Peggy Vanstrom Cobb has kept her passion for learning and writing for more than a century and turned her “scribbling” into published books.
A Sandy Springs resident for the past 20 years, Cobb is celebrating her 108th birthday today, May 23.
Cobb said she has been “very curious about things for longer than I can really remember” and always kept a pad for journaling close at hand. However, she considered her writing as just a bunch of random thoughts and never considered publishing them.
But with the encouragement of her family, Cobb’s first book, “A Bat Named Belinda,” was published in 2006. The idea for the book came from raising a daughter with disabilities in the 1950s. Doctors told them when their daughter, Katie, was born that she would never walk or talk, or even stand.
Katie was never self-sufficient, but she learned how to ride a bike, swim and even jump off a diving board. Music was a large part of Katie’s life, so the family set up a music therapy program at the hospital where she was born.
“People that have never heard of Katie Cobb will benefit through music because of her,” her mother said.
Cobb’s next book, “Design and Sign,” was an art activity workbook that used illustrations created by family members along with her own text.
Her latest book, published in March, has a long history. “Painter Pan, the Rainbow Man” came from writings she did in the 1950s and the watercolors she painted for the story around the same time.
Her sons, Peter and Bill, helped her get the materials to River Lane Press in Minnesota.
She got the idea of the character Painter Pan as a short fellow who has a cape with the primary colors, red, yellow, and blue. “And when he flies through the air, those three primary colors mesh to the colors that we see in the sky,” she said.
Her next passion project is a book about fabric and its history. Cobb said she’s learning facts with the help of her family, like how they get yards of silk strands from a silkworm.
Cobb was born in Minnesota on May 23, 1915, growing up with five siblings and her college-educated parents. She graduated from St. Cloud Teachers College, now known as St. Cloud State University, with an art education degree. Her first job was in Edina, Minnesota where she taught and was the art supervisor.
But Cobb says the “big turning point” of her life was attending a teaching conference at George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee.
As fate would have it, Cobb missed her train, so she had to fly to Nashville from Chicago. Upon her arrival at the airport, she was met by Jacob Cobb, a Tar Heel from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who had been assigned to meet her plane and bring her to the college.
For three days, Jacob was Peggy’s Nashville tour guide. By the end of her trip, Jacob had declared to his family that Peggy was the girl he was going to marry. Two years later, they did. .
Jacob’s deployments as a U.S. Navy officer during World War II had them moving around to places like New Orleans and Tulane University, where she earned credits toward a master’s degree in art.
After the war, she taught art at Ward Belmont College for girls in Nashville, while Jacob completed his doctorate. They moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he accepted a position as a professor at what became Indiana State University. Peggy taught and was art supervisor at its Laboratory School. She took evening and Saturday courses while raising three children, earning a master’s degree in art in 1962.
Since then, she’s taught every level from preschool to college. Jacob passed away 20 years ago, but Cobb remains surrounded by family, friends, and a long lifetime of memories.
One of the best compliments from her teaching days was when a boy who didn’t like art, told Cobb he fell in love with it after having her as a teacher.
Cobb said she still lives by an old family quote: “Furnish your mind well, and you will always have a comfortable place to live.”