|Lucille McBride has learned to face life’s challenges with a happy heart for 90 years|
|Written by Wauneta Breeze|
|Thursday, 12 May 2011 20:34|
By Tina Kitt
The Wauneta Breeze
Nearly every step of the way in looking back over the 90 years of her life, Lucille Porter McBride sums up each phase with, “Oh, what fun we had!”
It didn’t matter that money was tight as she grew up in the 1920s and 30s. Or that life on the southwest Nebraska farm included long hours of hard work with little in the way of modern luxuries.
For “Cele,” as she was nicknamed by her father, there was always a way to make the task at hand fun.
Merle Porter wraps her arms around her young daughters, Lucille, left, and Lois. Merle had been a teacher in Wauneta before she had a family of her own and even though bedfast with cancer when her children were small she taught Lucille to read before she started school.
Lucille was born on Sept. 25, 1920, on a farm north of Wauneta where her parents, Ed and Merle (Williams) Porter were living at the time. She was greeted by an older sister, Lois, who was 8 years old when Lucille was born.
Ed had worked as a shop keeper in a family-owned general merchandize store in Wauneta after moving here from Iowa. Merle was born and raised in Wauneta, the daughter of Robert H. and Hattie Williams, one of Wauneta’s founding families. Merle had taught school in Wauneta’s first brick school house which was built in 1893.
When Lucille was 3 years old the Porter family purchased a farm of their own south of Wauneta in the rural Eden community in Hitchcock County.
Their new farmstead was simple and the old house in need of fresh paint, but it was filled with love and music as Ed and Merle worked to make a happy home for their girls.
It wasn’t long, however, before serious health problems dealt the family a blow. Merle underwent surgery for throat cancer and would spend her last fews years unable to talk and fighting cancer.
School days at Eden
Even as she battled for her life, Merle found ways to be a part of her young daughters’ lives. From her bed she taught preschool-aged Lucille to read, write and work numbers on two pieces of black slate. “I still have those pieces of slate,” notes Lucille.
Her mother taught her so well that Lucille was placed in the second grade instead of with the first-year pupils when she started classes at the rural Eden School District 54.
She loved school and the teachers she had over the years at the one-room school room — Mary Grovert, Vera Miles and Dorothy Eller.
Lucille, at center, with high school friends Violet “Toodie” Hansen, left, and Bernice McCloud.
Lucille walked to the little one-room school house one mile west of the Porter farm unless the weather was too bad, then her dad would drive her in the farm wagon pulled by a team of horses.
Over 20 students spread out over eight grade levels attended school at Eden with Lucille. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing at the country school in the 1920s. Instead, a coal house held the fuel for the big stove the teacher kept stoked in the middle of the classroom and water from a neighboring farm was carried in to fill a 5-gallon crockery water cooler that provided drinking water throughout the school day.
Lucille loved learning, particularly reading, writing, spelling and English. As a youngster she didn’t care much for history and geography, but grew to love both subjects as an adult.
“They didn’t mean anything to me as a child because back then my whole world was the mile between home and the school,” notes Lucille, who has the heart and instincts of a natural historian, archiving data and records of not just her own family, but for the schools she attended and the Wauneta community in general.
She comes by it naturally, with her Grandfather R.H. Williams one of Wauneta’s early historians and both her Grandpa and Grandma Williams prolific writers.
One of her closest childhood friends was a girl from a neighboring farm a mile and a half away named Lois West. On Sunday afternoons they would meet each other half way to hang out together. Other times Lucille would spend the night at the West house where she enjoyed the high spirits of the six West children and their parents, Guy and Florence West.
“We had lots of fun and laughs at their house. They were very good to me,” said Lucille.
Another one of Lucille’s best friends was her cat, Barney.
“I got him at Grandma Williams’ when I was 3. As I carried him from the garage to the house my dad asked ‘What are you going to do with that cat?’ I said ‘He’s my house cat’ and he was my best buddy for over 17 years. He slept with me and we played hide and seek. He was what made my childhood happy,” notes Lucille, adding that Barney even made the move with her when she got married.
In the fall of 1928, as Lucille’s mother’s health began its final decline, Merle sought the help of teacher Mary Grovert in planning a surprise party for Lucille’s eighth birthday.
In 2004, Lucille McBride performed a Thanksgiving holiday piano concert, joined by organist Diana Ham. The concert and professional recording were named “Harvest of Hymns.” Lucille was the pianist at the Wauneta United Methodist and the Mt. Zion Methodist Church for many years. She played every Sunday for church and Sunday School programs and for many funerals well into her 80s before a stroke made it difficult for her to continue playing.
Near the end of the school day the children climbed into the back of a farm truck for a trip to a grove of trees north of the Porter farm where they roasted hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire.
Fern Hanna, a young woman hired to help at the Porter house during Merle’s illness, drove the truckload of kids through the Porter farm en route to the grove. Merle was waiting in the yard to wave to Lucille and her schoolmates.
By the end of November Merle was dead of throat cancer at the age of 40 (two months after her own mother had died at the age of 72) leaving 8-year-old Lucille and 16-year-old Lois without a mother.
Lucille and her father became closer than ever after her mother’s death. “My Daddy was the best daddy anyone ever had,” says Lucille.
Lucille’s sister was in high school by then, boarding in town during the school week and spending weekends on the farm. Ed would hire young couples to help at the farm and to provide a woman’s touch for Lucille as she was growing up.
“There was lots of wind and lots of dirt. And always a lot of work to be done,” said Lucille.
High school fun
After finishing eighth grade at Eden in the early 1930s, Lucille wasn’t sure she would be able to attend high school.
“Times had been very bad for my Dad and almost everyone else,” recalls Lucille. But Ed had been able to arrange for her to board in Wauneta her freshman year with a young couple, Milton and Hilda Kline, who had a small daughter and a new baby on the way. Lucille helped out around the house and with the children and Ed provided the family with milk, butter and eggs from the farm.
Lucille had learned to like solitude and created her own amusement on the farm. But she also discovered that she was a very social creature after moving to town.
“I found that I liked people and being in town,” said Lucille. During part of her sophomore year she boarded with the Otto Walker family — who lived in the house Lucille and her husband would later buy for their retirement years.
She and several other girls also stayed with “a widow lady named Mrs. Miller.”
Her last two years of high school she lived on the farm with her dad, first catching a ride into school with neighbor kids and later driving herself in a 1935 Chevy Coupe, “black with yellow wheels,” her dad purchased for her to drive the 13 miles into town, often with at least one neighborhood friend riding along.
Lucille had known how to drive since the age of 8 when her dad taught her to drive the family’s 1927 truck. The Porter family also owned a black Model T four-door automobile when she was a child and later “an old Pontiac.”
As a teenager with a car of her own, Lucille and her friends made the best of it.
“I had a ball in high school. Those were happy days. I had a lot of friends, especially after I had the Chevy Coupe to drive!” says Lucille.
During her junior year, Lucille’s dad was married briefly to widowed mother of four from eastern Nebraska named Mabel McCloud. While their union didn’t last, Lucille did forge a lifelong friendship with Mabel’s daughter, Bernice, who was in Lucille’s class in Wauneta. The two graduated together in 1937.
“Having Mabel in our home made my senior year the happiest I’d ever been. She was so good to me! She treated me the same as Bernice. She sewed, and when she made a blouse for Bernice she made one for me, too. Bernice and I were the closet of friends,” adds Lucille. “It was because of Mabel that I learned to dance. And I love to dance.”
Bernice later married her Wauneta sweetheart, Bud Yant. They lived in Lincoln where Lucille and her husband would join them for Husker football games, remaining close friends until Bernice died in the late 1970s.
Life with Vearl
During their senior year, Lucille and Bernice were joined by friends Lois Miller and Violet “Toodie” Hansen in doing everything together — school plays, Glee Club and especially driving around in the Chevy Coupe.
It was while Lucille and her friends were out driving around that her attention first turned to a young man named Vearl McBride.
“I met Vearl my junior year, I think. He was in town after school with another fella and they followed us as we drove out west toward the cemetery,” recalls Lucille.
At first, they double-dated: Vearl with another girl and Lucille with another boy.
Vearl was bashful, recalls Lucille, and it took a while for him to ask her out. His family also lived south of Wauneta, but to the southwest and were on the Benkelman telephone exchange so long talks on the phone were out of the question. He was no longer in school, so Lucille didn’t see him every day.
They dated off and on while Lucille was in high school, then went steady once she graduated.
Lucille Porter married Vearl McBride on Aug. 18, 1939. Their family grew to include two sons, at right, with Lynn born in 1941 and Vaughn born in 1945.
“Vearl and I went out three nights a week, always to a movie as there were different movies Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday nights,” said Lucille. On Saturday nights they would head down the street to the Krausnick Building to the dance after the movie.
For two and a half years after graduating Lucille stayed on the farm with her dad to tend house and help with chores. “The work was easier by then,” says Lucille. “He had put in a 32-volt light plant so there were electric lights and an electric motor on the old Maytag washing machine and cold running water in the house.” Lucille tended the chickens and garden and milked cows. She also sewed and embroidered, filling a hope chest in hopes she would soon be married.
With the light plant a radio followed in the Porter house. When Lucille’s mother was alive, she filled their home with piano music, and Lucille learned to play also. On Saturday’s when she was a child her dad would drive her to Wauneta to take lessons from Velma Peterson and Lucille developed a deep appreciation for music.
She loved to listen to the radio in their home and in Vearl’s car. “We listened to the “Hit Parade” on Saturday evenings to see what the top song was. I bought a lot of popular sheet music of that day and they cost 40 cents a sheet!”
Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was the couple’s favorite song.
During the summer of 1939 Lucille and Vearl decided the time had come for them to marry. Lucille wanted to get married on the same date that her sister Lois had married Ed Nowka several years earlier. Vearl didn’t know if the young couple could make a living during those lean years of the Great Depression, but Lucille persuaded him and on Aug. 18, 1939, they drove to Stratton where they were married in the parsonage of the Methodist Church.
Two weeks earlier, Vearl and a friend, Herb Busking, drove to McCook to purchase a diamond wedding ring. Lucille had one new dress, a black one that she really liked, so that became her wedding dress.
She still has that dress. They were joined at the parsonage by two attendants — Toodie Hansen stood up with Lucille and Bill Stinnette stood up with Vearl. “I was so happy,” exclaims Lucille.
Her sister had snapped a photo of the young couple before they headed into Stratton and Lucille notes that she is “lucky to have that one picture on our wedding day!”
Today, Lynn and his wife, Janie, above, live in Shelton, Neb., where he recently retired after teaching for 43 years. Vaughn and his wife, Dee, below, live in Osage City, Kans., where Vaughn is an engineer at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant.
When she went to tell her dad goodbye, Ed teared up.
“Poor Daddy. It was hard to give up his little girl,” says Lucille.
Vearl’s baseball team was already in Stratton for a game, so after the ceremony they stopped by the ball park that evening before heading out to the McBride farm.
“I’d never been there or met his parents,” notes Lucille. “His mother greeted me with ‘God bless you’.”
Despite a downpour of rain, the young couple ventured out toward Colorado on their wedding night — with Vearl’s parents in tow.
“His folks were moving to Denver and Vearl had asked me earlier if he should take them before our wedding day. I thought going twice wasn’t necessary so they went with us to Denver on our wedding night, to his sister Viola’s house. Where we spent our honeymoon!” exclaims Lucille.
Wife and mother
The young couple set up housekeeping on the McBride farm where they lived alone as newlyweds until Vearl’s parents decided to move back to Nebraska that Christmas.
Tragedy struck a few months later when Vearl’s father died in February 1940. The young couple stayed on the farm until that summer when job opportunities in the Denver area beckoned.
Vearl worked for the Gates Rubber Company and later at an ammunition plant as the United States was thrust headlong into World War II.
Lucille loved the hustle and bustle of city life. Some good friends from Wauneta’s South Divide, Bill and Alvina Buffington, were living in Denver at the time too, just down the street, and they spent most of their free time together.
The first of Vearl and Lucille’s two boys, Lynn, was born while they lived in Denver in 1941. They stayed in Colorado for another year before being convinced to move back to Nebraska. The Buffingtons had returned to the family farm and urged the McBrides to do so, too.
Back in Nebraska they worked for George and Leona Schwenk shucking corn for a short time before moving onto Lucille’s home place and taking over the Porter farm.
A second son, Vaughn, was born in 1945, and they continued to neighbor closely with the Buffingtons.
“They had two boys and we had two boys and we were together all the time.”
They also neighbored closely with Robert and Esther Egle, just as Lucille’s parents had with Robert’s parents, Henry and Hazel Egle. Their two sons grew up alongside the Egles’ children just as Lucille had grown up alongside Robert, Ralph, Virgil and Elinor.
“I always thought my boys learned a lot of good from the Egles,” says Lucille.
As the boys were growing up Lucille’s time was filled with sewing, cooking, cleaning, milking cows and tending chickens. She loved taking care of Vearl and their boys.
“We had a lot of fun when the boys were growing up,” she notes.
Vearl’s nephew, Arch Redfield, became a part of the family, too, in 1949 when he moved to the farm from Denver, finishing his senior year of high school in Wauneta.
“He was just like our own kid,” says Lucille.
The boys were active in 4-H and in youth group at Mount Zion Methodist Church where Lucille helped with Sunday School and Bible School and played piano as her mother had done at the Eden Church a generation before her.
Her dad, ever the gentleman, would put on his best attire to visit them every Sunday before his death in the mid 1960s.
The boys attended grade school at the Eden School, as had their mother, but by the 1950s many upgrades and modern conveniences had been added.
Lynn and Vaughn both graduated from Wauneta High School — Lynn in 1958 and Vaughn in 1964. Vearl was adamant his sons would continue their education, with both going to college.
A working woman
When Lynn entered college Lucille went to work at Hoff’s Grocery Store in Wauneta to help cover the extra expenses. “I made enough to pay for that first year of Lynn’s college,” she notes.
Once both boys were out of high school, Vearl and Lucille decided to rent out their farm and move to Ogallala.
The country was once again fully involved in war, this time in Vietnam, when their son Vaughn entered the Army.
“The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was watching him walk onto that plane knowing he was going to Vietnam,” says Lucille. “I didn’t think I would ever see him again.”
Lucille worked at the TRW plant in Ogallala during Vaughn’s year in Vietnam. She would get off work at 4 p.m. and rush home to watch the news, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
He did return home and like his older brother he excelled at college. Lynn went into teaching and Vaughn became an engineer. They married and raised families of their own, giving Lucille not just grandchildren, but the daughters she and Vearl never had.
“I always have such a good time when I am with my boys and their wives,” says Lucille. “They are all so good to me.”
Lucille’s working life in Ogallala included office work for a realtor and as head housekeeper at the newly built Ramada Inn. Vearl had done construction work on the project and was asked to join the staff as head of maintenance.
Lucille oversaw the scheduling and work of others as well as pitching in when things got busy, especially during the summer season when all 100 rooms were filled and when travellers along I-80 sought a safe place during winter storms.
“I made a lot of beds, it was hard work at times,” says Cele.
The couple also took advantage of their proximity to Big Mac — Lake McConaughy — where they fished, boated and camped.
In 1975, however, they decided it was time to move back to their old hometown. The Walker house where Lucille had boarded as a teen was for sale. Lucille had always liked the quaint Victorian house situated next to the river so she and Vearl bought the house and set about fixing it up for their retirement years.
They liked life back in Wauneta, and could still boat and fish with Enders Reservoir close by.
They enjoyed hosting friends for card parties and travelled around the country with their travel trailer, even wintering in Arizona at times.
Whenever they could they made trips to spend time with their sons and their four grandchildren, and later their great-grandchildren.
In August 1999 Vearl and Lucille celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary surrounded by family and friends.
Lucille played piano for church services and children’s programs at the Wauneta United Methodist Church as well as for weddings and funerals. It’s hard to play for funerals at times, confides Lucille, “but it’s something that I needed to do.”
She also distinguished herself as one of the best local news correspondents the Wauneta Breeze has ever featured. True to her nature, she kept detailed listings of the birthdays and anniversaries of area residents so she would be certain to check with those families during those special occasions.
“I liked all my jobs but my job at the Breeze was the hardest for me to give up,” confides Lucille.
Heartaches and blessings
Her life took a dramatic shift in the spring of 2000 when Vearl died.
“It was a terrible time. It leaves an awful big space in your life. But you get over it with time, just like everything else,” said Lucille.
She had her music to focus on, which helped immensely. And in December 2004 she and UMC church organist Diana Ham were recruited to put on public concert with the duo performing church hymns. A professional recording was made of their work and “Harvest of Hymns” CDs made and sold as a church fundraiser.
She was also an active member of the UMC Evening Circle. “Those were fun times,” says Lucille.
In 2007 she joined four former classmates from the WHS Class of 1937 in marking their 70th high school reunion.
Lucille’s family and friends made her feel like a queen during her 90th birthday celebration complete with a tiara.
Less than a year later, Lucille was dealt another blow. She got up to work on her music for that week’s church service and collapsed. She was able to reach the phone to call for help, and transported to the hospital where she learned she had suffered a stroke. It severely affected her left side and even though she has tried, she has not been able to play piano since.
Home for Lucille for the past four years has been Heritage of Wauneta, where her bright disposition makes her a favorite among staff and residents.
“Heritage has been the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” says Lucille. “I needed help and they were here and the staff gives me the best of care.”
She was surrounded by her sons and their families for her 90th birthday back in September, with a party held outside in the courtyard gazebo area. Lucille felt like a queen, with her granddaughters placing a tiara atop her head as they kissed her and wished her a happy birthday.
“It’s always so much fun to have my family visit. I must say, I have had a lot of fun during my life,” adds Lucille.