productions as Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter (1972), Really Rosie (1975), Chicken Soup with Rice (1975), Noah’s Animals (1976), Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), the Emmy Award-winning Halloween is Grinch Night (1978), A Family Circus Christmas (1979), and several Charlie Brown animated specials.

Meanwhile Willis’ younger brother, Denver Pyle, was making a name for himself as well. As an actor he had a long film and TV career, with memorable roles on television in The Andy Griffith Show, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and as Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard.

Willis retired from animation at the age of 68 but briefly returned to work on the 1989 television series This is America, Charlie Brown.  Willis then became a leading painter of watercolors and oils, and exhibited for many years at Manhattan’s Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery while taking art classes at the Art Students League, the National Academy and the Brooklyn Academy.

In his later years Willis traveled between a house in East Hampton, Long Island, another in Los Angeles, and a penthouse on New York’s upper west side.  He kept a brown 1972 Mercedes sedan in the Hamptons, where he would stay in the spring and fall.  When at his home in Seal Beach, Southern California, he tooled around on special occasions in a 1969 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.  For his 85th birthday on September 3, 1999, Willis gave himself a present: an 1872 Steinway upright piano with rosewood finish, so that he could learn to play the piano.

Willis was a respected member of the Society of Illustrators and was a member of the Dutch Treat Club in New York City, an invitation-only club for artists and writers, which honored him in 2007 with a life-time achievement medal.  In 1987 he was the recipient of a Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Award, known as the “Golden Award.”  Willis gave a portion of his archives and papers to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in  Bloomington, Indiana.

After 47 years of marriage Willis’ wife Virginia passed away in April 1994 at the age of 72.  Willis himself died at his penthouse apartment on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City, on June 2, 2016, at the age of 101.

The only man to professionally draw Pinocchio, Woody Woodpecker, Mr. Magoo, and Charlie Brown, Willis Acton Pyle joins fellow Portis animator Melvin “Tubby” Miller as a honored member of the Osborne County Hall of Fame.




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Lentz, Harris M. III, Obituaries in the Performing Arts 2016 (McFarland Publishing, 2017, 456 pages; Page 320)

1920 US Census Kit Carson County, Colorado

1930 US Census Kit Carson County, Colorado

California County Birth Marriage & Death Records 1849-1980

Early sketches by (A&S’37) for first Mr. Magoo film Ragtime Bear (1949) aka Strike Up the Banjo

National Archives and Records Administration. Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.



Edward R. Roche – 2019 Inductee

(On this date, August 25, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the first of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)

2nd U.S. Cavalry battle flag 1860

The latest inductee into the Osborne County Hall of Fame is perhaps the one member that we know the least about.  His is the oldest known Euro-American burial within the confines of Osborne County and he is the oldest military veteran buried in the county as well, far from his native home.


Edward R. Roche was born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1845/1846, the exact date unknown.  That was the period of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, and over the next five years there was great suffering and hardship on the Emerald Ise.  When only six years old, and any known family, the young Edward joined 273 other passengers in sailing for the United States aboard the clipper ship “Fidelia”.  Launched in 1845 and owned by the Black Ball Line, the “Fidelia” left Liverpool, England, and after a voyage of 45 days arrived in New York City, New York, on August 5, 1851.


Roche Edward painting Fidelia by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen 1850-1921
Painting of the clipper ship Fidelia, by artist Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921). 

Roche Edward Fidelia Ship List 5 August 1851 short view
Photo of a portion of the ship’s passenger manifest for the “Fidelia”, with a large black “X” at extreme left beside Edward’s name. Courtesy of the Famine Irish Entry Project, 1846-1851, Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration.


What is next known about Edward is his enlistment as a private at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on March 16, 1866, for a period of three years in Company I of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.  Roche’s enlistment record described him as being 20 years old with a height of 5 foot, 7.5 inches tall, having gray eyes and a fair complexion, and his birthplace given as County Tipperary, Ireland.


Nearly five years earlier U.S. Deputy Surveyors D. E. Ballard and E. C. Manning were given the task to ascertain and officially set the boundaries for what was later named Osborne County, Kansas.  The pair had commenced the survey the county on September 8, 1862, but all surveying activity was halted in 1863 due to Indian incursions in the area.  It was not until 1866 when the pair were allowed to take up their work again. According to the official records at Fort Riley, Kansas, Private Roche and others of Company I were assigned to escort duty for the surveyors in the summer of 1866. The surveying party are believed to have been somewhere in the lower Twin Creek valley, near the South Fork Solomon River, when they were attacked by Indians on July 21, 1866.  Private Edward Roche was the lone soldier killed in action during the fray.  The surveying party buried Private Roche atop a prominent nearby knoll near where the four corners of today’s Penn, Hancock, Corinth, and Bloom Townships meet in east-central Osborne County.  A stone was placed there to mark Roche’s remains and afterwards his grave became a well-known landmark to the area’s early Euro-American settlers.  On May 15, 1868, the survey of Osborne County was officially completed.


In 1879 the Osborne City Cemetery was opened and Roche’s remains was reinterred in Section D, Lot 37 of the cemetery, an area commonly referred to as the “soldier’s lot” and specifically set aside for military veterans.  A government military marker was ordered for his grave and unfortunately arrived with his name incorrectly engraved as Edmund Roach.  It has marked his grave for over 140 years.


Though over fourteen decades have passed, the memory and sacrifice of this young Irishman will not be forgotten by those living where he has lain in peace for so long.  We salute Edward R. Roche and accord him a hallowed place among the honored in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.


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“Black Ball Clipper Fidelia leaving New York, 1852”, painting by Henry Scott (1911-2005).

“The Packet Fidelia,” painting by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921).

Enlistment Records, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, March 16, 1866.

Famine Irish Entry Project, 1846-1851, Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration. List of Hostile Actions with Plains Indians 1835-1891 by Sjoerd Bakker (eBook, 2019).

The Western Ocean Packets, by Basil Lubbock (Dover Publications: June 1, 1988, 192 pages).

Osborne County Farmer, July 22, 1880, Page One; November 26, 1931, Page One.