Recently, a long time friend of my family’s, Woody Hanson, posted an old photo on a social media site that brought back fond memories. The photo was of Zenobia King Hill, the owner of a modeling school in my hometown of Fort Myers, Florida. Zenobia was from Alabama; she attended the famous John Robert Powers modeling school in New York City; and later moved to Fort Myers with her husband, who was a photographer for the local newspaper. At the time I met her, Zenobia was in her 60s and just as lovely and vibrant as she was in her younger days. Like many girls “back in the day,” I met Zenobia when my mother forced, prodded, and cajoled me into attending her modeling classes. (Some people call this “charm school,” but whatever it is called, I was a most unwilling attendee!) Mom evidently decided, along with the mother of one of my cousins, that I needed to learn some skills that would help me succeed in life. Zenobia figured out that I was not attending her modeling classes voluntarily and she cleverly chose to ignore my sullen attitude, instead, she took it into stride. Luckily for me, I grew quite fond of Zenobia and, over the course of the modeling classes, I became an eager student. Modeling classes were not limited to learning how to participate in fashion shows, although that was certainly a large part of what was taught. The classes were also not limited to instruction on “table manners,” although that was part of the curriculum. Instead, these classes were more about how to conduct oneself in any situation in which one might find oneself. Thanks to Zenobia, I know many things, including: (1) how to walk with grace and poise, instead of loping along like a cowboy everywhere I go; (2) how to walk up and down a flight of stairs without bobbing my head, thereby avoiding the appearance of a bouncing beach ball; (3) how to sit properly (I admit this skill is not always practiced by me!); (4) how to get into and out of a car without flashing anyone or hitting my head; (5) how to, properly, button and unbutton a blouse or coat (there is, indeed, only one proper way to do this); (6) how to manage a large quantity of plates, glasses, and flatware at a formal dinner; and much more. In the end, I actually enjoyed participating in fashion shows, many of which were part of fund raising for charities. Thanks to Zenobia, I am as comfortable in the boardroom of any Fortune 100 company filled with high level executives as I am in my own home. And, of course, thanks to Mom for ensuring I received the proper education that has allowed me to become who I am today.
I’ve heard many stories about Zenobia over the years, but it was not until I saw the photo Melissa referenced, with the description, that I actually knew how her name was spelled. Melissa, as well as some of her friends, have spoken fondly of Zenobia over the years. I’ve heard about the life skills learned, sometimes by being reminded I have not set the table in a way Zenobia would approve. So, I suppose I’ve learned from her as well. I’ve heard the stories about modeling Melissa and others did for local department stores. I imagine it was an “Oh Mom, do I have to?” for Melissa, and many others, when they were told they were being sent to these classes, but for Melissa, it seems it was money well spent. I can’t imagine how much it cost way back when to take these classes, or how much money Zenobia made in doing so. It may have seemed expensive at the time, a luxury expense, but the long term return on investment was tremendous!