Leora Jogged to Piano Lessons on a Horse

Leora’s father Sherd Goff declared her schooling over when she graduated from country school in Audubon County, Iowa, after 8th grade. The oldest of ten children, she was needed on the farm to help feed them all, help with the laundry and the younger children. And help in the fields. Sherd said he’d make sure they were well-paid for their work.

Her school-aged brothers attended school only during the winter months. Goffs lived about a mile and a quarter south of the country school. They must have lived in Section 9 or 10 of Melville Township.


Leora received a certificate for not missing class for twenty consecutive school days at School No. II, Melville Township in March 1907.

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These would be her last few weeks of schooling. Leora, age 16, passed the eighth grade exam. Audubon County held exercises that June for 54 graduates of rural schools. The thirty who were present to receive their diplomas were urged to to be satisfied until they’d obtained a high school education. Leora stayed on the farm.

July 4, 1907, Audubon, Iowa. The only family portrait of all of the M.S. Goff family. Back: Jennings (11), Georgia (13), Merl (15), Leora (16, had just finished 8th grade), Wayne (14), Rolla (almost 9). Front: Ruby (almost 7), Milton Sheridan “Sherd,” Perry (almost 4), Clarence (almost 2), Laura (pregnant with Virgil), Willis (5).

In early 1908, Leora’s mother had her eleventh baby, Virgil Cleon. That August Miss Nora Brown, who had been in charge of music in the Audubon public schools, married Mr. Donald Preston at her parents’ home near Iowa City. As was required in those days, ten days after her marriage, she resigned her position with the public schools.

But Nora Brown Preston began giving private music lessons. Among her piano students that fall on Saturdays was Leora Goff, who rode a horse while wearing a dress nine miles along a dusty road and west over the Nishnabotna River on a wooden bridge to the town Audubon for her lessons. There must have had been a handy place to tie up her horse during the lesson. (In her memoirs, Leora mentioned naming their cows, but not the horses.) 

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Even though the church rarely had a minister come to speak, the Goff family walked to Sunday School south at Melville Center. Leora began to play the pump organ for the hymns when the regular organist wasn’t there.

Several of the Goffs were musical, playing band instruments. Leora’s sisters also learned to play the piano. Their mother, who had a lovely low voice according to a granddaughter, even took voice lessons.

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Leora Francis Goff.

Leora Goff received a New Year card from Mrs. Donald J. Preston in December of 1909. What a shock it must have been been for the 19-year-old to learn that Nora Isabel Brown-Preston died early the next month. Born in 1881, Mrs. Preston had graduated from Coe College in 1904. Such a talented musician and gifted singer, and conductor of music for the public schools, she died three days after her baby son. Her funeral was held at the Presbyterian Church where she served as chorister.

Nora Preston and her baby son are buried in Audubon.

While Leora took sewing classes from Mrs. Conrardy in Exira later that year, she and friend Katherine Dutler boarded with Katherine’s German aunt and uncle who had a pump organ. They enjoyed having Leora play it for them. She could play several pieces “by heart,” but the older couple especially liked it when she played music from their hymn books.


After caring for her own grandmother for a year, Leora Goff married in early 1914 and started having babies. Her husband bought a player piano for the family when they lived in Stuart, but by then they had six children. The piano didn’t move to Dallas County with them, and I don’t think Leora had a piano for several decades. Her oldest daughter ached to take piano lessons, but the Great Depression nixed that.

Later Years

After WWII and losing three sons, then being widowed shortly after, Leora and her mother–who had been living in Omaha–moved to Guthrie Center together. Leora bought a spinet piano and enjoyed playing hymns on it. She also enjoyed hearing grandchildren play it.

Granddaughter Gloria Neal at her Grandma Wilson’s spinet piano in Guthrie Center, June 1, 1958.


Note: Information about the rural school graduation and about Nora Brown Preston are from The Audubon Republican.


  1. Joy, I really enjoyed the story about the piano. Great pictures of Grandma Wilson and Gloria.

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