The Conroe Historias Project __________
Montgomery County United Way Hispanic Outreach Professional Enrichment Committee
The Conroe Historias Project Copyright ÂŠ 2011 by Montgomery County United Way Professional Photography by Chelsea elsea Williams All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author. ISBN (XXXXXXXXXXXXX) Printed in USA by 48HrBooks (www.48HrBooks.com)
On October 16, 1916, at a luncheon at the historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, the Pan American Round Table was formed. Mrs. Florence Terry Griswold gathered a group of women who had worked alongside her to create an organization with this grand mission: To provide mutual knowledge, understanding, and friendship among the peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and to foster all movements affecting the women and children of the Americas. This book is dedicated to the Conroe Pan American Round Table, and all its beautiful ladies, for continuing the spirit of this noble mission in our community.
Table of Contents
Greeting ....................................................................................... 5 Foreword ....................................................................................... 6 Preface .......................................................................................... 7 Introduction ................................................................................. 10 Appreciation ................................................................................. 12 Prologue ……………………………………………………………..…13 Chapter 1 Subeth Burge & Elena Ayala ...................................... 17 Chapter 2 Jeanette DeFee & Gabrielle Vivar ............................. 25 Chapter 3 Woody Hearn & Andrea Salinas ................................ 33 Chapter 4 Barbara Landry & Harmida Roman ........................... 41 Chapter 5 Annie Lee Lewis & Ivette Castro................................ 49 Chapter 6 Paula Schoppe & Marilu Vela .................................... 57 Chapter 7 Pat Sterns & Arely Martinez ...................................... 65 Chapter 8 Fran Swann & Andrea Salinas................................... 75 Chapter 9 Bettye Wakefield & Liliana Ramirez........................... 85 Chapter 10 Dorothy Walker & Candy Reyes ................................ 93 Photos ....................................................................................... 101 Press Coverage ........................................................................ 103 Appendix ..................................................................................... 106
Greeting from Mayor Melder PROYECTO HISTORIAS DE CONROE BUILDING BRIDGES ALONG THE ROAD OF LIFE
It has been said, “When you die, you will only take with you what you give away”- how true. The good Lord appreciates us when we do things that please HIM. “Paying it Forward” is something all of us have opportunities to do as we go through life, regardless of our age, circumstances, and/or personal environment. A simple way to do this is lending a helping hand. Even better, extending your hand in genuine friendship to someone you don’t know, and watch the Lord smile. It has also been said, “A friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart”. Personal experience teaches that an adult will never stand as straight and tall as when they stoop to help a child. So, as we travel down life’s road, let us remember and share these things. Let’s all try to make our world a little better, and add to the overall quality of life for ourselves and those around us. I congratulate everyone involved in the local “Proyecto Historias de Conroe”. This is a fine example of all the above, a sincere way to pay it forward, to pass the baton, to light the path of experience so others may follow. The lasting impact of “Proyecto Historias de Conroe” is this: The candle these wonderful ladies of the Conroe Pan American Round Table have lit will become an eternal flame, lighting the path for future generations. Blessings to all,
Webb K. Melder Mayor Conroe, Texas
The Conroe Historias Project Foreword by Carolina Castillo Crimm, Ph.D
It is unusual and exciting when history can come to life for young people through interaction with those who have lived it. The Conroe Historias Project, created by Maria Jordan, Hispanic Outreach Coordinator of Montgomery County United Way, has connected ten high school Hispanic women from Montgomery County with ten members of the Pan American Round Table of Conroe. The program began in September of 2009 and ended in the February of 2011 when the young women, after extensive interviews and discussions with the Round Table ladies, have written and published their biographies for this inspiring book, thanks to a grant from the Montgomery County Community Foundation. The members of the sixty-year-old Pan American Round Table are dedicated to sharing information about the many countries of the Americas, many of which these ladies have visited. Their international experiences have fascinated the young Hispanic students who have learned not only about the lives of their interviewees, but about the Americas as well. With the help of Ms. Jordan and the H.O.P.E. Committee, the young women prepared as many as 300 questions each to guide their discussions with the Round Table members. These young girls dedicated an entire year to the interviews and met with their ladies twice a month either at the Conroe High School library or at the United Way Office in Conroe. The results of their year-long effort have produced an absorbing series of ten biographies which span the 20 th century. Conroe and Montgomery County are grateful for the enthusiasm of community leader, Maria Jordan and the H.O.P.E. members, in creating this program, the ladies of the Pan American Round Table who contributed their stories, and the efforts of the ten Hispanic young women who have produced this work.
Dr. Crimm is Professor of History at Sam Houston State University, Historian, Author, Lecturer, and Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association
Preface Historias (stories) are the unique connectors between peoples and generations that preserve our common human story. In February 2009, I was invited to speak to the Conroe Pan American Round Table about the efforts in Latino outreach in Montgomery County, TX. I found myself among a group of dynamic women all joined in the common search for intercultural knowledge and sisterhood. I discovered that these ladies had rich, long lives filled with many experiences that led them to find real joy in reaching out to women from diverse cultural backgrounds. “What can we do to help? We are older, and can’t offer much physical support, and our financial support is limited, but what can we do?”- This was the question of Mrs. Jeanette DeFee. There is no real end in trying to bridge people and communities, so Mrs. DeFee’s question was music to my ears. The Hispanic Outreach Professional Enrichment ( HOPE) Committee discussed the importance of connecting these wonderful women with our young and growing Latino community. Mary Byrne from Conroe ISD was key in making this connection with her Latina students at Conroe High School. In the Fall of 2009 the Conroe Historias Project was born. Twenty young, and seasoned, beautiful women would meet and begin a unique journey that would challenge their perceptions of cultures and eras. There was great anticipation at that first meeting, and the energy in the room was palatable as new friendships formed.
For one hour, twice a month, for seven months the pairs met to share stories. The women listened intently to each other. The stories shared revealed some generational and cultural differences and connections over spans of 50-75 years of life. The women worked beyond the cultural, racial and generational differences to delve deeper into the person. Some ladies took their girls on dinner dates and toured the neighborhoods where they were raised generations ago. Some shared stories of their limited intercultural experiences as young women in a world where such relationships were taboo. Many visited each other’s homes, met family, and shared mementos and pictures. Stories of five and dimes, World War, The Great Depression, Conroe history, and dating are just a few of the beautiful experiences shared over several months. The cultural point of reference of these ladies was stretched to include a broader connection beyond this project. As one young woman said, “First, I found calmness during our meetings, and then I found friendship and love”. It’s through the sharing of historias, and investing on the personal level, that deeper knowledge is gained, and we better understand our own course. “Historias” will reveal its true meaning with time. This compilation isn’t meant to express all the great moments in a life, but I hope it reveals both the value of a life, and in its sharing. These stories are great American journeys through the eyes of young American women on the cusp of creating their own great historias with their rich talents and cultures. The resulting gift is a mosaic of history and intercultural celebration. We hope this project encourages others to find these connections, and preserve the beauty within our community. I want to thank each lady of The Conroe Historias Project for their inspiring work and candidness. It has been my special honor to know them, and learn from each of them. I am also very grateful to the great H.O.P.E. professionals, Dr. Crimm’s inspiring work, and all of our contributors, for their constant support and belief in this project. My sincerest gratitude also goes to Montgomery County United Way, and the Montgomery County Community Foundation for their support and investment. Gracias and Many Blessings,
Maria Banos Jordan Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Montgomery County United Way
One evening not too long ago, Maria Jordan, a good friend at United Way who worked with me on several community projects, called to ask my opinion about another project she was mulling over in her mind. She would call this the Conroe Historias Project. She had recently given a presentation to a group of lovely, senior ladies, members of the Pan American Round Table of Conroe. Apparently, this inspired them to want “do something” to help promote an awareness and sensitivity of cultural diversity...or something like that. Maria’s idea was to pair up ten Hispanic girls from a local high school with ten ladies from the group. Over several months, the students would interview the ladies about their lives, create friendships and hopefully, build a bridge that would cross over differences in culture and age. Sure, I said, sounds terriﬁc! In fact, I volunteered to help with the project. In the back of my mind, I remembered hearing this story before. It wasn’t new to me. Once upon a time, I was a teenage girl in the sixties thinking about going to college. All my Anglo friends were going so I decided I was going, too. My parents didn’t think much of the idea for a number of reasons: no money, what’s wrong with getting a job and they didn’t know of any other Hispanic family sending their daughter to college, something unprecedented, I guess. My mother was sympathetic and introduced me to an old friend, literally, she was in her nineties, who had been a mentor to her growing up in a Mexican barrio in Kansas City during the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Miss Dorothy Gallagher was a wealthy, Irish lady, a Social Worker, who devoted much of her life to helping others, especially Mexican immigrants. They weren’t called “aliens” back then- Just transplanted families escaping the civil strife in their homeland and seeking a better life for their children. Miss Dorothy sent mom to a private girls’ high school and instilled in her the desire to do something better with her life, like at least ﬁnish high school. I met Miss Dorothy, spent many hours visiting and hearing her stories, drinking tea or lemonade and marveling at her spirit and generosity. She decided she was going to go the next step with mom and send her daughter to college. I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Sociology. To this day, for no apparent reasons, Miss Dorothy’s kind face pops into my thoughts and the impact of her life on mine grows with each year of my life. Going to college for my own children was never an issue. It was expected.
The Conroe Historias Project comes at a signiﬁcant ﬁcant time in Montgomery County, Texas. With all the concerns over changes and the growth of our society, I couldn’t think of a more powerful, positive and profound way of giving another side of the story. I observed the interaction of young Hispanic students and senior Anglo women, young ears bent toward listening to details of an older woman’s experiences of childhood, teenage angst, changes in civil rights, assassinations, dramatic advances in science and technology, motherhood and loss ss of family and friends. I could only imagine the impact they could have on each other. When would they realize the commonalities they shared regardless of time and cultural differences? Their stories are unique and an opportunity for an audience to share sha in their discoveries that some things never change. Their stories are reminders that we live in cycles of beginnings and endings and like an Oreo cookie, the good stuff is in between. I believe the Conroe Project Historias has a happy ending. For the students, it is still a work in progress. It is what they have learned from these wonderful women and how they can beneﬁt bene from their experiences that could determine their life stories and a “happily ever after.” Mary Byrne is the Community Liaison wi with th the Newcomers Center Conroe Independent School District. Conroe, Texas
In Great Appreciation The Montgomery County United Way Board and President Julie Martineau The Montgomery County Community Foundation for generous funding of the project The Pan American Round Table of Conroe, Texas Nancy Smith of P.A.R.T. for helping initiate this project The amazing students of this project Mayor Webb Melder of Conroe Conroe Independent School District- Superintendent Dr. Don Stockton CISD Newcomers Center- Rod Chaves, Director The Montgomery County Library System- JeriLynn Williams, Director Hispanic Outreach Professional Enrichment (HOPE) Committee Members: Diana Boulanger, Mary Byrne, Becky Gustamante, Teresa Herod, Devery Johnson, Maria Jordan, Annette Morales-Tymczak, Christina Martinez, Cathie Richardson, Lisa Schott, Terry Stivers, Sherry Sunderman, Alejandra Tapia, Margie Taylor, Imelda Vigil, and Juanita Zavala Volunteers and Advisors: Lolita Lopez Cardenas, Mary Margaret Coyle, Jessica Russell, Karen Lange Vicky Shelledy, MCUW Director of Community Impact Carla Clark, MCUW Director of Marketing And the entire MCUW Staff Dr. Ana Carolina Castillo Crimm Chelsea Williams Photography All the families of the Conroe Historias Project ladies The Crighton Theatre The Heritage Museum The Conroe Courier Familias Latinas Magazine Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council And our special gratitude to: Kelly A. Chaves- Book Designer and Volunteer 11
Prologue The Historia of Conroe Conroe is the county seat of Montgomery County, Texas. In 1881 Houston lumberman Isaac Conroe established a sawmill on Stewarts Creek two miles east of the International-Great Northern Railroad's Houston-Crockett line on a tract of land in the J. G. Smith survey, first settled in the late 1830s. In January 1884 a post office was established at the mill commissary, and, at the suggestion of railroad official H. M. Hoxey, the community took the name Conroe's Switch, in honor of the Northern-born, former Union cavalry officer who founded it and served as its first postmaster; within a decade the name was shortened to Conroe. A lumber boom in the late nineteenth century in the Piney Woods of Montgomery County attracted many settlers to Conroe. By 1889 the population had climbed to an estimated 300. In that year Conroe replaced Montgomery as county seat. By the early 1890s Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist congregations were organized in the town; they initially shared a single house of worship. Simultaneously, black residents founded Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal congregations. By 1892 the community had grown to 500, and it had become a shipping center for lumber, cotton, livestock, and bricks. It had several mills, brickyards, a cotton gin, a gristmill, several hotels and general stores. The Conroe Independent School District was established in 1892. By 1896 the Courier, the community's first weekly newspaper, was founded. Conroe was incorporated in 1904 with a population of 1,009, and its first mayor and city council were elected the following year. Around 1910 the community's first Catholic church was constructed, and the first black public school was established. The Great Depression devastated the local lumber industry. On December 13, 1931, George W. Strake discovered oil seven miles southeast of town. The Conroe oilfield opened and an oil boom began. Soon many petroleum wholesalers, retailers, service companies, and thousands of people looking for work arrived in the community. By 1933 the population was an estimated 5,000. The lumber industry revived, but never fully. By 1952 Conroe had a population estimated at 7,313, then an estimated 9,192 in 1961, and 11,969 in 1972. More Houstonians traveled north on Interstate Highway 45 to settle in the area. Lake Conroe was built as a joint project of the City of Houston, the Texas Water Development Board, and the San Jacinto River Authority in 1973 as an alternate water source for the City of Houston. The population grew to 27,610 by 1990 and to 36,811 by 2000. By 2010 the estimated population of Conroe was approximately 65,000.
The 1980â€™s through 2010 also saw tremendous growth of a new Hispanic community in Conroe and Montgomery County. The Hispanic population numbered 13,237 in 1990, and by 2010 it grew to 84,643 or roughly 18% of the county population. Hispanics became the largest ethnic community in the county, and in the city of Conroe. Two cultures have now met to create new stories. The Conroe area is quickly becoming a greater mixture of people and opportunities, and it provides an interesting view of new connections developing across cultures. This is where we find our pioneering Conroe Historias Project groupâ€Ś..
As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate lovingly, our own
Historias yet to be writtenâ€Ś..
Elena Ayala is 19 years old and is a 2009 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in Conroe, Texas. She is of Mexican descent and is currently studying engineering at Lone Star Community College. Elena resides in Conroe with her family. She has always been active in her community, and is hoping to continue giving to others and help her family through her hard work.
Sarah Subeth Carter Burge is a quiet lady who always dresses very nicely, and always has a nice thing to say when you see her. You might not realize that behind her quiet personality are a lot of great experiences and strong determination. She has always felt that it was important to participate in life and contribute to it the best you could, and her story showed me how faith and family kept her always focused on this. Subeth was born on September 16, 1938 in Evergreen, Texas in San Jacinto County.
Her parents were Walter Carter and Sue Vann Carter from San
Jacinto County, Texas.
Evergreen is about 65 miles north of Houston in the Big Thicket Forest of East Texas. The town was founded in the 1880’s, and in 1940 the population was about 150 people with just a couple of small businesses. San Jacinto County was named after the Battle of San Jacinto, and Coldspring is the county seat. Lumber was important for the local community until oil was discovered in the 1940’s. This area was once inhabited by Atakapa or Patiri tribes, then later granted to Mexican landowners. The Trinity River was used for travel and trade for settlements down to the port of the Gulf of Mexico. White settlements and African American communities appeared in the East Texas area. The Carters set their roots in this area, and Subeth grew up surrounded by beautiful forest.
Family and faith were very important in Subeth’s upbringing. The piano became a big part of her life. She remembers the piano and church as her main outlets as a child. It was a time of little opportunity for women, and people were struggling to get by.
Subeth remembers learning
to sew and make her own clothes to wear to school and church. She had
an older brother
named Tom Carter. Her little community didn’t have much diversity of people. She remembers not knowing people of different cultures until she was a teenager. This was a time when segregation kept people apart.
Christmastime was a special time in her family. There would be a huge gathering of family to celebrate Christmas together, and it was one of her favorite memories. Subeth’s grandparents were important in her life. William Thomas Carter, Sarah Agnes Hoot Carter, and Thomas Vann, influenced how she saw the world. Her Grandmother Sarah Vann passed away before Subeth was born. Like many women of her day, Sarah was expected to have several children. 19
During the birth of her tenth child, Sarah and the baby died. Thomas was left alone with many children to raise. Some of her favorite memories with them were dinner at Grandmother Carters or holidays at Grandfather Vann’s.
Subeth remembers that at the age of 6 she had her first crush on a little boy named Willis Richy, who she sat next to in school. She also was very active in 4-H for many years. She participated in Future Homemakers of America, played in the school band and played softball. Subeth’s brother was a football star at Coldpring High School, and Subeth was drum major in the band. He was also the Future Homemakers of America Sweetheart in the high school, and Subeth was the football sweetheart another year. The Carter kids were very active and liked in the small community. She remembers sewing a dress for competition at the state fair, and winning regional and district awards. Her parents wouldn’t let her date until she was 15. Then she was very excited to go on her first date with George Mann, and she felt like she was becoming a young lady.
The county fairs were an important event for her entire family. Every September the County Fair attracted many people from all around. Subeth’s brother rode in the rodeo, her mother competed and won red, white, and blue ribbons for her canned peaches, pears, and tomatoes. Her grandmother won ribbons for her head of cabbage, oranges, persimmons, and grapefruit, and her grandfather won blue ribbons for the largest hogs! Subeth herself was County Fair Queen one year, and helped with booths for her 4-H club. At sixteen, Subeth was a 4-H delegate that went to Texas A&M for a competition. This was when she first became friends with someone Hispanic. They wrote to each other and met at the competition. It was a great experience for Subeth outside of her community.
Growing up, Subeth’s favorite movies were “White Christmas”, and “Alice in Wonderland”, and she liked to listen to “Amos and Andy” and “The Lone Ranger” on the radio. She was 21 before she owned a television. She would enjoy watching The Jack Benny Show, Red Skelton, Jack Parr, You Bet Your Life, Johnny Carson, and The Million Dollar Question. Subeth always enjoyed classical music as a child and as a teen. Dancing wasn’t allowed in her community when she was growing up, so she didn’t dance until she was married. She grew up around nature 20
riding horses, and enjoying the music she played on her piano. In Coldspring an old landmark jailhouse was near a “hanging tree” where prisoners were put to death years before, and the locals told the stories of it to the kids.
Subeth’s childhood meals often included her favorite of chicken and dumplings followed by a delicious fruit pie. As a child she liked to go to the skating ring on the weekends. Her favorite clothes to wear were blue jeans. Jeans were comfortable, especially for horseback riding.
remembers in 1945 she received a special gift of 3 dresses from her father’s coworkers! At the age of fifteen she began to wear some make-up, but she wasn’t into a lot of fashion. As a teen, dresses were considered descent fashion, as long as they didn’t come above the knee.
mostly wore her hair up in a ponytail. Subeth remembers a double standard in how boys and girls were treated. Subeth saw that parents were stricter with girls, and it affected friendships, dating, and curfews.
The Great Depression and war were major events in Subeth’s life that left strong impressions on how she saw the world. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps established camps in San Jacinto County. There was a white camp and black camp for workers. She remembers using ration books to buy things that were in short supply. She remembers WWII and the sadness of seeing the funerals of local soldiers that had died. This made war and death feel very real to her in a quiet small town.
In the 1940’s the county seat of Coldspring had a few general stores, couple of gas stations, two cafes, two drugstores, a meat market, a barbershop, and a food store. The Korean War and the Vietnam War also touched her. It was a very stressful time for everyone, and she knew young people who were drafted.
In 1954 Subeth’s husband was drafted and trained in
Oklahoma. He was sent to Germany for a year then returned safely home in 1957 before they married.
Subeth graduated as Valedictorian from Coldspring High School in 1957. When she looked toward her future she wanted to contribute to the world by becoming a Christian worker helping those in need. She also saw herself pursing music by becoming a piano teacher. She set out on 21
her path by attending Sam Houston State University on a four year scholarship. Later she finished her degree at the University of Houston. Houston was a world away, and a big city. She was excited and nervous, but she moved forward to earn her degree in Education with a minor in Music. Her life would take another turn when she met John Eugene Burge, a fellow student. On April 3, 1958 they married. John would work in sales and later in the banking industry. They had three children, John Edwin Burge born in October 1960, Kristi Suzanne Burge Brookshire born in December 1967, and David Eugene Burge born in March 1971. The Burges moved to Conroe in 1963, and soon they settled into a good life in the small community. Subeth would teach at Sam Houston Elementary in Conroe, and the couple enjoyed dancing and joined a dance group in the area. She caught up on all the dancing she missed out on as a teen! I suppose music always moved her and she either played it or danced to it. The decade of her twenties flew by with the busy life of a mother, wife, and teacher.
Subeth remembers taking great vacations with the children in her thirties and forties. They liked going to National Parks, and especially enjoyed Washington, D.C. They would go snow skiing in winter and water skiing all summer. Nature was a big part of her own childhood, so it was also important in how she raised her children. The small community of Evergreen gave Subeth strong roots, but seeing the world was a goal for her life. She took her oldest son to Japan, and her daughter to London, England. Like every busy mom, Subeth struggled to balance time among her children. She made sure to spend time with them and make each child feel special. That was a priority always in her personal life, and in her teaching life, and a quality I admire about her.
Subethâ€™s fifties and sixties were just as active as the previous decades, but in different ways. Community was always important to Subeth, so she dedicated herself during this period to volunteering and helping with organizations like the Womens Republican Party, The Pan American Round Table, and her church. Politics always interested her. She had concerns for the future of American families, and she felt she could help in her own community.
Grandchildren brought more joy into Subethâ€™s life. A great new chapter in her life started when Katherine Suzanne Brookshire, Sarah Bethany Brookshire, Joshua Van Brookshire, and 22
Chloe Elizabeth Burge came into the world. Her life as a teacher and mother also helped her in her role as grandmother.
She helped her children with their hectic lives by giving her
grandchildren a lot of love and care. She found an important role and routine in caring for her grandchildren and learning about today’s life through their eyes. As a teacher Subeth knew it was important to give children knowledge, as a grandmother she also continued to teach by her own learning. She continued to give to her community by being an active member of the Conroe community. Subeth mentioned that the community is changing fast.
I’m sure that is why her
church, her membership with the Pan American Round Table in Conroe, and her work with me on the Conroe Historias Project have been important for her.
Ms. Subeth’s faith remains very strong. Time spent in prayer is important to her. This last decade in life has brought worries about her country and her community. The Terrorist attacks of 9/11 deeply impacted her, as have the wars in the Middle East. She feels a duty to continue to do her part in our community to encourage a Christian way of life that helps people do their best. She challenges herself through her participation in a good life. She’s a Master Gardner, member of United Methodist Women, Sorority, and Disciple Bible Study. It might be hard to find Ms. Subeth being bored. She will either be with her grandkids, or learning, or learning more about the computer, or teaching Sunday School, or enjoying hot chicken salad and coconut pie with friends. I believe that her participation in this project says a lot about who she is. Her curiosity to learn and her need to give back is something special. She believes that people should open their homes more to other cultures to help our community. She recently traveled to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico as a representative of the Pan American Round Table of Conroe. She met many women from all over the Americas. She was able to share customs and celebrations with them, and be part of a different culture for a while. You have to admire that drive to keep learning and understanding throughout life. Ms. Subeth is blessed to have been born with that personality and ability. It brought her to this project and into my life.
Ms. Subeth always asked about me and my education when we met. Education was very important to Subeth, and she always advised me on keeping focused on my studies. She has continued to take courses and traveled to places like Israel, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Russia to learn. It would be great to also travel to those places one day. When we met I was in my first 23
year in college thinking about studying Veterinarian Medicine, and then I changed my major to engineering. It is hard to juggle school, work, and family needs for me. I think about Ms. Subeth’s words a lot when I feel stuck. I think about her life and her determination to pursue her dreams.
Her quiet personality is very much like mine. Faith and family are the center of her
life, just like they are for me.
I liked hearing her talk about her memories and her grandchildren. She always smiles when she talks about taking care of her grandchildren, and it makes me smile too. I know our families are different, and our cultures are different. Maybe we see things in life differently because of this, but I also see how the important things are the same. I hope I can succeed in school like she did, and help my family, and maybe one day talk about my life as an engineer with a young woman who isn’t sure what her dream is. I’m really grateful to Ms. Subeth for sharing things with me, and helping me feel comfortable. She is a special person, and it’s been a great experience meeting her and being part of this project with her. Together we did something that will give back something special to our community, and I hope she sees what a great story her life has made.
Transcribed by M. Jordan
Chapter Two Jeanette DeFee
Gabrielle Vivar is 19 and is a 2010 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in California, and spent her formative years in Conroe, TX. She has 3 older siblings. Gabrielle is of Mexican descent, and has a very close family. She is currently enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, and is pursuing a career in Law. Gabrielle has always been very active in her community. She believes itâ€™s important to help people and creatures in need. She also believes in lending her voice to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. 26
A year ago, I was asked to be a part of a cross-cultural program involving 10 young Hispanic girls and 10 senior Anglo women. Although we all came from very diverse backgrounds, we did share one thing in common - we all resided in Texas for a larger portion of our lives. I did not really understand the purpose of this project, only that we would pretty much just spend time with our paired ‘lady’ and share stories about our past, present, and future. It sounded fun so I joined, not really expecting the amazing stories and experiences that were shared with me. Mrs. Jeanette DeFee was my paired individual and although there are 76 years between us, we had much more in common than others may have had presumed. Like all stories, I’ll start at the beginning. Jeanette Patrick was born in Hempstead, Texas on November 15, 1918 and was known as a “precocious” child in her family. She had eight brothers and sisters. One of the impressive arts she perfected at four years old was memorizing the birth dates of the nine people in her family. (I don’t know about you, but I still don’t remember up to nine birthdays in my family). Her parents were Rebecca Suzanna Heath, of Texas, and Thomas Oscar Patrick, of Tennessee . Thomas Patrick was a builder and Rebecca was a master seamstress. Jeanette’s siblings were Elsie Marie, Ellen Adelia, Margaret Frances, Mildred Lucille, Thomas Oscar Jr., Henry Walden, Mamie Evelyn, and George Henry Herman (the first baby born at Hermann Hospital in Houston, and named after it). Jeanette’s birth name was Quinette Patrick, but she never liked it, and her siblings couldn’t pronounce it, nor spell it. Years later Jeanette had her birth certificate changed from “baby” Patrick to “Jeanette”. The family moved to Houston in 1921. At age seven Jeanette would take a bus to downtown Houston by herself and attend violin lessons. At age eight she explored her passion for baking cakes. Never taking a break, at ten she finally sewed her first dress. She went everywhere with her four older sisters - they were always sure to include her. She acquired her love for travel from these experiences. In 1930 the family had moved to Pasadena, TX. A major event that effected Miss Jeanette’s life was the Great Depression. It hit during her teenage years. She and her family were forced to leave their “modern home” and live in a 24 by 24 foot, unsealed space. With no electricity, plumbing or gas, the water well and family cow were definite blessings. But one positive thing that was sure to come out of this was the fact she was able to perfect her sewing skills and put them to productive use, and being at home all day would lead to just that. Jeanette was able to take discarded clothes from her “city cousins”, rip them apart, and with her skills make beautiful clothes. At age 14 though, while attempting the high jump she fell onto her back and went into 27
a coma. Her right kidney was knocked loose and caused an infection, her spine was broken and she lost all of her hair. The experience took a very hard toll on her, mentally and physically, and for many years she endured much suffering. Jeanette’s sisters ended up quitting school. But, being the youngest, she was destined to learn from all of the mistakes made by others before her. She was determined to go to college. With that in mind, the 16 year old little Jeanette wrote to the dean of the Women at Sam Houston State College and asked for a job to help her pay for her room and board at the school. Eventually it was decided that she would be allowed to attend if she could gather 20 dollars for each semester for tuition. Her supportive family made it a priority to support her in any way they could. But when this money was being spent on education, Jeanette could not help but think of all the fabric that could be bought with that kind of money. After all, five dollars could provide three yards of cloth, a pair of shoes, a purse and a hat! Anyway, Jeanette was college bound and needed to pack all of her belongings for college. She made sure she forgot nothing and in the end, took her two dresses, two pairs of shoes, her purse and of course, her hat. She was off! It was September 1935, and she was only 16. Of course, her 20’s would be fun- filled! She received her teaching degree and began her career. Working in a small one-store town, she made 100 dollars a month in Elysian Fields which is located in East Texas. She also married T.J. (Thomas Jefferson) DeFee on June 28, 1940. He was a teacher in Pasadena where she lived. They had three children, Janie Jo born November 25, 1947, Patsy Nell born January 1, 1943, and Elizabeth Ann born January 1, 1947, and she kept very busy educating them. Jeanette would invite the neighbor children to join her girls for an “at home kindergarten”. World War II would be the event to bring about Jeanette’s true character. She shared her home with three different couples who were in the service. She was a substitute teacher at the time in the Pasadena schools when her husband T.J. decided to quit his teaching job and work in the shipyard where he built ships for the war. Jeanette may have had a hard time finding fabric during the war, but she always kept her three little girls in their very own unique and beautiful dresses. That was very important to Jeanette. Mr. T.J. was Principal of four Pasadena schools. At age 32, he decided to enter the business world. His four girls were off to Conroe, Texas where he would be the owner of a grocery store on the town square named Conroe Food Market in 1948. He ran the store for six years before returning to education. She was 27, and decided to become a full time stay at home mom, but suddenly an unexpected surprise occurred. The first grade teacher at the school her daughters 28
were attending became hospitalized. The Principal of the school called Mrs. DeFee first-thing and asked her to substitute long-term. She continued teaching for 27 years. She substituted in all grades for five years, and then in 1952 she took a second grade class which lasted 14 years. The last 12 years, with Conroe ISD, she spent in the Reading Lab. This was a new program in Conroe ISD. With the help of two full-time aides, they worked very hard with children learning to read. She recalls the period when the first Hispanic families started settling in the Conroe community. Good teachers worked closely with many of the children that needed help to get caught up with their English skills. Jeanette realized that the community was changing and people would also need to change. A few more years of her life would consist of teaching, being a Girl Scout Leader, a Sunday School teacher, a chauffeur for her daughters to their piano lessons, as well as a human sewing machine: always providing beautiful clothing to the little ladies and herself. The pace of her life definitely began picking up when the girls started their college life. They decided to walk a similar path of their mothers’ and earned their very own teaching degrees. T.J. also became a history professor at Sam Houston State University. The girls had grown, and were getting married with beautiful church weddings. Janie Holloway-Weisinger now lives in Austin, TX, Patsy Lawrence lives in Lufkin, TX, and Beth Ann Belvins lives in Conroe, TX. For years, Jeanette traveled all over the country to babysit the grandchildren. Her fifties were filled with continuous teaching and Jeanette finally decided that forty years of education was enough, and she would finally retire at 60. But just as one would expect, she kept herself busy and simply began a new path. Her fashion hobby would boom and she was to design shoes for orders all around the country! She knew how to use her incredible talent and would make 12 to 15 pairs of shoes per week! People participating in pageants and weddings called for custom jobs. But she also took time off for herself and her husband. She and T.J. would travel all around the world, making it to Europe three times and visiting family all across the US, quite frequently. They shared wonderful adventures together for many years and he was the love of her life. When Jeanette was 67, September 1, 1987, her husband passed away due to Esophageal Cancer. He kept a garden throughout his years, and after his passing, she took care of his plants the very best that she could, but shoes were her niche and she eventually spent her time in fashion. T.J. had quite a sense of humor, and on her birthday one year he designed a “doll” made of curved wood branches. His idea came from his friend, Superintendent J.L. McCullough, whose ill wife wanted a “Cabbage Patch Doll” for Christmas. The two husbands searched the entire Houston area to find one, and they finally did. T.J. thought it was hideous. He decided he could make 29
one for Jeanette! He took great care and time to make the doll just right with every detail. He painted a face, and even dressed it with a bikini top and hair. He boxed it in a fancy box and surprised her. Jeanette nearly jumped when she opened the box and saw a scary, strange figure staring at her! She has kept that doll in its box ever since, and she enjoys sharing the funny story when she can. The relationship between the two was truly special. Although things may had been rough for a while, her seventies were filled with more adventure and traveling, making her way to London, China, Hawaii, NYC, Japan, and many other places, many more times. She and her friend, Billie Jean Lynch, traveled around the world and continued exploring; filling their lives with more memories and life. Not avoiding her responsibilities she remained involved in clubs such as Delta Kappa Gamma, Library Friends, Retired Teachers, Investment Club, and finally, Pan American Round Table, where she’s been a member since 1980, and has traveled to conventions and has been a past director. She also volunteered in the Montgomery County Library where she repaired damaged books and served her community in many more ways including being active in her church since 1948, making banners for the sanctuary in that church, and dedicated a historical marker for the foyer of the First Presbyterian Church in Conroe, that will be in memory of Nell Clyburn, Isabel Willis and others. It was in her 80’s when she decided she should sell her house and move in with her daughter who also lived in Conroe. Still maintaining her independence though, Miss Jeanette decided she’d lived in the guest quarters they built so that she and her daughter could lead their separate lives while still remaining close. She has made it to New Zealand, Australia, Chicago, Mackinaw Island, San Diego, NYC, Canada, Memphis, Argentina, Costa Rica and many other places. She still is actively involved in her volunteer jobs and church. She is in her 90’s, is in great health and continues her habits, although she takes just a little bit more of her time doing so. She always said to herself “When I am in my nineties, I will count up how many pairs of shoes I have made!” Although it may be a tough count, she will make it, and it will probably be over 3,000. I have provided you a short summary of her life, but one thing that wasn’t written is the story of my experience with her. After all, the project was meant to be about the interviewing process 30
I went through while attempting to get her story of the relationship she had with Hispanics and how she has seen it change in the recent years. The fact is, she has always been around Hispanics and never saw a problem. Her family raised her to be more open minded than others and for that reason she grew up seeing things in all shades and colors. She was aware of the racial tension, of course, but she did not exercise racial prejudice. Jeanette is a part of the Pan American Round Table, which is an organization that learns about different cultures of the Americas and studies the history of them. She is a woman who is interested in the world and does not discriminate now, nor had she ever. Jeanette has always been strong willed, she has never been afraid, and now just as it has always been, takes a situation by the horns and dominates it. She is a selfless woman who has experienced enough of the 20th century to know what not to take for granted. She became aware that her ancestors did not leave much for her to find, so she has made it a point to search for her genealogy and has found some interesting things. One of the most “outstanding” in her opinion have been that John Rozier came from France in 1635 as a Huguenot Minister, three Fitzpatrick brothers came from Ireland in 1760; after the Revolutionary war they were given bounty land in Georgia and in Tennessee, and in the late 1800’s they moved west to Texas where her history began. She found these facts out after searching through multiple files of scraps, and so made it a point to write a short autobiography of her life so she can share it with her grandchildren and their families. She takes care of herself but is prepared with the Long-Term Care Insurance to fall back on if anything was to happen where she could no longer take care of herself. She also has a life-line tab that is available to her in the case of a fall. She could rely on her three daughters to look after her if necessary, but at this point she is strong-willed and continuing to do well on her own. Mrs. DeFee has 6 granddaughters- Julie Davis, Lisa Monschke, Jennifer Tole, Kathy Loya, Shelley Nelson, and Joanna Thomas, and 9 great grandchildren- Parker, Allie, and Cate Davis; Morgan and Molly Monschke; Isabella Tole; Olivia and Carter Loya; and Ellen Marie Nelson. Her only great grandson, Carter Lawrence Loya, who she very much keeps in contact with; they keep her young. Shelley Nelson and Joanna Thomas are the grandchildren she maintains the closest relationship with, but she loves them all the same and tells me she enjoys spending time and money on them. Jeanette DeFee is a woman with strong determination. She has always had a plan, she has always had a goal, she has always been prepared, and is not afraid of anything. She has a love for fashion, she has the strength of a lion, and the smile of an angel. She grew up color-blind and raised her family the same way. They are a family of teachers; it has been said that teaching is 31
the noblest profession. They are also a family of givers and have given their knowledge and time with no regret. Jeanette continues to be very active in Conroe. She drives from activity to activity, giving of herself in her community. As much as she has taught, she also continues to learn about the world and the people in it. Independence and strength are but only a couple of the powerful words I could use to describe Mrs. Jeanette. She was born November 15, 1918. And is 92 years old, I was born March 3, 1992 and am currently 19 years old. The 20th century was a revolutionary century, and I am but a part of the last bit of it. What history is to me, is life to her. We are an odd pair at first sight, but have more in common than one would presume. She has informed me of the importance to wait to have a family when I am finished with school and has given me many economical tips. Jeanette searched for scholarships I could apply for when I was college searching, she has given me a little bit of her creativity by writing how-to instructions on how to create gifts and creative boutiques. Jeanette has introduced me to one of her daughters, Beth Ann Belvins, who is just as amazing as she, and works at Hauke Reassignment School, doing wonderful things with the students there and making dramatic changes. Jeanette gave me a small gift at every one of our meetings and had the graciousness in cutting out clips of me in the newspaper when I did not realize I had been in the paper. She called to congratulate me for becoming homecoming queen and noticed that I won other awards as well. She is a fashion savvy individual who let me know my complexion is that of the winter season and has filled me in on the details in history that are not written in the books; like how men and women dressed throughout each period in history and how it became less and less expensive due to the less and less materials needed (especially for women). I was lucky enough to discuss priceless information that came to me first hand from a feisty individual who is more than 70 years older than me, and has a better memory. I am a blessed individual and enjoyed every second of our conversations. My experience was very different from that of everyone else, and although I am sure I would have enjoyed my experience with any other person, I am forever thankful that I met Mrs. Jeanette DeFee.
Andrea Salinas is 18 and a 2010 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in Conroe, TX, has 2 siblings, and is of Mexican descent. She is currently enrolled at Lone Star Community College, and is pursuing a career as a nurse. Andrea believes that everyone should give something of themselves to their community. She believes people learn more and feel better about their world when they give of themselves. Andrea also believes that encouraging your family also helps your community. Andrea is the author of two Historias biographies in this project.
Woody is an amazing lady who is both caring and strong. She has a very unique character that makes her an outstanding person. One thing I really admire about Woody is that her strength keeps her head up high, and she never gives up. With her great sense of humor and her interesting stories; she can brighten anybody‘s day. As she was growing up, she learned a lot of things through her experiences with camping and counseling. She has always been very active and has worked hard for a good life. From the very first day we interacted, we had a great connection, and I felt like I had known her for years. She makes me feel safe and comfortable when we are together, and her personality is full of color and fun. When I asked her how she got the name, "Woody" she answered; "My name back then was Woody Woodall. And I got the name because when in high school, nicknames were prevalent especially the summer we were in C. I. T. training. This means counselor in training and was for high school girls from 16 to 19 years old. “Woody” stuck and ‘that's my story and I am sticking to it’!” Her life began on August 29, 1941 in Tyler, Texas in Mother Frances Hospital. She and her family lived in Kilgore, Texas until she was four. Her dad, Earle Woodall was from Dutch descent and her Mom, Udelle Woodall, was of Irish /English descent. While in Kilgore, he was the band director and her mother taught English. Her father passed away when he was 92 years old on October 18, 1994. Her mother passed away when she was 95 years old on April 14, 2006. Woody’s sister, Donna Lynn, was born seven years after Woody. She shared a very cute story about some baby chicks she had when she was little. Her dad raised chickens behind their house in Kilgore. And she thought they were just too adorable. One day she decided to carry them for a while. (she was 3 years old) and loved their sweet fuzziness and was happy to take care of them for a while and keep them warm. She held one tightly (dad had told her not to drop it) and she held it too tightly. Unfortunately, the baby chick was so small that it died because she held it too tightly and loved it too hard. She felt bad and cried and cried because she loved the chicks so much. Her daddy told her she was not allowed to go back in the chick coop again. Both parents had careers in education. Her dad was band director, coach, science teacher, assistant principle, curriculum director and elementary principal. Upon retiring he was the county coordinator for Robinson ISD (Hearne, Texas). He resigned about 3 years later and was residential manager of Lake Air Towers in Waco, Tex. This ten story condominium built by a 35
dear friend of her parents. Her mother taught, English, Physical Education, Art and received her counseling certificate and was a counselor at Lake Air Junior High School in Waco until she retired. Between the two of them, they had put in 62 years. Both parents were dedicated Christians which was important to Woody, and she always admired them. The family church was Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco. She was her dad's "son" - he taught her to fish, work in the yard, because she was a tough little girl. He was a strong disciplinarian, but Woody felt it was for she and her sister's own good. On the other hand, her mom was very gentle, and soft spoken. “She had a sweet nature and both parents made us feel we were the most important thing to them. But when we were in trouble and Mother said "What in the Sam Hill are you doing?" or she said our full names, well it was hard times after that!” She couldn't remember anytime that she hadn't earned the fussing she got. Her parents moved to Waco, Texas when Mr. Woodall had an opportunity to be assistant principle in LaVega ISD in Bellmead, Texas (small town outside of Waco) Both parents had careers in education . They dated seven years before they married. Her mother wanted a few years of teaching before she said "yes" but her dad finally said "You know I love you, but if you aren't going to marry me- I need to be looking somewhere else!" They were ten years apart in age. Woody has cute memories of her little sister Donna. Woody would roll over to her sister because she felt scared at night, and her sister would get annoyed and push her away. Woody also remembers being her sister’s protector. They had a tough neighbor girl named, "Chubby" who picked on Woody’s sister. Woody was practicing her baton one day and Chubby started picking on her sister. “I instructed my neighbor not to cross our property line - which pretty much meant a line in the cement sidewalk. Of course she did and of course I had to whack her with my baton. I thought I would be dead in a short time for sure. She wacked me with her hand, and I reached out to catch her, and I tore her brand new blouse that her mother had just bought her! Even though Donna nearly cost me my life I love and admire her!” She has a very nurturing soul and has a deep love of God. She was married, has two children, Allan and Allison. She also has a new daughter-in-law, Mandy. She has overcome many struggles and received her R.N. degree and teaches at Platt College of Nursing in Oklahoma City, Okla. Her faith is unyielding! Woody lived in Tyler, TX which was a quiet and calm town until she was four years old. The family then moved to Waco, TX where she experienced a lot of new things. There she lived in a larger and very active neighborhood. There was a lot of kids around she played with. The 36
kids would make their own talent shows, play dress up, and were very creative. The most common game they played was hide and seek. She remembers that they would have so much fun finding new places to hide in around their neighborhood. The family moved a few streets over to a bigger house. It was nothing like the first home she loved. There weren’t any kids, and it was a lonely and quiet place. She was becoming a teenager and her interests had changed. She also loved riding horses on a ranch in Waco. Her parents had some really good friends that lived there who owned a huge 120 acre place with a beautiful garden. Both families spent a lot of time together having picnics. Woody was always happiest outside participating in lots of activities. She loved going to camp and church camp, especially during the summer time. Camping was her favorite thing from the age of eight, and she continued enjoying it until she got married. She went from being a camper, to counselor in training, junior counselor, and finally waterfront director. Camping continued to be a big part of her life and she took it very seriously. Somewhere along the way she found her first boyfriend named Jerry. Woody's grandmother, Pearl Ferguson lived with her family after they moved to their second home. She was her mom's Mother. She was a nurse and raised Mrs. Woodall and her brother, Carl Ferguson as a single parent. Mrs. Woodall's father was a mail carrier and died of the flu when she was 8 years old. They had no medicine back then or vaccines. He only had the flu a week before he died. "MamMa" as they called her (Woody's grandmother) had a sister who lived a block up from us. Her name was Glynn Garrett, and she was the director of the Girl's Club in Waco for 34 years. When Woody was a teenage girl, it seemed that every teen had a car except her. Woody thought this wasn’t fair, and she always hoped her parents would allow her to go drive around with her friends. Her dad was very strict, and would tell her that without a license she couldn’t drive anywhere. So she went and took a driving class and obtained her license. She was so happy that she finally had it, but her dad still wouldn’t let her drive because she didn’t have any driving experience. Woody was so disappointed and mad that she wrote six pages front and back explaining how bad parents were. Her plan was to send the paper to Life Magazine. She decided not to send it after all, because she loved her parents too much to hurt them. Her strong personality was always something she had to learn to manage. As Woody grew more into her teenage years, she began playing tennis at Waco High School. Physical activities continued to be a big part of her teen years. During this same time, she belonged to a Cotillion that had 6 formal dances a year. Cotillions were important for young 37
ladies, and a lot of thought went into the dresses. Young ladies were introduced to society, and it made the teen girls begin to feel grown up. These activities kept her entertained most of the time; which was exactly how Woody always wanted to be. Woody describes her favorite fashion choices: “Full skirts with lots of petticoats (starched them every Saturday and hung them on the close line to dry), sweaters with small scarf, socks and loafers. Or one of her Daddy's long sleeve white dress shirts with sleeves folded, blue jeans folded up to your knees, bobby socks and loafers.”. Her favorite movie was “Imitation of Life” with Natalie Wood. The movie is about how different races got along during a time when there was segregation, and it made an impact on her. The social events and fun activities weren’t the only things that helped shape her teen years. Woody remembers one event that affected her deeply. At the Methodist Home for Children in Waco, there was an 8 year old who almost drowned. It was a horrible and traumatizing situation, but Woody jumped in and saved the little one. This shows what a loving and caring person she is. Her strong personality seemed to help her help others. It is an admirable trait that makes her special. In the fall of 1959, Woody attended North Texas University in Denton, TX. She studied hard and got her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health Education, and a minor in Biology. Working with international exchange students in college was her first experience with people of a different culture. Around 1961, Woody became a Waterfront Director at Camp Fern, in Marshall. TX. She enjoyed it a lot there and would also say “I had a wild group of counselors to deal with”. They taught beginners, intermediate, advanced intermediate swim classes through the Red Cross, and Junior and Senior Life saving. On top of it, she also taught canoe lessons and war canoe for the older campers (high school age). With the loving heart she has, she always gave her best by helping others learn to be safe. During this same year, she had her last camp fire for the summer. Woody credits her dear mother and camp counselors as impacting her the most as a young woman, and her family and friends in high school were important in helping her decide to go to college. Woody married in 1964 and had two children, Randy was born in January 18, 1965 and Brent in May 28, 1968. While this marriage didn’t turn out to be what she had hoped, she relished her role as mother. She loves her boys to death and always taught them the best she could, and took good care of them. Keeping discipline consistent was a real challenge for Woody, but she was determined to give her sons stability. She was also very focused on showing them love every day and giving them Christian values. Randy now lives in Hockley,
TX., and Brent now lives in Spring, TX. Brent is married to his wife named Shirley, and they have two kids named Dylan and Devyn. Besides being an outstanding mom, she was also a great teacher. This period in Woody’s life was very busy. The 1960’s were a time of change in our country, and she remembers clearly the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It shook her and made her worry for her country. In 1969 she taught at her first school named The Selwyn School in Denton, TX. She taught there for a year, three times a week 5-6th grade science, 7-8th grade science, girls P.E 712th grade, and coaching Volleyball (in a pasture with a goal, and on a cement slab). In 1970 she taught at Hearn ISD for two years. There she taught girl’s P.E, cheerleading sponsor, pep squad sponsor, and Volleyball coach. In 1972 she taught girl’s P.E., Health, and Tennis in Bryan ISD for a year. In 1973 she taught7th grade science, girl’s P.E, health, and coached varsity tennis in Huntsville ISD for two years. In 1976 she taught as a Departmental Secretary at Sam Houston State University for three years, and taught Women’s Dance, and P.E . Her last place to teach at after so many was in 1979 in Conroe ISD for twenty five years, where she taught 7th grade science and science team leader. Woody drove from Madisonville to Conroe for 19 years to teach! She recalls having to work very hard with her school faculty to get the children up to grade level every year, because so many came from disadvantaged homes. Woody earned her Master’s Degree in Health Education at Sam Houston State University in 1992. This showed how determined Woody is, and how important education always has been for her. Learning always seems to have been a driving force in her life. This must have been obvious to others around her because she won Teacher of the Year in 1989 and 2004! After so much hard work that she did throughout all these years, she retired and took some time for herself. Woody says she has been with many true friends, but the definition of a true friend is her husband. She married John Clifton Hearn on June 14, 2003 .They have done many interesting things together; in their short time together they have gone on four cruises, built a waterfall in their backyard, owned a boat, and now an R.V. They deeply love each other, and even just having conversations is fun. Woody found her true love and best friend that cares so much for her. She says of John, “We were so blessed when God put us together!”. Her family also thought John was wonderful. Many blessings came into her life, and she has traveled to many places. When she was young she went to the World’s Fair in Seattle. Now as an adult, she has gone to Germany, Canada, 39
Alaska, Washington, California, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mexico, and Washington State. She is grateful for all the great opportunities she’s had to travel and many exciting experiences. “I have been very fortunate!” she says. Her proudest associations have been with The Montgomery County Association of Retired School Personnel, The Pan American Round Table, and Bible School Fellowship. She looks back and feels really proud of her academic degrees, but most of all of her two sons. Woody believes that throughout the years society has been having more and more problems. She believes attitudes of people have changed to believe they deserve things without earning them. She also believes that now days, people seem to blame everything and everybody for their own problems instead of taking the responsibility. She also worries that most parents do not take a strong role in their child’s education, make sure they have good nourishment, regular hours so they get plenty of sleep, and playing and working as a family. She also feels that parents don’t seem to teach their children how to respect others, take more responsibility, and keep God in their lives at all times! After all the good and bad experiences throughout her life, Woody has always been strong and never gave up on anything. She has overcome many obstacles that tried to get in her way. She has never stopped learning, and finding motivation in her life. Understanding cultures is important to her because she thinks it’s valuable and interesting to learn from different people about customs, beliefs, and foods. Woody has also been an extremely hard worker that has given her best without expecting anything in return. Her great sense of humor is unique, and every time we got the chance to interact she put a smile on my face. Great stories, and great jokes are some of the things that make her the special person she is. Woody said to me, “don’t let some ‘ole hairy boy distract you and keep you from achieving your goals”! I have learned a lot from the advice she has given me. I admire this special lady a lot. She never seems to be in a bad mood, or sad even though she might not be feeling well. She has always been there working with me, and has been very patient. Mrs. Woody has been a great friend to me, I feel that I have learned so much from her and it’s something I will never forget. It was actually unexpected that we were going to work together, but I thank God so much for making this happen, and giving me a chance to get to know her and work with her. Woody is one of a kind, and very special to me. I’ve had so much fun with her, and I will never forget her. I admire everything about her, and I wish her the best in life and that many more blessings come into her life. Writing Mentor- Mary Margaret Coyle
Harmida Roman is 19 and is a 2010 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is of Mexican descent, she has 2 siblings and seven half siblings. She is working in Conroe and pursuing a career in cosmetology. Harmida has worked hard through her teen years for her family, and believes that it is important to participate in the community to learn more about other people and offer help to those in need.
Barbara Alice Houser Landry is a lady with a caring heart and musical spirit. Ms. Barbara’s caring heart has always touched the people around. Her caring heart made it easy for me to become her friend and get to know her. Barbara was born in Houston, Texas on February 3, 1933 to Arlas Henry Houser and Erline Houser. Arlas was from Kingsland, Texas and Erline came from Henderson, Texas. They met in Humble, Texas and were married in Longview, Texas. Arlas passed away in Conroe, TX in 1988 and Barbara’s mother, Erline passed away in Beaumont, TX in 1973. Barbara has strong roots in Texas. Barbara can trace her roots go back to England. She knows that her ancestor sailed from England to Virginia in 1636 on a ship named “Blessings”, and settled on the Charles River. Barbara’s father’s father was Pierre Beauregard Houser born in Culpeper Court House, Virginia, and his mother was Susan Elizabeth King, born in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. Barbara’s mother’s father was Newell Tullis Ray born in Henderson, Rusk County, TX, and her mother’s mother was Catherine “Kate” Mercer Ray, born in Gregg County, TX. The Housers emigrated from Germany. Susan King’s family can be traced to Ireland, and the Ray’s came from England. Barbara had a sister, Audrey Erline Houser, and a brother, Arlas Ray Houser. Barbara remembers being four years old and seeing her older brother and sister go off to school in Houston. Houston seemed like a big city to her, and she loved to take walks and swing in the city parks. She remembers wearing new boots to Franklin Elementary School when she was in kindergarten, and feeling very proud of them. Barbara loved school, playing jacks, jumping rope, and loved music. Her father had a beautiful tenor voice and church was very important to her family. East Houston was where Barbara grew up, and it had many different people living there then. Many Mexican American families lived nearby. She remembers going to school with the Hispanic children from the neighborhood. Anglo adults didn’t socialize with Hispanic adults, and African Americans weren’t allowed to eat in restaurants or go to the same schools with Anglos. It confused her, and she knew it was a horrible thing, even though she was just a child. Barbara remembers that there was fear between Hispanic neighbors, who had lived there for several generations, and non Hispanic neighbors. Barbara still made friends with some of her Hispanic neighbors. Her caring heart always found a way to touch others, and her love of music found a place in her church. Barbara considered herself a very good student who really liked school. She was very close to her sister who helped her with school and looked after her. Barbara looked up to her sister. She also looked up to her mother who was the most important role model. They were very active in the Methodist Church in Houston. Barbara’s best friend as a girl was Rosalee Wason. 43
Rosalee liked to sew and she would help Barbara learn to sew and make pajamas. Barbara’s favorite subjects in school were English Grammar, Music, History and Spanish. Her favorite toy was a doll, and she loved to play hide and seek. She remembers her father owned a Plymouth, and he was proud of it. She loved to go to Galveston with her family for a Saturday trip, and one of her favorite things to do was wade in the Gulf of Mexico. Her parents would also take the family to Buchanan Lake in the Texas Hill Country during the summer. Her family wouldn’t travel very much because gasoline was rationed due to WWII. In 1946 at the age of 13 she traveled in hat and gloves on a train to Kansas, and in 1956 she traveled on an airplane for the first time to Mexico City and Acapulco, Mexico. Barbara’s mother would write chores on paper, fold them, and mix them in a big bowl, then have each child pick one. She remembers sometimes trading with her sister or brother if she didn’t like her chore. At Christmastime Barbara’s family would celebrate Christmas at their church. She wanted to be a Girl Scout as a little girl but her father said it was too expensive and wouldn’t let her join. She was in the church choir and involved in church activities. Her father was a member of the Machinists A.F. of L Labor Union, and when she was ten she rode in a float in a downtown Labor Day parade. Barbara remembered loving Baby Ruth’s and Butterfingers as child, and always splitting half her candy bar with her sister. Her favorite family meal was salmon croquettes. On December 7, 1941 Barbara was 8 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She was very afraid that her family would be bombed. She was born during the Depression and knows that her parents were very frugal during that time. She remembers her favorite radio show was “Let’s Pretend”. She and her brother and sister would go to the Navigation Theater 4 blocks away to watch westerns like The Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry. Later when she lived in Park Place Addition on Ithaca St., they would go to the theater on Broadway St. On Sundays Barbara’s dad would drive them to the ice cream parlor on Harrisburg Blvd. for a cone or malt, then he would smoke a cigar and listen to “Amos and Andy” on the drive home. It was the only time he smoked. She liked “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, and Little Women was her favorite book. She used to read the funny papers and movie magazines. She made a scrap book of movie stars that she loved. Barbara loved to sing “Old Susana”, “She’ll be coming around the Mountain”, and “Texas Our Texas”. As a teenager, she loved listening to “Don’t sit under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me”, and “I Will Be with You in Apple Blossom Time”, and liked to listen to Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra. At the age of 8 she took piano lessons, and as a teen she took piano and singing lessons, and sang operatic songs in English, Italian, and German. She always loved classical music, and hoped to be a singer.
Barbara had her first boyfriend at 13 named Ronnie Mohr. They would go to the movies together. Her parents were strict on dating and they would only allow her to date a boy who was Methodist and of the same culture. Couples would sometimes go to Prince’s Drive-in for a burger and Coke. The Majestic Theater, Loews Theater, and Metropolitan in downtown Houston were the hotspots for teens. She liked to follow fashion of the times with her hairstyles. She remembers wearing her hair straight with bangs as a child, then getting permanents later as a teen so she had curly hair with bangs. Barbara also remembers earning 25¢ a week in allowance. She would spend her money at the movies for 10¢ a movie, 5¢ a candy bar, and 10¢ would be left for church. The cost of a hamburger then was 25¢. Eating out was expensive, so her family wouldn’t eat out much until she was a teenager when they would sometimes go to a cafeteria. At 18 she had her first job typing names and addresses on am manual typewriter for the Jury Wheel at the Harris County Court House in downtown Houston. Houston was growing fast, and it seemed exciting to her as a young woman. Her first formal dance was at the YMCA in downtown Houston for her Senior Prom. She liked to dance her senior year in school. Her favorite hangout as a teen was church, and her favorite activity was swing flag twirling, and baton twirling in high school during football season with the Milby Coed Cadets. She served as captain of the Flag Corps. The fashion of her teen years was skirts and blouses, and dresses, and she remembers when she began wearing some makeup in high school. She graduated from Milby High School in Houston in 1950, and then decided to go to Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, TX to study business administration, and minor in music with a teacher’s certificate. Barbara earned a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in 1954, and a Masters of Business Administration degree in 1975. In 1954 she taught in the business department of Lutcher Stark High School in Orange, Texas. Barbara was introduced to Richard Andrew Landry, Jr. by his sister-in-law whom Barbara had known at Sam Houston State Teachers College, and who was also a teacher in Orange. Richard was an electrical engineer with Gulf States Utilities Company in Beaumont, TX. They married in Beaumont on June 22, 1957. They had two children, Dianna Faith Landry and Kyle Mitchell Landry. Both were born in Beaumont, and the family then moved to Conroe in 1970. Barbara didn’t have much experience in raising children so she read Dr. Spock books, relied on her teaching training, and what she learned from her own mother. Consistent discipline and routines were very important for Barbara so her kids knew what to expect. They sang and played the piano together, and church life and Sunday school was important in raising her kids. A Columbian neighbor named Gabriella became close with Barbara and helped her with the kids while Barbara juggled working and motherhood. During
this hectic period Barbara’s mother-in-law also moved in so Barbara could work part-time in a business college. An African-American lady also helped with housekeeping once a week. Dianna married James Robert “Bob” Carroll and had a son, Jonathan Robert Carroll. Kyle married Anna Christine Andrews and had a daughter Brittney Danielle, and son Andrew Carter Landry. Her favorite family activities have been going to the movies or out to dinner together. She loves her family time. Her daughter lives in Conroe, and her son lives in Austin, TX. Barbara also taught school at Conroe High School for fifteen years, and has made many friends in her town. Barbara’s fifties flew by and in 1993 when she turned sixty she realized how fast life was passing. The world had changed a lot by this time. Scandals in the White House really concerned her. She also realized how women were entering the business world and becoming executives, and entering politics. Barbara looked at her life as a good life with no regrets. Her proudest accomplishments were raising her children to be good and faithful Christian people who are honest and caring. She also looked back on the many students she taught and trained over so many years as a very proud accomplishment. She continued to feel connected to people around her, and Rosalee Wason was still her closest friend since childhood. When Barbara turned seventy she felt no different than before. She was thankful to be alive and looked forward to helping others. Her home was now filled with many memories that she and her husband had collected over a lifetime. Safety grips were installed in the shower, and life was very different now than when she was a little girl. Barbara’s greatest lesson learned in life was that you can’t control others- you only have control over yourself. Barbara never considered herself adventurous, but very happy with the blessings she was given. Her two battles with breast cancer strengthened her, and her faith in God. She continued to sing in her First United Methodist Church in Conroe. Church continued to be important to Barbara and she served on several ministry teams, on the Board of Trustees, and Board of Stewards. She served for many years as the music leader for the four year old Sunday School class. She also served as Communications Coordinator, and earned an award from the United Methodist Women for “Special Mission Recognition”. She had been a member of Central Park Methodist Church, Park Place Methodist Church, and Parker Memorial Methodist Church in Houston, and First Methodist Church in Beaumont. She was brave in battling breast cancer and hearing problems, and always looked to Jesus for help through hard times and making decisions in her life.
Barbara is still filled with music and interest in cultures. She is an active member of the Conroe Chapter of the Pan American Roundtable. Barbara worries about our country, drug addiction, and families being broken. Barbara continues to learn about new things like technology, but she worries about how it will change families in negative ways. She believes our community needs to learn more about how cultures can connect. She believes our churches, and some organizations in our community, like the Pan American Roundtable, and Montgomery County United Way, work to improve understanding among different cultures. Barbara served on a committee that helped start a Hispanic worship group in First United Methodist Church, which continues to grow. She knows that people have always been “resistant to people of different cultures coming into our country, especially if there are problems of illegal entry”. Barbara sees the community changing with different people, and she hopes a strong education is supported for all children as the community grows. I was nervous when I first met Ms. Barbara, because I didn’t know what she would think of me. I didn’t know if she would understand or like my culture. As soon as we started talking and working together I realized she was a nice caring person. I liked listening to her stories about her life and she would encourage me with great advice. She asked about me and my interests and supported me with caring words. I looked forward to our visits like visiting a good friend to sit and talk with. After we completed our meetings I missed our times together. The first thing Ms. Barbara and I would do when we met was share funny stories and laugh. I knew we were very different, but there were parts of her that were like me. I couldn’t imagine growing up without technology and all the things we have. I understood how she and her family would spend more time together. Her father was very protective of her when she was my age, and she loved music. I could tell by her questions that she really wanted to learn about me and my family here and in Mexico. I shared with her about our family celebrations and travels. Ms. Barbara told me that she had learned some Spanish in high school, and she wished could speak it fluently to communicate better with different people. Ms. Barbara met me for lunch one day in Conroe. We laughed and talked the whole time. Ms. Barbara has a funny sense of humor and could always make me laugh. She is a very positive person, and it seems like she always has a smile on her face. There were times that I was going through a lot of stressful things in school and at home. She would always encourage me to keep going forward and believe in myself. I see that her spirit has always been musical, because she is like a piece of music that calms people. In Spanish we call our grandmothers “Abuelita”. Ms. Barbara is just like my Abuelita, and she’ll always be special to me. I would 47
like her to know that I’m very thankful to her for opening my eyes so I can better see why it’s so important to stay on the right path, and find ways to see the positive in my life. life I’ll always be proud to be Ms. Barbara’s friend.
Transcribed by M. Jordan
Annie Lee Lewis
Ivette Castro is 18 and is a senior at Conroe High School. She was born in Conroe, TX and is an only child. She is of Mexican descent. Ivette hopes to pursue a career in Medicine as a physician. Ivette has always found ways to help others through school activities and through other community projects. She believes itâ€™s important to participate in your community to help people in need, to learn more about your world, and itâ€™s also important to help your own future and your family. 50
I came to this project through Ms. Mary Byrne from Conroe High School. She asked me to participate in what I thought was simply interviewing an older lady who was a longtime resident of Conroe, and from a different culture than me, and record her life. What I realized after beginning the project was that this was going to be more than a simple interview with a stranger. It soon became a bond shared between a teenage girl and a caring and friendly woman. Although the age difference is obvious, I have found that I can share things with her more freely than with some of my closest friends my age. This lady took interest in me and my life, and I learned many amazing stories about another time. Annie Lee Lewis is a humble woman who many can learn from. Her life has been a great example of how to overcome hardship and learn to sacrifice for those you love. Although her personality is gentle and considerate, her strong determination molded the woman that she is today. Her path took her from very simple beginnings to a life filled with many great rewards, but the most rewarding have been her spiritual blessings. Annie Lee Cannon was born on June 3, 1921 in Ashville, North Carolina. Her parents were Henrietta Freeman, born in Daytona Beach Florida, and Harry Edward Cannon from Gainsville, Florida. Her paternal grandparents were Olen Penn Cannon and Alice Brown from Delaware and from Scottish/ Irish descent; her maternal grandparents were Susan Ellis Freeman and William Freeman from Georgia, who was a soldier in the Civil War. She was the youngest child of three. Her oldest brother was named Calvert Lewis, and her other brother was Harry Edward Lewis, Jr. Annie Lee might never have existed if her motherâ€™s destiny hadnâ€™t taken a great turn of good fortune. Henrietta was a Kindergarten teacher in Daytona Beach in 1911, when the prominent Cornell family of Chicago had her travel with them and their child, Grace, to Europe for a yearlong trip. The family was very fond of Henrietta, and she was to tutor the child while away. Mrs. Cornell had booked a passage back from England to the U.S. on a grand new cruise liner named the Titanic. At the last moment, the family unexpectedly decided to delay their return trip home on the maiden voyage of the ship. The world was waiting with great excitement to see the modern ship sail away with 2,228 passengers on April 10, 1912. On April 14, 1912, 1,517 people perished in the ocean after striking an iceberg. Henrietta was not to be one of the victims, ensuring the future arrival of Ms. Annie Lee! When Annie Lee turned one the family moved to Florida. They lived on the family farm. They had a couple of hundred acres where the family hoped to grow oranges. At the age of five, 51
Annie Lee suffered a dreadful loss. Her father passed away after a battle with tuberculosis. He was in the military and preparing to go oversees when, at some point during a military exercise, he was exposed to gas used in war. This gas affected his breathing that many believed eventually caused his illness. Annie Lee remembers one of the last images of her father when he was ill. He stood tall in the doorway as the family left for an outing, saying he didn’t feel well enough to join them. Soon he would be gone and Annie Lee would keep very few memories of him. Henrietta would now take over the farm and work to keep the family fed. She hired a sharecropper to tend to the work. Henrietta had a great sense of humor, and was an excellent second grade teacher. Even at 80, neighbors brought children to her to help them learn to read. Her teaching ability was well-known in the community. Henrietta was very strict in raising her children, especially Annie Lee. Education was the number one priority for Henrietta, and Annie Lee knew to study hard. One early memory Annie Lee has is pretending to be a teacher like her mother, and she using the fireplace brick as a blackboard with her crayons. Mother Henrietta was not too happy. Annie Lee liked to pretend to teach, and she even taught the maid to read. The maid was a wonderful lady, and was one of the closest relationships Annie Lee had with a person of another culture ( she was African American). Annie Lee would climb on “Dixie”, her little pal pony, and ride off to the maid’s house down the road to eat cake. Annie Lee loved being outdoors. She also rode on a float during the Daytona parade. Her memories were fun memories of this time, even though the family had lost their dear father and husband. Annie Lee was a good student, but her favorite part of school was being with her friends. She loved the time with friends. She remembers starting her school day by reciting the pledge and a prayer. Living on an orange orchard, Annie Lee remembers eating lots of oranges. She never got tired of them, and the family enjoyed fresh, sweet juice and fruit daily. The children didn’t work on the farm, but their mother made sure they stayed focused on their schooling. Occasionally, Annie Lee would go to the movie theater in town for 10 cents on a Saturday morning. Carol Lombard was one of her favorite actresses. Money was scarce, so a movie was a rare treat. She remembers going to see “Gone With The Wind” as a young lady, with Scarlet O’Hara fighting for her family’s land. She and her brothers had great times playing on the farm freely. Sometimes Annie Lee would imagine herself traveling to faraway places. She would stare at her mother’s postcard of the Versailles Palace, and thought it was the most amazing place. Maybe one day she would be there among all the grand treasures. 52
Tommy Dorsey was a favorite on the radio. She loved listening to the big band music. She also took piano lessons. Her grandfather played the violin. It hangs framed on her wall today with his sheet music. As Annie Lee entered her teen years, her mother was strict, and would not let her date until she was fifteen. No makeup was allowed. The teenage girls would attend dances hosted at the local Women’s Club where the boys and girls were chaperoned. Annie Lee remembers how the boys would “break” in to dance with the girls they liked. The girls, in turn, would keep tabs on which girls received the most “breaks” during the dances! Beach pajama parties were also a special outing for the girls. Annie Lee considered herself a good dancer. She remembers a red burgundy dress made by her aunt. She wore it to a dance and won the dance competition with a boy named Grover. It was a fun time. High school was a time of many social times. Annie Lee was a “Little Woman” in the Woman’s Club where she learned etiquette and manners. Here she learned to be a real Southern lady. The last two years of high school also included being a camp counselor at a church retreat every summer, and she would be paid $100.00 if she would take a friend with her. P. K. Young Laboratory School, part of the University of Florida, was the high school she graduated from in 1939. She always knew that her path would include a college education, so she made plans to attend Florida State University for Women in Tallahassee. Most of the girls in her community would attend college. She would choose to study education. In her junior year, she met a young man named Charles Herbert Lewis, Jr. He was a handsome young man in flight school in Tallahassee. Charlie would get Annie Lee’s phone number from a friend and woo her off her feet. After only two months of dating, the young couple married. On June 26, 1944 the couple quickly married in the Presbyterian Church in Gainsville. After a ten day honeymoon, Charlie returned to Panama where he was stationed. Annie Lee finished her degree in Education, and taught first grade in Gainsville for one year. She met her husband for a visit in New Orleans and paid a substitute to teach her class while she was away. These visits were special during war (travel at the time was by train and bus). One of Charlie’s buddies met the couple for dinner one evening. They enjoyed a great time, but that would be the last time the couple would see their friend. He would be killed in Europe following that last visit in New Orleans. Stories of the dead were difficult for everyone. With the war in full bloom, Annie Lee remembers rationing butter and sugar, but she focused on keeping her routine in her daily life. Her family had learned to be frugal watching a farm without her father, thus Annie Lee was equipped for these changes. The couple was stationed in New Jersey, 53
Louisiana, New Mexico, Brownsville and Galveston, Texas during the end of the war. Her time in Texas would give her an opportunity to meet and interact with people who were Hispanic. Annie Lee’s life would also now enter a new journey as she discovered she was pregnant. She would return to Florida to be with her mother during her pregnancy. Charles H. Lewis, III was born October 1945. Being a new mother was hard, since Annie Lee was living with her mother. Charlie hired a lady to help her until they moved to Mississippi. On October 1948 Annie Lee was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Then on December 1954 Marietta was born in Louisiana. Annie Lee enjoyed watching her children grow and develop their unique ways. Her main priority was her children, and her husband. It was a blissful time for the family raising the children and moving to different cities. While Charlie worked with the Georgia Pacific Railroad, he moved the family to Conroe, TX. Charlie then decided to work in foresting. Marietta would graduate from Conroe High School. All the three children would attend Louisiana State University. Annie Lee thought of Conroe as a pleasant little town. The couple built a home in River Plantation, where at the time, only a few houses existed. Annie Lee stayed occupied by volunteering at the Presbyterian Church in Conroe. She also was the secretary for the original Committee For the Aging, now the Friendship Center. She later joined the Pan American Round Table in Conroe. Shortly after moving to Conroe, the grandchildren entered the world. Charles Jr. had Charles IV, Cannon, and Mary. Annie Lee then had Adrienne Munson, and Cameron Munson. Marietta had Pliny Gayle, Lydia Katherine Gayle, and Natalie Gayle. Annie Lee and Charlie enjoyed her new role as grandparents. Cannon would make Annie Lee a Great Grandmother with two children, Adrienne had two, and Charlie had three children. Charlie and Annie were great entertainers, and hosted many Air Force buddies and friends in their home over the years. Friends and family always filled the Lewis home and the couple continued to feel blessed. In 2008 Charlie was about to turn 92 on March 23. On March 22 the last of the “Southern Gentlemen” (as described by Annie Lee) passed. The children emailed a letter from Charlie as “The last letter from Charlie Lewis” to announce his passing. Annie Lee was eighty six, and life would now challenge her again. The last two decades were fulfilling with a couple of trips to Hawaii and a trip in Spain with Charlie. Annie Lee would travel to Europe with friends and visited, London, Scotland, France (where she visited the Versailles Palace, that wasn’t as amazing as she remembered it being in her mother’s postcard), Ireland, Italy, and Germany. It
was a difficult time for a woman who loved her gentleman so deeply, but as always, Annie Lee found her inner strength to move forward. Annie Lee lived through many changes in our country. She remembers the great events like the Great Depression. She remembers that the farm saved her family from hunger and need, unlike most Americans who experienced daily shortages. Although Annie Lee experienced many major events that marked our nation’s history, she dealt with them all in a very positive way that helped her stay strong. She attributes her strong character to her mother’s strong will to move forward with her family when she found herself on her own. The way people interacted changed tremendously over the span of her life, but Annie Lee always believed that loving and respecting people of all cultures should establish how people relate to one another. Annie Lee continues to be active in her church and community. She attends the Pan American Round Table luncheons every month, where she enjoys good company and learning new information about other countries. She joins her friends for lunch at the country club, and enjoys playing bridge. Friendships are something Annie Lee values greatly. Her friend and neighbor, Pat, has been a dear friend since Annie Lee first moved to Conroe. She also looks forward to visits from her children and grandchildren. She knows her life is slowing down, and it’s hard to cut back on all of her activities. Annie Lee always looks beautiful with her silver hair and big bright smile. That positive attitude is very present in her. Annie Lee thinks about the world today, and wishes children and parents spent more time together. She worries about the deterioration of values and respect in our society. Nonetheless, Annie Lee keeps moving forward trying to do her part by giving of herself. When she listens she sincerely listens, and wants to know about your thoughts and feelings. She knows there are many more opportunities for women today, and she’s very proud when she talks about her granddaughter’s successes. She also hopes to see me continue my plans for college. Annie Lee said she respects my value of morals, and my ability to express my opinions. I respect that Annie Lee lived in a time when education was not made for women; it was more expected for men. Nevertheless, Annie Lee prioritized education and worked hard during her summers to save money for college. It was also important for her to raise her children well, and give them strong morals, and make a good home. Although I come from a Hispanic background and she comes from a European background, there are similarities of gender roles across generations. The traditional role of a woman to stay at home, care for the children, and husband is something that I see revealed in both our families. We also understand the need to sacrifice 55
and keep moving ahead no matter what life throws at you. I see a common perseverance in our personality. Therefore, I feel blessed and privileged to have been a part of a touching experience, and walk away with a beautiful friendship. Today her charming home is devotedly decorated with the many pictures of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She is very proud of each one of them. The cardinals play on her window sills, and her yard is immaculate. Her home is filled with so many memories, but soon she will be leaving it to find a smaller new home. Once again, Annie Lee will be challenged to adapt to another chapter in her life, and like the true Southern lady that she is, she will rise to the challenge with great grace and beauty. -Writing Mentor M. Jordan/Imelda Vigil
Marilu Vela is 18, and a senior at Conroe High School. Marilu was born in Conroe, TX , and has 4 siblings. She is of Mexican descent. Marilu hopes to pursue a career in Medicine as a Pediatrician. She has always loved helping children, and she believes that people should help how they can in their community. Volunteering is a way to learn and stay active. She also believes that families need support when they struggle. 58
“Outgoing” is the word that first comes to my mind when I think of Mrs. Paula Schoppe. A definition of the word is “openly friendly and responsive”, and that describes Mrs. Paula perfectly. We met a year ago to begin the Conroe Historias Project as a pair. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was a little anxious to meet the lady I would be interviewing. What I soon figured out was that Mrs. Paula was interested in me and my life, and she was easy to be with. I also realized that Mrs. Paula had an interesting life story. The more we talked the more I realized that she was a lady who focused on the important things in life like her family, her faith, her education, and her community. Her outgoing nature keeps her busy and keeps her having fun. It has also kept her going forward in her life since her childhood. This year has been a journey that opened my eyes to many things. It surprised me to find understanding in a stranger, it helped me see how someone can try to learn about other people and cultures without judging them in negative ways. I’m grateful for the caring this lady showed me. Paula Wiggs Schoppe was an only child born November 28, 1948 in Rockdale, Milam County, Texas. Her father was Frank Fulton Wiggs, Jr., and her mother was Pauline Starnes Wiggs. Mr. Wiggs was from McKinney, Texas, and Mrs. Wiggs was from Milam County, Texas. They met in Milam County. Paula’s Grandparents were Frank Fulton Wiggs, Sr. of McKinney, Texas, Ethel White Wiggs of Morrilton, AK, James Harvey Starnes of Milam County, Texas, and Sophia Greenfield Starnes of Milam County, TX. Her cultural heritage is Scottish, Irish, and German. Paula’s father was the manager of Tyler Gas Service Company in 1955. When he retired, he was Vice-President and East Texas Division Manager of Entex, based in Jacksonville, 30 miles south of Tyler. Paula’s mother was a part-time secretary, and full time housewife. Paula’s earliest childhood memories were of playing with her friends when she was living in Killeen, Texas between four and six years old. Paula remembers the beautiful ﬂowers of her town, playing in the band and the Rose Festival as her favorite childhood memories growing up in Rockdale, Killeen, and Tyler, Texas. Tyler would be where Paula spent most of her youth from the age of six to eighteen. It was a growing community established in 1848, and is the county seat of Smith County. The area had been inhabited by the Tejas Indians, and later the Cherokee and Kickapoo immigrated to the area. Tyler might have been a smaller community, but the area had a lot of influence in Texas history. Between 1860 to 1890, there was a group of local leaders called the "Tyler Gang", that had a lot of influence in Texas politics. The group included three governors, and a Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court: Oran M. Roberts, Richard B. Hubbard, and James S. Hogg.
Tyler also became famous for its roses. It was a big producer of peaches before disease wiped out the majority of the crops in the early 1900’s. The farmers learned to grow roses, and soon the whole town was covered in them. Tyler became known as the “Rose Capital of the Nation”. During the Great Depression oil was discovered in the area and saved the town. It also helped make the Rose Festival a huge event with elaborate festivities. By 1940 there were almost 30,000 people living in Tyler. This was the colorful world that little Paula grew up in. Since there were no video games, it was fun just playing outside and making up games. She loved to go bowling and read her Jack and Jill magazines and biographies. Her favorite book was Champion Dog: Prince Tom. She was 6 years old when her family got their ﬁrst TV, and she could watch Tom and Jerry cartoons, and other favorite shows like Disneyland and Bonanza, a popular western. As a child, Mrs. Paula had many talents, and she still does....some better than others, she says. She learned to play the piano (not very good) and the clarinet. She loved to bowl, and is a good swimmer. She loved to eat anything chocolate, eat pizza at the local Pizza Inn, and tacos with friends. At home she loved meat cooked on the back yard grill. Being an only child did not excuse Paula from doing chores. She helped her family by doing the ironing, and washing the dishes. She got an allowance, and extra for good grades. She doesn’t remember ever getting in trouble, even though she calls herself a “hard-headed” child. Paula was a good student. She attended Andy Woods Elementary School, and Robert E. Lee High Junior High and High School. A good Texas student studies about the Alamo, and visits the state capitol, which she remembers. Her favorite subjects were reading and language arts. She managed to get a’s and b’s ranking her 133 out of 500 graduating students. Paula saw her parents and her Sunday school teachers as her main role models. After working in the summer camps around Tyler as a counselor, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher one day. Just like young people today, she worried about her friendships, and being liked and accepted by her friends. I am sure her personality was just like it is today. She is outgoing and easy to talk to. So, I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was sixteen when she got her first paying job working as a Campﬁre Girl counselor. She also worked as a Red Cross Lifeguard, as well as with handicapped children in a summer day camp. The fashion of the day consisted of mostly wearing dresses. Paula wore pants at home, started to wear make up in 6th or 7th grade, and wore 60
her hair short. She remembers the electric rollers she used to get her hair styled. She and her friends had slumber parties. The prank to be worried most about was that she was always the first girl to fall asleep. The first girl to fall asleep might find her undergarment in the freezer in morning! She listened to Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and although she took dance lessons, she admits she is not a good dancer. Maybe that’s why she waited until college to wear a pretty, long white dress to her ﬁrst formal dance. She did babysitting to earn extra money, and liked to spend it on charms for her charm bracelet. In the sixties, charm bracelets were a major fashion statement. Paula’s first airplane ride was to Washington, DC while she was in junior high school. She was very excited. Most people still traveled by car and some by train at that time. Paula was a teenager in Tyler, Texas. She was very close to her cousin “John”. It was fun to hang out with him, go ﬁshing, and shoot the BB gun. That athletic gene ran in the family. She had a happy childhood, but remembered her ﬁrst major sadness when her grandmother Starnes died in 1963. Like most people of her generation, she remembers being very sad when she heard that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It also happened to be her father’s birthday. She remembers the moment, “It was lunch time and there was a student parking lot next to the cafeteria. I remember walking out to a boy’s car, where he had the car radio turned up in his red Mustang, and we all heard the report on JFK's assassination on his car radio. There was a big crowd gathered around his car”. Paula remembers her community as having a mixture of African Americans and Anglo Americans. Paula would experience the changes to come with the Civil Rights Movement, and the period of segregation before. The sixties would bring a lot of change to big communities and smaller ones like Paula’s. She remembers when the schools were separated by white and black schools in town. She doesn’t remember many immigrants or Hispanic families in her town at the time. Paula was active in her church, as she still is today. She attended the First Presbyterian Church in Tyler, Texas, and was very active in her youth group. The family also enjoyed attending the East Texas Fair and the Texas State Fair in Dallas. In 1968, Paula was a “Lady In Waiting” at the Texas Rose Festival. She remembers that, “The theme that year was Texas Wildflowers. I was a 'Mexican Poppy', and got to wear my favorite color dress—red”. The Vietnam War was starting and growing in the sixties. Paula remembers that it was a sad and confusing time. The war touched her when she lost friends in Vietnam. She remembers Larry Moore, a boy from high school, who died in battle. 61
At 18, Paula graduated high school, and was more than ready to head off to college. She felt like her dreams and hopes were all possible, and she always wanted to teach. Even with the excitement of becoming an adult and going to college, Paula did have a hard time leaving her parents. As an only child, she missed them and worried about them when she went off to Sam Houston State University. Huntsville would get very interesting for Paula. She would meet Kenneth Wayne Schoppe there in 1968. Paula received her teaching degree in 1970, and that year would mean preparing for a big change in her life. On May 31, 1971, Paula and Kenneth married in Huntsville, TX. Kenneth studied Education and Accounting and also graduated from Sam Houston State University. When they had extra money they would go out and have fun. Paula’s twenties were busy as a young wife and teacher. Paula set her goal on earning her master’s degree before having children. The biggest world event during her twenties was Neal Armstrong landing on the moon. The entire country and world was amazed. She remembers watching it on television in the dormitory lobby that July in 1969. The couple moved to Conroe, Texas in 1973 after teaching in San Jacinto County for two years. They both were offered teaching positions in Conroe. She thought Conroe was a great small town with friendly people, and the couple looked forward to great beginnings. Paula would teach 4, 5, and 6th grade for years. She taught at Austin Elementary and Reaves Intermediate, as well as Crockett Intermediate, Washington Intermediate, and then Travis Intermediate. Conroe was starting to grow quickly. The Conroe ISD grew from 8,873 in 1971 to 15,112 by 1976. In all, Paula would serve as a teacher for 34 years. She taught hundreds and hundreds of Conroe children over the years, some second generation! On March 11, 1980 Kevin Wayne Schoppe would change Paula’s life. Now in her thirties, she had worked very hard through school, then at becoming a wife and teacher. Now, a baby would take over. Paula juggled motherhood and work, like most mothers at the time. There was always too much work. As a teacher during this time, she saw the kids who had both parents working and who sometimes didn’t have much support at home. She was very proud of her family, and had a strong relationship with her son. As an only child herself, she understood Kevin’s needs. Paula was worried about the hostage situation in Iran that started in 1979 and ended in 1981. It was on the news each night. World events seemed to be constantly changing and everything could be followed on TV. As she moved into her forties, Paula wasn’t worried about mid-life 62
crisis. She didn’t have time to think about it. She stayed busy with her family, friends, work, church, and her community. Paula connected with other cultures by making friends, and through her teaching experiences. Paula also traveled throughout the years. She visited Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Canada, Spain, Italy, Greece, Mexico, several Caribbean islands, and she learned about these cultures and how people express themselves in unique ways. Paula’s son was off to college at Sam Houston State University to study Management Informational Systems, and it was hard to see herself as getting older. When Paula turned fifty she felt settled in her life and blessed. The country would see another war in Iraq in 1990. Paula didn’t have much interest in politics, but she worried more about her community. Crime concerned her, and families breaking up concerned her. She loved spending the holidays with her family and all the family events. Cell phones were becoming big by the end of this decade, and opportunities for women offered many more roles than when she was entering college when most women chose teaching, nursing, or secretarial careers. The new millennium would begin in a very sad way for Mrs. Paula. On December 28, 2000 her father, Frank, passed away in Conroe. On January 17, 2001, Paula lost her dear mother, Pauline. This was a very hard time for Paula. As the only child, life must have felt very different, very suddenly. The terrorist attacks in 2001, and the war following would mean that this decade would be a tough one. Paula’s optimism and faith would help her move forward, because by the end of this decade things would change again for her. Paula turned sixty in 2008. Again, war would continue to impact Paula’s life and she worried about the soldiers fighting in Iran and Afghanistan. She also worried about the economy. The U.S. entered the worst recession in many decades. Technology made life feel faster, and Paula took an interest in learning more about computers. A great happiness was coming for Paula--her new grandbaby! On September 18, 2008, Ruth Anne Schoppe was born! Paula and Kenneth were very excited to become grandparents. Paula now saw herself happily in this new role. Her optimistic personality has kept her believing good things about our future. She believes that people should keep learning, and stay active, and read. When she was a young woman going to college at 18 she felt that she could accomplish her dreams, and now in her sixties she still believes that people should seek their dreams, and learn to support each other in the home. Her Christian values help her not worry about things in the future. Retirement has given Paula the chance to give back to 63
her community. She’s involved in the Pan American Round Table in Conroe, and is their Recording Secretary. She gives back to her church, First United Methodist, where she is involved with Vacation Bible School as a teacher, Adult Bible Sunday school, Susie Hill Circle, and Christmas Food baskets. She also supports fellow teachers through the Montgomery County Association of Retired School Personnel and their newsletter. With all this going on, Mrs. Paula still found time to work with me on this project. I think it’s her outgoing nature that keeps her going and giving. She stays very busy with her family, and loves showering her little granddaughter with lots of love. She loves to visit any place in the U.S. and outside to learn about new people and places. Roses are still a favorite flower, and they bring back memories of her childhood in Tyler. Her son's family lives in a home up the street from hers, so she considers that a blessing too. Each time we met, Mrs. Paula always asked about my family and how I was doing. It was important for her that I focus on my education. She thought it was a good idea that I worked with children, because it was what I was most interested in doing. I liked hearing her talk about her granddaughter, Ruth Anne, because she is so happy to be a grandmother. I think it’s cool that Mrs. Paula is very techno-savvy and enjoys learning new things on the computer. I like her social personality and that she has always been involved in her church. I also admire that she wanted to finish school and focus on her career before having children. My last two years in high school have been tough. I work a lot like Mrs. Paula had to when she was my age. I’m sure Conroe looks a lot different now than when she first taught here years ago. She has seen the people change. For me, it can sometimes be hard to know where I fit in the best. My parents are immigrants, and I have two cultures. I wasn’t sure how Paula would see me at first. I worried that she might be critical of me or my culture. I suppose I worry about that a lot. The truth is, she surprised me. I could talk to her about my family worries, or about my dream to become a pediatrician one day, and she just encouraged me. I like staying active like Mrs. Paula, and she is a good example of keeping your goals clear. She worries about our community, but she never criticized others, and I admire how optimistic and nice she is about people. I’m thankful to have met this lady, and had the chance to hear her stories and think about this project. I’m ready to graduate high school, and begin the next stage of my life. I hope I can keep Mrs. Paula and her example in my mind, and stay optimistic, active, and always keep my goals clear. -
Transcribed by M. Jordan/M. Byrne
Arely Martinez is 19 and is a 2010 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico. She is presently employed and making plans to attend Lone Star Community College and pursue a career in the medical ďŹ eld. Arely thinks itâ€™s important to help family and her community so that others can continue to have opportunities to follow their dreams.
I never believed I would have a friend, a special friend, who did not speak Spanish. She is a “white” person, not Hispanic, and much older than me. I am seventeen. She is almost seventy. Although we are different in many ways, I can see myself in her eyes. When I ﬁrst met Mrs. Pat, I was afraid she would not be able to understand me because of my Spanish accent. Did she know other Hispanic people like me? Maybe she was afraid of me, too. I was so wrong. My assignment was to ask her many questions about her life but she asked me as many questions about mine. Mrs. Patricia Louise Asher Sterns was born on August 30, 1941, in Middletown, Ohio. Her parents, grandparents and great grandparents were all born in the United States. Her father’s name was very interesting. His name was Daniel Boone Asher. I think he was named after a famous American folk hero. He was born in London, Kentucky. Her mother was Mildred Lucille Johnson, born in Middletown, Ohio. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were Bessie Pearl Johnson and Henry John Johnson. They were born in Ohio. Her grandparents on her father’s side were Luvina Asher and Blevins Asher. They were born, lived and died in London, Kentucky. When Mrs. Pat was a little girl she did not stay in one place for very long. Because of her father’s job, they moved back and forth from London, Kentucky and Houston, Texas. She had two sisters, Dana and Mildred, and a brother, Daniel. Another sister, Nancy, died right after she was born. Although her family moved often, Mrs. Pat was a happy little girl. She grew up in a small town, raised in a Christian home and prayed at Greens Bayou Methodist Church. She loved playing cars with her father and remembers feeling sad and worried when he was badly burned. Lela, her best friend, would walk with her to see cowboy movies. I laughed when she told me her aunt made her eat boiled cabbage when she didn’t want to. She threw it up that night and no one made her do anything like that again. Her family did not go on many fancy or far away vacations, but she loved to visit her grandmother in Ohio. Her father owned a truck and like many families back then, she traveled by car, bus or train. She did not get on an airplane until she was married or on a boat until she was a grandmother! I can understand that since I haven’t been on either one yet. She told me there was “nothing special” about her childhood. She did things like I do. She played outside, helped care for the house and looked after her brother and sisters. When the family bought their ﬁrst TV, she was 10 years old. She had no memories of World War II 67
because she was just a baby and the Great Depression was an event or a memory others shared with her. I thought it was special when she told me her very best friend was her mother. Her mother always made time to “listen” to her. It did not matter that her parents were strict about who she went out with or what she wore as a teenager. When she spoke of her parents, I could hear love for them in her voice. Mrs. Pat had many memories about growing up in London, Kentucky. The town was small and safe. You could not buy alcohol. Black people and white people were separated. She did not hear people talk about “immigration” or heard the word “diversity”. I hear both words almost every day. She did not have the opportunity to meet or know people from different cultures or race. She never met or spoke to a Mexican person until she was in high school! She knew in her heart that they were not treated well or fairly even though she never had any contact with them. Miss Pat was proud to admit she was a good student in school. Because she moved around so much, it was hard to remember the names of her schools but she did remember the name of her ﬁrst boyfriend, “Tom”. She was in the fourth grade. Her favorite subjects were math and reading and if there was one thing she was sure to remember growing up in a small town in Kentucky was that Texas was a Republic! She did remember the time she was punished for talking. I think she was very popular with her friends because they liked to talk to her in school. It was just too bad she liked talking with them and chewing gum during class. One time her teacher punished her by putting her in the corner with gum stuck to her nose. Holidays were usually spent with the family. Her father would get up early on Christmas morning and turn the lights on the Christmas tree. Absolutely no one was allowed to open presents until everyone was awake. I saw tears in Miss Pat’s eyes when she told me of one very special Christmas. Miss Mabel, an elderly neighbor whose husband had just died, was invited to stay with Mrs. Pat’s family for Christmas. Another tragedy happened when her home caught ﬁre on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning Miss Mabel was sad because she had no presents to give the family. Pat remembers her mother giving Miss Mabel the nightgown and slippers her husband bought her as a gift. Each of the children also gave her one of their gifts. Miss Mabel told them it was the best Christmas of her life. Pat remembers this Christmas as the most signiﬁcant and meaningful to her. Like teenagers today, Pat worried about things like her weight and boys. She grew up listening and dancing to 50’s Rock and Roll! She also liked to Square Dance and was very good at sports in high school. She was 17 years old when she got her ﬁrst job working at the W.T. 68
Grant Store. She admitted she really wasn’t too much into fashion or the latest “digs” as she would say. Girls wore dresses to school and skirts were always below the knee and shoulders covered! She was very aware that she lived in a world with double standards...rules for girls and rules for boys. She never questioned the rules because she trusted what her parents told her and asked her to do. Their trust was important to her. Pat enjoyed being with her family. She liked to read the funny papers, eat hamburgers (only 25 cents!) and remembers ﬁshing with her dad. There wasn’t money to eat out but it didn’t matter if you could have home cooked roast or chicken soup, her favorite meals. After high school graduation, she saw herself as naive and not ready for the world. She felt boys were much better prepared to go to college than girls. Most of her girlfriends did not go to college but married instead. She dreamed of a different future and her parents supported her decision to go to college. Pat could dream, but she couldn’t dream BIG about a career. Girls were expected to become a teacher, a nurse or secretary. She stayed with her parents during her ﬁrst 2 years of college and decided to become a nurse. When she turned twenty-one, she felt comfortable and content with her life. At twenty-three she married Jerry Smith Sterns on September 4, 1964 in Houston, Texas. Her ﬁrst child was born when she was twenty-ﬁve. Pat never felt she had sacriﬁced any of her dreams because of her family. She loved her children and husband very much. During these busy years, she experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She had friends who went out with her at least once a week to see movies like A Summer Place or the Pink Panther. She remembered going to the park and loved listening to music. She was a young married mother with a positive attitude about life. She was proud of her accomplishments, especially passing her State Board Examination for Registered Nurse. Pat felt more mature as she turned thirty years old. She was in good health, and focused her time raising two children, Kelly Louise and Jerry Wade. It was important to be a good wife and caring mother, traits her own mother passed down to her. I know she loved animals, too, because her children had all kinds of pets, like a dog, cat, snake, ﬁsh and even an iguana. The family took trips to Colorado and Ohio....probably in the Volkswagen van that she drove. Her life seemed to pass quickly in her 30’s. Pat was busy raising two children. She enjoyed new modern conveniences like a microwave oven and a color TV and always found time to make 69
crafts while listening to rock and disco music. Pat wore mostly skirts or dresses and she tried to keep up with the styles of the time. Clothes were not the only things changing. Other things were changing in her southern community. Now you could not ignore the different faces and diverse cultures of people around her. There were also changes in attitudes she knew were not always positive. Mrs. Pat believed her children received a good education and wasn’t too concerned or worried for them. She sees them becoming more independent. She is happy with who she is but doesn’t believe women are treated fairly. She is ready to move on to middle age. It is “no big deal” to her. Now Pat is in her forties and she is just ﬁne about this. Pat has no time to be worrying about “mid-life crisis” because she says that term applies only to men. She is surprised that at forty she is working full time and this scares her at ﬁrst but knows it is the right decision. There is no need to look back on her life. She looks to the future and concentrates on doing her best in her nursing career. As a nurse she is more sensitive to the spread of the AIDS epidemic which is so widespread during this time. Her relationship with her children is strong but sometimes frustrating. They are teenagers, after all. Pat keeps busy with her work and children. Her family lives in the city of Southside Place in Houston. She is very involved in community work and is the ﬁrst woman to be elected President of the Southside Place Park Association. She is thankful she has good health but notices the changes in her body. She is older now. Her father is older, too. He dies in November 1982. Working as a nurse gives Pat the opportunity to meet new and different people. Houston is a very diverse city and people of different cultures and race move into her neighborhood. It is different from the times she remembered as a four year old child riding on a city bus. She couldn’t understand why “colored” people were told to sit at the back of the bus and could not eat at the counter at W. T. Grants. Again, changes come for Pat but she is ready for her next move. She will be moving into her 50’s. Mrs. Pat agrees that Fifty is Nifty! In 1991, while George H. W. Bush is President of the United States, Pat turns ﬁfty years old. She doesn’t feel her age and doesn’t have time to worry or think about it. There are other things on her mind. She is happy with her job, her son graduates from high school and getting ready for college. Her daughter wants to be a writer. The family is
planning to move to Willis, Texas, and live by the lake in Point Aquarius. The world is busy, too. Although she is not involved in politics, she worries over the Gulf War. By the end of this decade, her children are married and she has two wonderful grandchildren. They do not live in Houston, but she tries to visit as often as she can. Holidays are very special because these are times she can spend with her family. Where did the time go? She best describes this time in her life as “busy”. Now she is facing her sixties. Her remark about that? “I couldn’t wait!” I was not surprised by her reply. It is 2001 and Mrs. Pat is sixty years old. She is living in Willis, Texas, and still married to her husband and is in good health. Experience tells her that you can’t stop change and what is going on in the world and close to home proves this. She sees good changes with advances in technology and medicine but thinks it sad that divorce seems too common and unwed young girls pregnancies didn’t raise eyebrows like it did when she was in high school. Her work in Conroe as a nurse at University of Texas Medical Branch clinic gave her insight to the growing needs in the community. She especially became aware of the growing Hispanic community in the county. This required her and the staff there to learn more about different habits and lifestyles in the community. Always the optimist, she is happy and content with her life. Women are even more independent and it seems they can have jobs never dreamed of when she was younger. She keeps active physically, mentally and spiritually. She joins the Pan American Roundtable of Conroe and becomes special friends with another member, Annie Lee Lewis. One day when we were talking about school she told me, “The day you stop learning, you are in “trouble”! She wasn’t just talking about learning from books, but from the mistakes we make and from each other. Looking back, the only regret she admitted was that she could not be around her grandchildren as much as she wanted. I believe that trying to be the best mother and wife are the accomplishments she is most proud of. Maybe her contributions to the world are not monumental or earth shattering, but just as signiﬁcant. She tries to give more hugs and kisses and moral support to others and to be there for them when they need someone. Mrs. Pat describes her life in her sixties as “stressful”. Because she is a nurse, Pat has never taken her health for granted. Illness and death are not strangers to Pat. When she was sixty-two years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it was her attitude and determination that were the medicines that put her cancer into remission after her surgery. Her eighty-eight year old mother died after heart surgery. When her husband became ill, she spent much of her time caring for him and not so much for herself. He died in September 2009. 71
Mrs. Pat loves to decorate her home and arrange ﬂowers. She still thinks good of young person’s but she worries that changes in the world’s values and traditions have inﬂuenced them in a bad way. She wants to believe they are good at heart. I hope knowing me has shown her this. She prays for good health for her children and good education for her grandchildren. Learning to respect others and keeping close to God and going to church are the things, the legacies, she hopes to pass on to her children and young people. In 2010 Mrs. Pat traveled to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for the Pan American Round Table conference as a delegate from the Conroe table. She had a great time and learned more about the culture of many Hispanic women from many countries of the Americas. She made sure to spend time socializing with the women after dinner, even if she couldn’t speak much Spanish. She really enjoyed the culture and sisterhood. Pat remains close to her younger sister, also a nurse. Mrs. Annie Lee Lewis is a dear and closest friend she has known since joining the Pan American Roundtable almost ten years ago. From what I know now of Mrs. Pat, opening “la puerta” (the door) to her seventies is just a new adventure. She will continue to do volunteer work and do the things she likes to do like eating Mexican food and her volunteer work. She may not be a tech-no geek but she isn’t afraid of technology and does her best to keep up with it. She has all the modern conveniences and loves all the room in her home. She wishes she had more energy and that people weren’t so busy and just slow down! Pat is no longer in her twenties and doesn’t think about things like she once did. She says, “I have been there and done that!” Although she feels the world is a threatening place and the fear terrorism real, she looks to the future with her optimistic eyes. Life has taught her that we do not always have control of our lives. Our interviews are over and I have no more questions to ask Mrs. Pat. I think about all the things she has done in her life and what she has told me. I think about the time she came to my home and met my mother and family. At ﬁrst, I was afraid and embarrassed. She was so kind and made me feel at home in my OWN home! She wanted to taste the food my mother was making and smiled the whole time she sat in my kitchen. She never stopped talking and asked so many questions. I loved her for this.
She has had an interesting life and wants to be thought of as a good daughter, sister, nurse, mentor, mother and friend. We are different in age and there are many things about her life and experiences that are very different mine. I was especially surprised how easy it was for her to talk to her mother about things I feel uncomfortable with my mother. What brings us together is the belief that by accepting our differences and seeing each other as human beings, we are the same. She told me she “cherishes my birth and life” and that I have helped her have a closer connection to the Mexican culture...that she has learned something from me! I do not think of Mrs. Pat as a “white” woman. She is simply, my friend. A real friend means you don’t need to use words like “Hispanic” or young or old to describe them. I hope we will continue our friendship. I know she cares about me. I care about her and I will remember our “charlas” for the rest of my life. She still sees the world as a good place and is hopeful that people of different races and cultures can learn to live with each other. She sees only the positive...never the negative. I want to see the world through her eyes. -
Transcribed by M. Byrne
The first meeting
The last meeting
Mrs. Fran Swann is my lady. There isn’t a day that she doesn’t have a smile on her face and gives the best of herself. I think she is sweet and kind to everyone she meets. There is no doubt that the happiness from her childhood has made her the friendly and joyful lady she is. As she was growing up, she got along very well with her family and helped with the needs around the house. Fran was always very social with people and participated in activities from her church. She participated in a lot of things and lived in a place where there was little danger or cruelty. She never experienced any kind discrimination or bad habits at home, which prevented her from making wrong choices. She has so many good memories from her childhood and she has many stories to share. Ms. Fran is also very caring and asks me questions about my life and experiences. Even though she had some sad experiences in life, she kept her smile on her face and has stayed very strong. Her life shows how hard she’s had to work, and how she has always been a very active lady with a positive attitude. Mrs. Fran was born Mollye Frances Miller on October 30, 1938 in Alice, Texas to Otha and Agnes Spear Miller. Her dad was born in Cut and Shoot, TX, and her mom in Plum Grove, TX. Her parents met in a watermelon patch in Cut and Shoot. Her dad passed away in 1952 in Montgomery County. Her mother passed away on May 5, 2008. Her paternal grandparents were Molly and Will Miller. They died in Cut and Shoot, TX. Her maternal grandparents were Levi and Clara Frances Spear. Levy was from Ouachita City, Louisiana. He died in Huffman, and Frances died in Dayton, TX. Fran moved with her family from Alice, Texas in 1940, when she was 2 ½ years old, to Cut and Shoot, Texas. There were small dirt roads, and it was a quiet and lonely place where there were no post offices, not many stores, and a lot of trees. She and her family had animals, so they produced their own milk and food. There weren’t many people in her childhood town. At her house everyone had to work, and she liked to help her family. She milked cows, worked in the garden, cooked, babysat, and helped her mother with money. Her mom was very strict about dating, and dresses, skirts, and shorts were not allowed outside of the house. Her mother made all their clothes, and she always wanted things to be done her way with no questions asked. No matter how strict her mom could be, she loved and respected her as much as she worshipped her dad. After her dad died in 1952, her mom remarried in 1955. Then her step-dad died in 1980. Fran was the middle of three sisters. Mary Othaleen Courtney was the youngest, and Della 77
Lavonne Frazier, the oldest. She was always very close to her younger sister. She loved playing outside with family and friends, and she remembers all the children being very happy. Her best friend was Hallie Lowe, and she often had slumber parties with her friends. She grew up in the Baptist religion, and her church was New Bethlehem Baptist Church. Her family stayed together as a traditional family. They had dinner together, helped each other with everything, and never fought over money. Her favorite festivals were the ones from church. She didn’t travel much as a child. For Christmas all her family gathered and made a cake for Jesus. They opened presents on Christmas Eve as well as the next morning with her friends and family. She was part of a 4-H Club where she learned how to sew and cook. She had a 3-legged black dog named Lucky, and beautiful Chihuahua named Chico. A picture of Fran at her twelfth birthday party shows young girls in homemade party hats. Fran has her everpresent big smile and seems to be enjoying the day immensely! Fran remembers her mom talking about the Great Depression, by the 1940’s the war was in the news every day. Fran was born before WWII began, and her memories include rationing sugar and gas. In theatres, they even showed previews about the war. In Conroe in the 40’s and 50’s, the main restaurants served Mexican and Chinese food as well as hamburgers and steaks. When they got a TV, Fran liked to watch anything on it. She loved Elvis Presley and Tom Jones. Her favorite toy, however, was a book. She loved reading the Conroe Courier, magazines in the school library, and the romance stories. She and her family also loved going to camps, camping on the beach, and swimming in Caney Creek. She was very active in her church community, and also loved to dance, especially at school dances. The first time she traveled by train was in 1951 to visit her friend Hallie who moved to Palestine, TX. She later took a trip by boat in 1984. Fran was fourteen when she had her first job at Wahrenberger’s Department Store in Conroe where she wrapped gifts and was paid fifty cents an hour. The Crighton Theatre was a big part of Fran’s dating life as a teen. There was a drive in theater called the Hi-Y on South Frazier that cost $1.00 for a whole car full on some nights. The Liberty theatre was across from the Crighton, but Fran wasn’t allowed to go there. For .35 she could buy a ticket, Coke, and popcorn. That’s where people would get much of their news. Fran remembers hearing updates about WWII there since they had no TV. She also remembers how the theatre was segregated, “There were two entrances- the main one for the Anglos, and the smaller one for the African Americans. They could only sit in the balcony, and the outside door led to the stairs going to the balcony. There were only two bathrooms for men and women, but only for whites. I never thought about it then, but I don’t know where the African Americans
went to the bathroom. I remember wishing I could sit in the balcony, as I thought those were the best seats. I sit there now whenever I go to a performance!” Mrs. Fran attended Stephen F. Austin Elementary in Cut and Shoot, Travis Junior High, Conroe High School, Sam Houston University, and Stephen F. Austin University. Her favorite subject was reading, and her least favorite was math. She was a great student, but wasn’t initially interested in attending college. Her earliest memory of school was wearing shoes all day and feeling all grown up. She was a cheerleader and Football Sweetheart at Travis. She was taught about Texas history and the flag, and how to be proud of it and honor it. She also remembers praying in school every morning. The main subjects taught in her school were math, science, writing, citizenship, and cursive. Fran remembers racial segregation in school when people from different races had different schools. She doesn’t recall seeing immigrants in her community, except those who worked in at the local sawmills where lumber was made. She loved to dance, especially at school dances. Her church community was the center of her social activities. Her favorite games were Canasta and Monopoly, and playing hopscotch, jumping rope, and hide and seek. After finishing high school Fran planned, was ready to start life, and have fun. She planned on working as a secretary and had no plans of going to college. She never really considered college because there was no money. After graduating she was suppose to work at Gentry’s Men’s Store as a secretary, but her sister Lavonne asked her to be her roommate at Sam Houston in 1956. She struggled when she did end up attending college because she had not taken the courses in high school to prepare her. She had to work very hard, especially in science. Her mentor for college was Lavonne who also helped her with tuition. Her mother was thrilled about her going to college because she had only finished eighth grade, and she never expected that one of her daughters would go to college. There weren’t many career paths for women back then. It was common to be a nurse, teacher, or secretary. It wasn’t hard for her to separate from her parents. She was ready to leave home because she thought she could do anything on her own. The second day after arriving in Huntsville, she started working for Coach Red Pierce, the director of athletics at Sam Houston State Teacher’s College. Fran worked part-time for fifty cents an hour from June 1956 until she had to quit school in September, 1957. She had saved $800.00 when she began college. At the time, college hours cost twenty-five dollars, plus a building use fee. She never really applied for financial aid since she never thought she would be going to college. Most of her friends were planning to work, and only some that lived in town went on to college. During her twenties, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 79
The Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam were some major world events. As a young woman she continued practicing her faith. She converted from worshipping as a Baptist to a Methodist while living in Friendswood during the 1970’s. Some of her favorite places to hangout as a teen were the Dan-Dee-Dog Stand, church, and school. After finishing high school, her parents expected her to be happy, get married, and have children. She didn’t know anything about the world and didn’t know what to expect. Fran now feels that “I should have slowed down and smelled more roses along the way, instead of working so hard and planning so much for the future”. She didn’t have time to explore the world since she got married and had kids so young. In December, 1956, her freshman college year, she met her husband, John Franklin Ward, Jr. They married in Pasadena, TX on March 16, 1957, and lived in Huntsville until he graduated from college. Money was very tight and Fran had to drop out of college and work. She helped her husband finish his studies, then he insisted she return to get her degree also. Her husband worked at Smither Wholesale, while a student, for one dollar an hour. They lived on what they earned to pay their apartment rent, buy gas, and food. His parents helped with the tuition. They had friends and enjoyed socializing. They loved to play cards with other couples since it was cheap entertainment. They lived in Port Isabel, TX for four years, and spent most of their free time on the beach and fishing. They were married for twenty-five years. Fran says that “the first twenty were wonderful”, then her husband struggled with alcohol. The couple divorced, and he passed away in Clear Lake in 1981. John Franklin and Fran had three children together: Donna Gray Ward Hoesel, Jeffrey Lee Ward, and Anthony (Tony) John Ward. Donna was born in Hunstville, TX in 1958, Jeffrey in Conroe, TX in 1962, and Tony in Houston, TX in 1970. Fran has always had a strong relationship with her children. From the time they were born, she prayed that her children would always stay strong and stay true to their convictions. Her hopes for them were that they could live every day as if it were their last- and to please themselves not others, and to practice their values and traditions. Fran was single for thirteen years after her divorce. She married James Trammell Swann on April 13, 1993 in Cut and Shoot, TX. She worked as a librarian at Conroe High School for 18 years before retiring. Everyone at school knew her and loved her. She made them feel welcome and would do anything to help the students complete their assignments. She loved her job and
worked until she was sixty five. She retired in 2003, and then returned part-time for three more years. During all those years, she was dedicated to her job. She hoped she touched young lives and made differences in them during the thirty-three years she worked. She taught students of many cultures and worked with teachers of different races. She also did some community work with the Crisis Hotline and the Cut and Shoot City Council. Some worries in her community back then were getting city water and sewage for Cut and Shoot, and more police protection. Those first years were the years before her husband Trammell became ill with cancer. During those times, she mainly focused on her husband’s illness and her family and on surviving while leading a quality life and not becoming bitter. Her second husband passed away on March 31, 2008. Mrs. Fran now continues to live here in Conroe, TX. She likes reading, playing bridge with her friends, and working in the yard. She used to cook a lot more when her children were home, but not as much anymore. She’s now participating in the Pan American Round Table where she’s doing this great project with me. She attends church, works with the retired teachers, and Welcoming Neighbors.
Fran has always loved being around young people, because she feels she has learned so much from young people. She also feels that learning also leads to understanding. Her favorite foods now are sweets, and it seems that her taste has changed. She feels like she is reverting back to childhood! She doesn’t like meat like she used to, but she could live on candy! She feels there is less visiting done in homes with neighbors. She loves being with her family, and visiting with some of her friends. Fran feels that “At this time of my life I do not want any conflicts, if possible. I enjoy doing my small part helping others, but am not looking for glory or recognition”. She feels excited about growing older. She considers herself a very happy person, and that her biggest strength is her inner peace. She has five grandchildren, and one great granddaughter. Their names are Joseph Terrance Hoesel, 26; Ryan John Hoesel, 23; Sarah Lynn Ward, 23; Maya Antoinette Ward, 9; Ana Maria 81
Ward, 7; and Taylor Lynn Hoesel who is her 20 month old great granddaughter. She feels that being a grandmother is almost as wonderful as being a mother. She could love and spoil them and send them home to their parents! She also hopes for them to stay strong all the time and be good people. During her fifties, she liked to visit and play with her grandchildren whenever possible. Fran also has a large step family that includes her step daughters Sharon Swan Fox, Gayle Swann Ayres, and Amy Swann McLaughlin. Clyde Ayres, Deana Ayres, Adam Fox, Bailey McLaughlin, Boone McLaughlin, and Mason Hardy are the step grandchildren, and step great grandchildren are Elizabeth Ayres, Angel Ayres, Mark Ayres, and Clyde Dean Ayres. Fran thinks she is a mixture of all feelings and emotions. She describes herself now as a successful, sometimes in pain, but often feeling wonderful, happy, and challenged person. She spends more time now thinking about herself, and she also has more time for herself. She loves the idea of all the new technology today, and she wishes to know more about it. She doesn’t know how she ever lived without a computer or cell phone. Fran feels that people don’t socialize like they used to. She feels people are more concerned about making money and moving ahead today. She feels people need to take the time to understand other cultures and other ways of doing things. For women, she feels that the world is more open today and they can reach any goal they want. Her biggest worry about the country today is that there could be another stock market crash or world war. She sees opportunities waiting for young people, “Young women have the world open to them, if they will reach for it. They might not have a lot of money, but they can set goals and work toward them”. She would love to try going on a road trip from San Francisco to Vancouver, then a cruise along the coast of Alaska. Fran feels that “I am happy, content, secure, loved, and relatively healthy. I have wonderful friends and family. What more can I want?” Now, enjoying this new chapter in her life as well as the fruits of her labor is all she has to worry about. She also feels that “I feel special to be here at this age, and I am a fortunate visitor in this beautiful world!” After all the hard experiences and wonderful moments in her life, Mrs. Fran has managed to always keep her head up through everything. She is a strong woman who stands up for what she believes. The loss of her dad when she was very young was the hardest experience in her life. Not every young child would remain so positive after such a painful loss. Mrs. Fran continued to help her family and worked hard to help them. They didn’t have much money, but she studied hard and got a good education to have a better future. She never gave up or allowed any kind of obstacle to get in her way. She also suffered a lot when she lost her two husbands, one in
divorce, and one in death. Not many women would remarry or have hope for another marriage, but she did hang on to hope, and stayed active with many things. Fran has taught me so many great things that can be very useful for me in life. She’s very caring and always wants to know more about me and my culture. Friendship is really important to her. She met my mom and part of my family. She even took us to go see where she used to live when she was a young girl. We got to see the school she used to go to, her church, a little lake where she played with her friends, and the house where she lived. I feel so lucky to have her as my lady. She is a great role model, and I would love to follow her steps. Her advice and her experiences in life mean a lot to me. She has made me realize how lucky I am to live in a community like the one we have, and that it is important to socialize and get to know and help others to have more peace among each other. Fran insists that “The only difference I can see between us is that you are young with your life, and the future is in front of you. I am enjoying the later part of my life as I enjoy the fruits of my labor. Culture shouldn’t be an obstacle unless you make it one. Be yourself and respect others”. We’ve had a great time together and learned so much from each other. She is a great friend and I thank God for putting her in my life, and letting me have the chance to know her and experience very nice moments with her. Mrs. Fran is a great, unique woman that I admire, and I wish her the best in life. -
Writing Mentor- Mary Margaret Coyle
Liliana Ramirez is 18 and a senior at Conroe High School. She was born in Conroe, TX and has 2 siblings. Family is a center value for Liliana. Liliana hopes to pursue a career in medicine and become a nurse. She has volunteered in her community through her school and church and believes that it is important to give to your community and gain experience to learn more about your world. Itâ€™s important to Liliana to feel that youâ€™re making a difference, regardless how small, and also feel that youâ€™re needed in your community.
Mrs. Bettye Jo Shelton Wakefield is 80 years young. She was born in Jacksonville, Texas on November 21, 1929, to Thomas Jefferson Shelton of Kosse, Texas, and Eunice Dora Petteway Shelton of Petteway, Texas. Her family relocated to Conroe when she was three years of age and ever since, Conroe is where she calls home. Her parents met and were married in Petteway, Texas. Her mother was a homemaker while her father was employed by an oil company. Oil had just been struck in the area and changed the small communities forever. People could earn a descent wage working for the new oil industry, which served a small relief from the Great Depression. Her independent personality was the result of being an only child. Growing up she came to value being self-reliant, which formed the person who she is today. She doesn’t know exactly where her ancestors can be traced back to. Her paternal grandparents sadly passed away before she was born. Mabry Howe Petteway and Nora Lee Jenkins, her grandparents on her mother’s side, were her closest family besides her parents. Both her grandparents were farmers as were as 75% of the population back then. The community was made up of people from British or Scottish ancestry, and she doesn’t recall any immigrants living in the area then. It was with her grandparents and her parents that she spent the holidays. The family was always very active in their church community. Bettye was Presbyterian, and she remembers several faiths in Conroe. Christmas mornings they exchanged gifts, sat at the dinner table together for Thanksgiving Day, or decorated the house for Easter. She remembers her grandfather and how he grew watermelons; she would pick one out to eat that morning. They would place the watermelons in chilled water so they could cool off, and afterwards enjoy it with her company. In the late afternoon, she remembers making plum jam with her grandmother; out of the plums grown from their orchard. Those cherished memories of time spent with them will always be part of her. She attended several schools in Conroe, including Sam Houston Elementary, William B. Travis Junior High, and David Crockett High School. She came to love school not just because of her desire to learn, but also because it was a place where she made life-long friendships. The moments of laughter with the company of her first best friend, Francis West, are the most memorable. During her school days arithmetic and reading were her favorite subjects, while science was her least. She learned to read and study by herself, but with greater challenges her mother was always there to help. Bettye was a Girl Scout, and a Rainbow Girl, and “Gone with the Wind” was her favorite movie. The Crighton Theater was the most beautiful building in Conroe. It had a ceiling that looked like the night sky with a few stars visible. Bettye remembers special features at the theater like “News of the World” that would present new 87
inventions or new finds in the world of science. There were also short cartoons like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. Bettye liked to read the paper, Ladies Home Journal, and McCallâ€™s magazines. Listening to the Lorenzo Jones inventor stories on the radio was also a favorite summer pastime for Bettye. She remembers swimming in the creek and going fishing and hunting with her family. Bettye loved Hershey Bars and hamburgers that cost 10 cents at that time, but her favorite home cooked meal was pork chops and sweet potatoes. She remembers the family enjoying visiting the Huntsville Prison Rodeo. She was twelve years old when she heard about the Pearl Harbor bombing. World War II would be a major change for the country for many years as she became a teenager. Bettye remembers that neither electricity nor telephone were available in the country until after WWII ended. While in high school, she was very involved in her school activities. She wore a simple hairstyle to the shoulders and brushed to the side, and she liked to wear dresses. Keeping curls in her straight hair was always a challenge. She was fourteen when she first wore lipstick. She was a member of the Latin Club, and the high school band, wrote for the Tiger Tattler newspaper, was elected Secretary of the student council, and was member of the National Honor Society. In addition to those activities she was also a member of her church youth group, and enjoying dances at the community center. Her first formal dance was the high school coronation of the Queen of the Fair annual dance. As a child she believed faith was important because it gave her courage, which helped her later in life. At 16, Bettye joined the First Presbyterian Church at Easter in 1946, and she is still a member today. At age 17 she began to work. Her first job was at the Conroe Creosoting Company where she was employed for the summer months after high school. Her high school years were wonderful with many sports games, events, band trips, and the times spent with her friends made those years memorable. Her parents werenâ€™t strict parents, but they were protective of her dating. Bettye enjoyed sleepovers, and the teen hangout was Seven Mile Caney and the Conroe Country Club, and local parties with friends. The year was 1947 when she graduated from Conroe High School. Unsure of the future and not feeling ready for the world, without hesitation she continued her education enrolling at the University of Texas in Austin. Taking one step at a time she did her best in her education. She completed two years of college there. While most girls chose the expected career path, generally nursing or teaching, she took a path less traveled.
Her first two years of study prepared her for a business degree. She liked money, to make money, spend money, and wanted a job that involved money. She wanted to understand how money is earned, saved, invested, and used to benefit other people. The interest she had in the business career made her choice a simple one. Bettye had a large circle of friends and she enjoyed dances, dinner parties, and playing bridge as a young woman. At the end of her second year in college she married John Rodney Wakefield, Jr. While it was not love at first sight, the love grew over time. They dated off and on over a three year period. Their wedding took place in Conroe, TX on December 8, 1948 at the First Presbyterian Church. The following year they started their family and were blessed with the birth of their first daughter, Susan Eckis in 1949. Steadily they filled the role of parents and experienced the joy of having their first born. She felt that the first born is very exciting and also the most challenging. The moment she held her baby, she couldn’t believe how quickly someone could fall in love. Susan’s first steps, first words, made her realize how precious life is. She never thought she would experience those feelings twice, but she was proven wrong with the birth of Andrea Durrett in 1953. Having two daughters at that point in her life showed her the power of loving completely and equally. Her family of four was now complete. Mrs. Wakefield often told me that her proudest moment was becoming a mother. In the late 50’s, early 60’s, her husband’s employment in the oil industry took the Wakefield family to South Texas. She was in her late 20’s when she first experienced a community where Hispanics were the most prominent ethnic group. This was one of the first contrasts to her cultural background, as it provided a first real experience with another culture. She experienced her first plane trip to Midland, TX in the 1950’s, and she was 28 when she owned her first television. The Wakefield family remained in South Texas for four years returning to Conroe in 1961. Mrs. Wakefield would be found spending her 30’s trying to keep up with two active teenagers. Even with two active teenagers, a husband, and the family dog, she managed to make time for herself. Those years were very busy with the combination of teenager and adult activities. She owned a Chevrolet, and remembers that access to healthcare was easy with plenty of doctors to go to. Bettye remembers that opportunities for women grew during this time. Her style of dress was mostly suits and dresses. Bettye remembers the turmoil of President Kennedy’s assassination, the first man on the moon, and the beginning of the Vietnam War. This was now the third major war she had 89
experienced. Communities were starting to see more diversity and the times were challenging in many places as civil rights changed how people related to each other. No one could prepare her for the challenges the next ten years brought her. Feeling both excited and anxious she lived in faraway places such as French Cameroun, Nigeria, Brazil, and Malta. She enjoyed meeting new and interesting people, learning new cultures, and languages. The birth of her first granddaughter, Courtney Smith on September 16, 1977 to Andrea, her youngest daughter, opened a new chapter in her life as a grandmother. With this great joy there followed great sadness, as Bettye lost her father that same year. His passing was a big loss in her life. While it affected both her and her mother, her greatest concern was for her mother. After 52 years of marriage she knew her mother would find it very hard to let him go. Balancing the bittersweet emotions, she was driven to complete her college education. In 1978, she enrolled in Sam Houston University, and earned a BBA degree in accounting in 1980. Sadness struck her again the following year, with the loss of her husband. She felt he died too soon. Losing her husband was unlike any other experience and in time, with hope and optimism she was able to find peace in her life. She spent the next two decades building a career in the business world. Ms. Bettye was a woman ahead of her time, and she had great determination. During this time a second granddaughter, Spencer Abigail was born on March 3, 1989 to Susan, her eldest daughter. She realized the dreams and goals she had set out for herself as a student of arithmetic and finance. This included many years in the Conroe Independent School District where she retired in 1997, as Assistant Coordinator of Recruitment and Placement. She worried about the spread of drug addiction in the community and the crime it caused. Her work in her church continued to be an important part of her life. Retired now, she focuses her free time on community events, her church, and self interest activities. She is a member of the Pan American Round Table in Conroe. She has been a member since 1997. She is very involved in her church where they awarded her with an honorary life membership for service to the church. While being in clubs she still has time to enjoy doing some of her favorite past-times. She enjoys traveling; she has traveled to Virginia to visit her daughter yearly. She has also traveled to Italy, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Canary Islands, Guana, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mexico.
Lately, due to walking problems, her travels have been on hold. She plays bridge with a group of friends at least eight times per month. She attends the recreation center for water aerobics. She enjoys spending time with friends and family going out for dinner or simply staying at home. She also enjoys reading good books. She would like to take up flower arranging as a hobby. She loves roses, red is her favorite color, and of all the places she has visited, Italy is her favorite destination. Today she delights in having two married daughters; one who lives nearby in Montgomery, Texas, and the other lives in Richmond, Virginia. Each of her daughters has a daughter, so she feels blessed with two granddaughters who are also very independent, happy, and self-reliant children. A doting grandmother, she looks forward to every call, conversation, visit, and every family holiday. She sees herself as a daughter, wife, and mother who loved and was loved. She says that her life is fulfilled with a happy family, a joyous childhood, good health, many friends and memories, and a love for learning. She was lucky to have a wonderful husband whose work and travels took her to new horizons, meeting new people of different cultures and races, understanding differences that made her life fuller. Bettye worries about our nationâ€™s leadership, and believes that faith and stronger communication should play a larger role in family life today. Greed is a very big problem in society according to Bettye. Her town of Conroe grew from about 6,000 people in her younger years to over 65,000 today. The cultures have also changed, and have given people more of an opportunity to learn about each other. Technology is a great breakthrough and she intends to keep up with it, even though it can be challenging. She sees her mental strength and strong beliefs as her most important attributes. This â€œHistoriasâ€? project gave her an opportunity to look back on her life. As a young teen, comparing it and contrasting it with my teen world today. While we are from different cultures and different generations, our life long goals are similar. As women, we both have high expectations of what we want to accomplish. Our lives are similar in that we did not experience different cultures early in life. Our lives are different in the many opportunities that exist for women today, especially with the advances in technology, and the many gadgets we have to keep us busy today. The cultural differences between us might be many small things that are sometimes hard to explain. Culture has a lot to do with how people make choices. It might be how we choose to celebrate, the music we prefer, our roles in the family, how our parents speak to us, and the way 91
we express our feelings. I discovered that I related in many ways to Ms. Bettye, and that I can take the best from both of my cultures. It was amazing and surprising to learn so many things, and realize how much has changed in one lifetime. She entered her teenage years with enthusiasm and hope as I did. We also both came of age with the promise of a bigger future. Iâ€™m thankful for the time and attention Ms. Bettye showed me. I always enjoyed our meetings, and it was an honor to share this experience with such a special woman. Writing Mentor- Terry Stivers
Candy Reyes is 19 and is a 2009 graduate of Conroe High School. She was born in Conroe, Texas and is of Guatemalan descent. She has 3 siblings, and a large extended family in Conroe. Candy is currently a student at Texas A & M University and is pursuing a career in Biomedical Science. Candy has always been a volunteer in her community through her church and school. She believes itâ€™s important to support your family and also contribute what you can to your community to help it grow and provide greater opportunities to all people.
Dorothy Walker is a caring woman who always wants to give others everything in her power. She has always felt blessed and content with her life. Therefore, she humbly shows her gratitude by giving love and compassion to everyone she meets whether they are less fortunate or not. Dorothy Madeline Cox was born on April 8th, 1926 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her parents were Ruby Alice Bledsoe from Missouri and Leo Loys Cox from Phillipsburg, Kansas. Dorothy’s ancestry originated from England. She was a middle child having two older sisters: Mabel Amspoker and Frances Hyett Brood. Dorothy’s younger brother was Leo Cox Jr. Mrs. Walker’s first memory is with an aunt and uncle riding horses. Although she was born in Oklahoma, her childhood memories and growing up were all in Conroe, Texas. Her family came down to Texas when she was barely 6 years old. At the time, Conroe was a sawmill town that had just struck oil. Because of this discovery, people such as Dorothy’s family, were moving in from all over the country to this rural town. Conroe went from a tiny town to a booming community that offered opportunity to many people suffering from the Great Depression. Her family moved into an oil field camp with other families and this filled them with safety. (Interesting fact: Each family in the camp had to pay $2 monthly!) Dorothy explains how her favorite thing growing up was all the freedom she felt. Nowadays parents are terrified of their kids roaming outside, but when Mrs. Walker was growing up, the security of the camp gave the children the chance to play outside all day with no threat. She felt her father was very fortunate to be working in the oil fields, because it offered families a stable life. She knew the town was having a very hard time while the lumber industry was hit hard by the bad economy. Dorothy did not really know many girls her age except Edra Wilmouth; who lived in the same camp and was a close friend as a child. Horseback riding was her favorite thing to do growing up. She spent much time playing with the boys outside since there was so much land and was also active in her church community. Dorothy’s memories of different races and cultures are limited. The community at the time was segregated by race. Her family attended the Baptist Church until she was about 12 or 13. They then changed to Presbyterian and attended the First Presbyterian Church of Conroe. Dorothy’s parents loved traveling and taking trips, so each year they would take a vacation to visit family. Her mom’s family lived all the way in California, so they would usually go visit their closer family in Oklahoma. (A trip that would take her family 12 hours by car, now takes the average driver 8 hours.) Traveling wasn’t as common at this time and if people would travel, it would have to be by car. For this matter, Dorothy has always felt blessed that her family had enough money 95
growing up to maintain a car.(Just like my dad always buys Toyotas, Dorothy’s dad always had Fords.) Holidays were always spent with the family. On a special day like Christmas, they celebrated on Christmas Eve with dinner and gifts. The celebration was a quiet, religious gathering.(Santa Claus was definitely not as popular back then because Dorothy never remembers speaking or hearing of him on Christmas.) Apart from the trips, Dorothy spent her childhood playing outside, reading anything she could put her hands on, listening to music, horseback riding, and playing the clarinet with the band once she hit the 5th grade. The “Kiddie Koop” was the name for the children’s school in Conroe. Dorothy attended the Kiddie Koop growing up and then Conroe High School. (Not the same Conroe High School I attended though, but the school that is now called Travis Intermediate.)She then intended to go to business school, but fell in love. Although achieving her scholar goals took longer once married, Mrs. Walker never gave up. Her determination earned her a Master’s degree in education with a minor in English. Dorothy also entered her doctorate program, but was not able to finish. When Mrs. Walker first started attending school, the country was going through the Great Depression. Dorothy feels her family was blessed to not have been as badly affected as many other families. They never had money for extra things, but they never missed any food. Her mom, Ruby Alice, would pack three lunches for Dorothy to take to school every day in case anyone else needed a lunch. This humble touch by her mother is a generous trait Dorothy learned and obviously carried with her growing up. Once in high school, world events were still affecting her life. The Great Depression had already ended by this time, but World War II cut down everyone’s activities. For example, Dorothy attended prom as a junior in high school, but her class did not have a senior prom because of the war. Society was cutting back and therefore, her small graduating class of 62 students had a picnic instead of a prom. Gasoline was scarce, so transportation was also limited which decreased their social activities. They had stamps for everything such as shoes and food. “Our world was different,” explains Mrs. Walker. With the boys going into the war, it pushed teenagers to get more serious with their life faster than the usual. “One weekend my close friends Donna Zinn and Kennith Walker got married. The next weekend, I got married with Pat and the following weekend my other friends got married. Things were just happening faster.”
The Conroe High School Band took over Dorothy’s social life ever since she hit the 5th grade and they needed members. This increased when she became one of the five majorettes in the marching band all throughout her high school years. The band students would practice, perform, and travel together at all times. In this social group is where Dorothy met her husband, Mabin A. Walker Jr. They had their first date New Years Eve their senior year.From the start Dorothy was very involved in her community. She was always busy with her school work, National Honor Society, Spanish Club, the band, and her outside activities.Not only was she involved with her organizations, but Dorothy was loved by her classmates. She was Homecoming Queen of Conroe High School in 1943. Dorothy always planned on being married, but not at the age of 17. Once in love, her viewpoint changed and they decided to tie the knot after graduation. Both parents on the other hand, did not agree. They expected more schooling out of them and then work. With two older sisters to keep up with, Dorothy believes her parents always had their hands full. Therefore, until she decided to get married, she always tried to not cause much trouble. This being said, without their parents’ full consent, Dorothy Cox and Mabin Walker got married in New Waverly, Texas on June 15th, 1943. Their wedding wasn’t a huge celebration with family and friends, but just two teenagers going to the Justice of Peace to get their marriage license. “We just eloped which wasn’t unusual during our time,” says Dorothy with a laugh. Their secret didn’t last long though because about a month later Dorothy’s parents were bringing her back home from business school to take responsibility and start living life as a wife. Once living with her husband Pat, Dorothy quit business school and put her focus on her new family. On August 24, 1945, their first child Mabin Andrew Walker III was born. Jerry Leo Walker came about a year later on September 6, 1946 and the youngest, Deryl Dean Walker, was born on January 19, 1951. Her three kids were born and raised in the area of Conroe and Willis, Texas.Being a housewife was definitely not a problem for Dorothy. She claims to have always loved the idea of being a mom and wife, so this part of her life was full of satisfied joy and undying love. Once married, Pat and Dorothy kept a big circle of friends and life became more of a routine. Pat also ran for Tax Assessor for the county. It was a fulfilling time for the young family. With the kids in school, Dorothy kept going with her education at Sam Houston State University and started teaching in 1960. She taught school in New Caney and in 1967 started teaching in the Conroe school system where she stayed until retiring. Dorothy taught the children of the community for many years, and remembers teaching some of the first Hispanic children
arriving in the community. Her giving and caring spirit made her more aware of the needs of different people, and surely made her a wonderful teacher. She believes women took on more roles after the war. When it came to raising her children and keeping up with her household chores, Dorothy feels blessed to have always had help. With both sides of parents nearby and a maid to help at home, she was able to excel at many things. Dorothy belonged to the Bridge Club, her Church Circle, and the Jaycettes to help society as much as she could. She would also teach Sunday school for some time. Not only would she make sandwiches for the blood mobile, but she put a lot of dedication in her activities therefore receiving Outstanding Jaycee Award. The years flew by and when her kids were teenagers, the oldest Mabin being a daredevil, her worries increased. Accidents were her biggest nightmares until the Vietnam War beat all her other fears. Two of her boys served in the war and the worst part as a mom was not being able to know what would happen. Thankfully, both her boys came home safely. A memorable time when her kids were growing up was when her son took Spanish in high school and had an exchange student from Peru come live with them. Tomas became like another son to Dorothy and they still keep in touch. After he lived with them they even went to Peru to meet with his family. He now owns a restaurant in Houston that Dorothy has visited and is very proud of his family and achievements. Tomas once hosted the Pan American Round Table for a special Christmas luncheon. Dorothy experienced being like a second mother to a Hispanic boy who she always saw as a special young man. Traveling was always a part of her life and Dorothy, along with her husband, enjoyed every moment of it. Therefore, they traveled with the kids frequently and even more when they were older and had the time. They owned motor homes and throughout her lifetime, Dorothy has now been in Europe (England, Germany, Italy, and Spain), South America (Peru, Argentina, and Chile), Mexico, and North Africa. Whatever the style was, Pat always wanted his wife to have and buy pretty things. Dorothy thinks he just liked spoiling her and to this day she feels blessed and content with how her married life was. Since they married young, Dorothy feels they started out with nothing and ended up with a home paid for, a business, and wonderful children. These achievements make her feel proud of how far they’ve come and blessed for the life she’s had. Two of her children still continued with the father’s business. When the kids left home, Dorothy and Pat finally had some relaxing time for themselves. During this time is when they did most of their traveling. 98
Tommie Jean and Howard Strailey were good friends who traveled with the happy couple many times. Not having to work or having anyone to worry about was a different lifestyle to get used to especially when she stopped working. Dorothy loved her job and was still teaching happily until she retired at the age of 73. Being a grandmother took some of her time and she tried treating her grandchildren like her own children. She had her first grandchild when her middle son, Jerry, was 18. Although retired, Dorothy was still an active member in her community and therefore felt connected to people through organizations and church. She helped start the North Montgomery County Retired Teachers Association and was the first president in 1997. The group started with 5 members and now there are over 100. She was also the Secretary of the District Association and president of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society. She was the Director of the Pan American Round Table of Conroe in 2010. She even traveled to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico in 2010 as a representative of the Pan American Round Table of Conroe. Dorothy still has a strong desire to learn about cultures and people. Her work in our community and through her work with the Pan American Round Table shows how she continues to care and encourage learning among people. Dorothy claims to have never worried about age until she was in her eighties. In her seventies she was anxious because of the anticipation of what old age would be. Now, Dorothy feels very blessed for having her children living so close. She’s still active in her organizations and believes this is a time to enjoy whatever she wants to do such as traveling, reading, and being with the family. “Well golly, I’m in my eighties and you’re what? 18?” Dorothy teasingly asked me this during our last interview, but when I truly processed the reality of the question, chills ran through my spine. That many years of knowledge and experience made me feel like a defenseless baby. I’m preparing for my future while she’s completed most phases in her life. I’m looking ahead while she mainly looks back. I’m rushing through life while she slowly appreciates her time. Although our age difference placed us in opposite viewpoints toward life, Dorothy and I agreed on many things. Her humble character and optimistic personality makes it impossible to not love her. She’s the definition of a sweetheart and always places others before herself. Her sweetness also overshadows her strong determination. It takes a strong woman to push ahead through challenges and stay true to herself and her faith. I came to realize these qualities through each interview. First off, Dorothy wasn’t intending to be involved in the project, but volunteered when I was left without a partner. During the first interviews she had trouble talking about herself so much. 99
She considered her life boring and probably never noticed my fascinated interest in how many things she has done and how many things she has lived through. If I would describe Dorothy in one word it would be humble. She has done so much more than what she leads on and just like she didn’t tell me she had been homecoming queen, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more admirable things I wasn’t able to squeeze out of her. Her love for people and her community is seen through all her volunteering and service. Dorothy’s satisfaction and peace with her life is what I would like to achieve. She has lived a good life and has no regrets. Maybe she wasn’t a superstar and maybe she didn’t make millions, but in the end I think many would love to be as content with their life as Dorothy Walker.
Press Coverage of the Historias Project
Historia of The Pan American Round Table "One for All and All for One"
"Una Para Todas y Todas Para Una"
The Pan American Round Table was founded in San Antonio, Texas by Mrs. Florence Terry Griswold on October 16, 1916. Mrs. Griswold’s concern for the families displaced by the turbulent period in Mexico between 1910- 1916, created a sense of urgency and generated support among other prominent women of the area. P.A.R.T.’s mission is “to acquaint its members with the language, geography, history, literature, arts, culture, and customs of the republics of the Western Hemisphere, for through knowledge, understanding is gained, and understanding leads to friendship”. A Texas historical marker is located at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, TX in recognition of the site where the P.A.R.T. was founded. The Conroe Table of P.A.R.T. was organized in 1949 by prominent ladies of the community. They were the wives of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and businessmen. Mrs. Earl Gentry was the first director of the chapter 1949-1950, and its current director in 2011 is Mrs. Jean Heasley. Three of our Conroe Historias Project participants have been directors: Jeannette Defee, Bettye Wakefield, and Dorothy Walker. Today there are chapters of P.A.R.T. in states in the U.S. and in countries from Canada to South America. In 2010 Pat Sterns, Subeth Burge, and Dorothy Walker were among the Conroe Table delegation to visit Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for the international P.A.R.T. convention. P.AR.T. serves an essential role in supporting intercultural understanding within our growing and changing community. Today there are 212 tables with over 7,000 members in 17 countries of the Americas. Participation in the Conroe Historias Project is a wonderful testament to the valuable contribution of cultural knowledge possible between groups.
The Heritage Museum of Montgomery County features exhibits chronicling the county's roots, from the lumber and oil industries to the lives of Montgomery County residents. It houses a replica of local resident Dr. C.B. Stewartâ€™s office. Dr. r. Stewart was the first Secretary of State of the Republic of Texas and designed the state flag and seal. In 1997, the Texas Legislature proclaimed Montgomery County as the birthplace of the Lone Star Flag. The Museum is housed in the historic Grogan/Coc Grogan/Cochran hran home, built in 1924 by J.G. Grogan in downtown Conroe. A year later the home was sold to Terrell Cochran. It remained in the family until it was donated to be used as a museum and moved to Candy Cane Park in 1987. Currently the Heritage Museum is tthe he meeting place of the Conroe Chapter of The Pan American Round Table.
Fran Swann recalls the Crighton Theatre: “I graduated from Conroe High School in 1956, and going to the Crighton Theatre was a big part of my social life while dating, if my boyfriend had enough money. It was built in 1934, and tickets cost .25 for students while I was in school. For .35 we could buy our ticket for the movie and have enough for a Coke and popcorn, which was .05 each. A preview of upcoming movies was always shown, along with news highlights of the week. I can remember most of our information about WWII came from the Crighton as we had no TV. It was great fun sitting in the dark movie, holding hands with your boyfriend while watching a good movie, eating popcorn, and sharing a coke…good memories.”
Have you learned about the culture of your ancestors? Do you celebrate your culture(s)? Do you celebrate other cultures? How do you define “culture”? Are you curious about other cultures? Have you had strong friendships with people of different cultures? Are you willing to reach outside of your comfort zone to connect with someone from a different culture? Have you shared your culture with someone from a different culture? How many people do you interact with daily who are from a different culture than your own? Are you able to identify the cultures represented in your daily customs or surroundings? Are you able to step outside of your culture to perceive other people’s perspectives?
*“Texan” is its own culture!
It is unusual and exciting when history can come to life for young people through interaction with those who have lived it. The Conroe Histo...
Published on Mar 21, 2011
It is unusual and exciting when history can come to life for young people through interaction with those who have lived it. The Conroe Histo...