Del Massey’s longer-than-lifetime legacy

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Massey depot
Del Massey, Marshfield’s only black resident at the time of his death, bequeathed much of his property to the children of Marshfield. Here he’s shown in 1955. (Courtesy of the Webster County Historical Society — WCHS)

MARSHFIELD – Two young boys, aglow with Friday afternoon freedom, play in Massey Park as if they own the place. And, even though these youngsters likely don’t realize it, they do.

Because when Del Massey, a longtime local resident died in 1959, he willed most of estate to the town’s children. That donation eventually became a park: But before that, it was national news, garnering attention in newspapers across the country.

“Folks in Marshfield, Mo., a little town in the heart of Missouri’s south-central Ozarks, weren’t much surprised with Del Massey willed pretty much all he had to the town’s children,” reported the Chicago Daily News in 1959. But while the newspaper stated that few locals were shocked, it also noted that outsiders might have been.

That’s because in a town of approximately 2,000 people, he was the only black resident: As Massey used to put it, he was “the only black horse left in the patch.”

But the town loved him, and he loved them — especially the children. “He was very much a part of our community,” says Lib Sims, who grew up knowing Massey.

While Massey was loved by many, his life took place in a different time. And although perhaps even he didn’t think negatively of the way things were — his entire life had been that way — Marshfield wasn’t a colorblind utopia.

“I think he was a great man,” recalls Judy Flacke, who also grew up in Marshfield. “I think he put up with an awful lot. I do think people were kind to him, and good to him, but not as good as they could’ve been.” (more…)