A Starring Role
Volume 144, Number 1, January/February 2010, Pages 4–5
By Lena Anthony
Photographs provided by Virginia Hassenflu.
Virginia Hassenflu has played many roles in her life—teacher, patriot, wife, mother and DAR member, to name a few. But to those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in Kansas City, Mo., the role she is most known for is that of Miss Virginia, the hostess of the popular children’s series, “Romper Room.”
Mrs. Hassenflu hosted the show from 1954 until 1964. She landed the job quickly, as one of only a few candidates who already had TV, classroom and recreation experience.
After graduating from college, Mrs. Hassenflu worked briefly as a physical education teacher. But with World War II raging overseas, she was called to serve her country and joined the American Red Cross. She worked as a recreation worker in the Philippines and Japan, helping entertain and plan activities for soldiers stationed in the Pacific.
“We held pool and ping-pong tournaments, bingo games, field trips and even dances for the soldiers,” Mrs. Hassenflu says. “It was a beautiful place to be and a very patriotic experience.”
Soon after returning to the United States, Mrs. Hassenflu earned a master’s degree in speech from Kansas State University. While there, she took a course in television, working with classmates to direct and produce a television show. That led to her hosting another children’s show before working on “Romper Room.”
“It was a very rewarding job,” Mrs. Hassenflu says of the thousands of “Romper Room” episodes she filmed. “The children were delightful. Each time, you got new little children to show you what they knew.”
Outside of the studio, Mrs. Hassenflu recalls children coming up to her all the time, demonstrating the lessons they learned from Miss Virginia. “I’d have children showing me how to bend and stretch or just telling me that they already had brushed their teeth that day. I enjoyed every bit of that job.”
Mrs. Hassenflu on set in the “Romper Room” classroom.
Years later at a DAR Continental Congress, Mrs. Hassenflu congratulated an Outstanding Teacher of American History Award recipient who was from the Kansas City area. He recognized her from her “Romper Room” days. She says, “He immediately gasped and said, ‘You’re Miss Virginia! You’re the one who taught me the Pledge of Allegiance!’”
These days, Mrs. Hassenflu is best known for her involvement in the DAR and the community of St. Augustine, Fla., where she has lived since 1988, after relocating there with her late husband, Arthur.
With President Truman on the set of "Romper Room."
A year after settling into her new hometown, Mrs. Hassenflu helped found the St. Augustine Genealogical Society. Her lifelong passion for genealogy helped her identify the need in the community. “When I moved down here, there was no place for genealogists like me, so I started the society in 1989,” she says. “It’s been a thriving organization. Every year we take a few trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and to Washington, D.C. Of course, the DAR Library is always a stop on our tour.”
Mrs. Hassenflu recently handed over huge three-ring binders filled with her family’s history to her two sons, Gary and Mark, and her stepdaughter, Judy. “This has been the big project throughout my life,” Mrs. Hassenflu says. “It’s all there, including ancestry tables, photos, maps, diagrams, stories, facts and references about our family history.”
Mrs. Hassenflu’s passion for genealogy and history has been an asset to the Maria Jefferson Chapter, St. Augustine, Fla., which was named for Thomas Jefferson’s great-granddaughter. Involved in the chapter since before she relocated to St. Augustine, Mrs. Hassenflu served as Chapter Regent, Vice Regent and Registrar, and is now Honorary Chapter Regent. When she was Chapter Regent, Mrs. Hassenflu led her chapter to erect a marker in the city’s Plaza de la Constitución to honor the Patriots who were held as prisoners in the area during the Revolutionary War. “Among the prisoners held here were three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Heyward Jr., Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge,” she says.
The dedication of the marker coincided with the chapter’s two-day centennial celebration. “We held a formal ball at the glorious Hotel Alcazar (now Lightner Museum), and the next day we boarded a showboat for a cruise on the Matazas River,” she says. “State and National Officers of DAR were present to help us celebrate.”
Today, Mrs. Hassenflu is researching a DAR Patriot from St. Augustine and hopes to start planning a marker for him soon. She is also helping the DAR prepare for St. Augustine’s 450th birthday, which will take place in 2015.
Mrs. Hassenflu is known for playing the role of Martha Washington in the Maria Jefferson Players, an acting group formed by her DAR chapter. She recently played the part of America’s first first lady at the Florida Northeast Regents Council meeting, which coincided with George Washington’s birthday. “I had a ball researching the role,” she says. “I’ve also played Maria Jefferson and Dolley Madison. My years as Miss Virginia really paid off.”