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Mason County Personalities
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 • Posted April 15, 2009

Have you ever wondered why the grandkids like to come to grandmother's house? It is because we spoil them a little, or is it because at grandmothers there is so much to look at and it stays the same? As I walked into the living room of EDNA EARLE BENTON, I knew I was in a grandmother's house. Photos adorned most available space and the feel of cozy and comfortable filled me. A little farther on to the kitchen with cups set out waiting for tea to be poured. Then, into the very heart of the home where you could see the outside as though we had waled into an outdoors scene. The glass-enclosed area was where we spent time recapturing the life of a lady who so graciously allowed me entrance into this life.

To be quite honest, I don't know if I've ever known anyone who knew the names of the streets where they had lived 60 years ago. All of them. Or if I had met anyone who related chronologically the names of all their school teachers and gave dates for all the big and little adventures of life. Wow!

Edna Earle was born to parents Nathaniel Jackson Johnson and Carrie Sophie Mogford Johnson on October 20, 1920 in Menard, Texas as their youngest child. She said, "I guess they were short on girls names for I went three months without a name. I was called Baby and it stuck for a long time. Daddy had read the book, St. Elmo, and that's how I got my name. I added the e to Earl to make it sound a little more girlish."

Edna Earle had six siblings. There were four sisters, Freddie, Cary Ben, Doris and Theodora and two brothers, Nathaniel and James. Theodora who lives in McCamey is the only other surviving sibling. All five of the sisters became teachers. Two of them, Freddie and Cary Ben, taught Edna Earle is school since there was an age difference of 17 years between Edna Earle and Freddie.

Her maternal grandparents were William Mogford who came to America from England and Mary Louise Keyser Mogford who came from Germany. Her paternal grandparents were James Polk Johnson and Julia Ann Moore Johnson. She said, "Grandpa Johnson donated the land for Johnson City and they named the place after him. Later they came to Fredericksburg and he helped lay out the streets there."

Her parents purchased, what she referred to with great love, as the home place that was the beginning of what is known as the Johnson's Ranch. After the initial purchase, other land was added and the ranch is in The Century Ranch Register for land owned by one family for over 100 years. The Johnson family owns it today.

Edna Earle spoke of her childhood special time. "I had an outdoor life. We climbed trees. I rode a stick horse for miles. We hunted for old bird's nests, caught doodle bugs and used what we found to entertain ourselves. Of course most of these activities were done barefoot. Your feet got tough enough to not mind the grassburs too much. Our family harvested the corn crop with our team, Ed and Dan, pulling the wagon."

Do you recognize any of these games? Hull Gull, New York or Take It Off or Knock It Off? "We played games as a family. My mother loved card games such as Cassino and Bridge, but there was one thing she didn't allow. My brother, James, taught me to play Poker. We played fro matches. Mother took our cards away. 'No Poker,' she said. The game FortyTwo was popular too. Mother loved to dance and we all learned." she said.

We both got excited when we remembered the candy, Val O Milk. We could just visualize that first bite into the wonderful milk chocolate outer shell and the marshmallow creme oozing out. It used to be thick. Now it's about as thick as a dime. Oh well, change. Remember the punch cards that came with it? You might get it for a penny instead of a nickel?

This lady drove a car by the time she was eight year old. Of course, this was only through the gate in the family's Model T. There were eleven gates to open and shut from the highway to their house. She was laughing as she told me, "My brother liked for me to go along with them. It was to open the gates. They had to open the wire gaps so I leaned to drive the car through."

She said, "I remember going to Daddy's store (Johnson's Store in Erna, Texas) and him giving me a little brown bag of bonbons. They are my favorite candy."

She began school in Streeter on October 28, 1928 at eight years of age. Her sister, Cary Ben was teaching primer to fourth grade. The next place she went was to Long Mountain. She was now in the fourth grade and Miss Sadie Herring was her teacher. During the school year of 1930 and 1931 her sister and Aunt Annie had teaching positions at East Gansel in McCulloch County and Edna Earle stayed with them in the teacherage, where again Cary Ben was her teacher. Then in 1931 and 1932, it was back to Long Mountain where Freddie was her teacher for the next three years. Other teachers were Red McCollum and Bob Waver. She finished high school at Menard in 1937. She went to John Tarleton Jr. College for two years and graduated from Sul Ross in Alpine with her BS Degree in 1941. She received her Master's Degree from West Texas State University in 1968. She began her teaching career at Eldorado, Texas in 1941 until 1943 when she married.

She talked about the big garden they grew. She said, "Daddy would take the fresh vegetables into town and sell them. Mother had chickens so, there were eggs to sell as well as cream from our cows. My folks were hard workers."

"During the drought of the 50s, my mother displayed to us the faith that motivated her life. We worried about how brown the grass was. She told us, 'There are seeds out there. God will send the rain and the seeds will come up.' He did and they did. She was able to save her cattle with the help of Mr. Heyman (Grace Ray Davenport's father) of the Menard National Bank. He believed in the people."

Edna Earle married Lawrence Benton on June 27, 1943 in the Menard Methodist Church. Their attraction began when she was 14 and he was 19 even though it wasn't evident to them at the time. They met at a dance in London. She said, "Of course I probably looked too young to him and he looked too old to me. Time went on and I began teaching at the Eldorado School in 1941. Lawrence had joined the military in 1941. However, through acquaintances we me again. My, he looked good in that uniform. We began dating. He asked me to marry him, I told him I wanted to teach in different countries. I said when he made captain to let me know. Well, every time he made an advancement I got a telegram asking, 'Are you ready yet?'" They were married in 1943. Persistence pays off. Shortly before their 65th wedding anniversary Lawrence went to be with his Lord on May 25, 2008.

Due to their years in the military their children were born as follow: Tanya Leigh born August 23, 1944 in Sherman, Texas, Larry born October 19, 1949 in Wichita Falls, Texas, Myrtle Bob born January 21, 1957 in Chateauroux, France and Elaine born on September 20, 1960 in Amarillo, Texas. Their grandchildren are: Victor Lamoreaux, Austin Stewart, Katherins Stewart and Mason Halley Keefe.

They were stationed in Sherman, Texas in 1943, they were sent to St. Louis Missouri until the war was over and he was discharged.

They returned to The Johnson Ranch in 1946 to live and help her mother until Lawrence reenlisted in the military. He was being sent to Guam. Edna Earle and daughter, Tanya, would have to wait to join him. When they began their trip by ship, it took 14 days to get there. She taught Sunday School on this trip.

She said, "In Guam fresh food was hard to get. The soil is a rocky coral type we found some better soil and hauled it to make us a garden. We grew tomatoes and okra. Of course, no one knew what okra was. When we left Guam, we left the garden to our friends. Maybe it's still producing."

Her young daughter, Tanya, loved eggs, but again they were hard to come by. One day a neighbor with a jeep took her out to where they sold fresh eggs. She said, "They were $2.50 a dozen so I only got one dozen.

She still corresponds with a friend in Guam. Edna Earle said, "The military was a good life. We met many people."

They lived many places. They were in Burkburnett (Sheppard Air Base in Wichita Falls, Texas) in 1949. Amarillo, Texas was their next stop where thy bought their first home. "We paid $5,000.00 for it with $250.00 down and $38.00 a month until they brought it into city limits then, we paid $43.00 a month. The address was 1128 Trigg Street.

The next place was Chateauroux, France. She volunteered in the chapel programs there. "There were all different denominations worshipping together in one building. The Jewish people met on Saturday night. The Catholic Church met on Sunday morning until 9:15 and then the other groups met. One Chaplain had a little trouble with open communion because of what his church taught, but there was a need for open communion with so many different denominations. My feeling in God rules who can have communion and who can't."

Here's one story from France. She said, "The people were very friendly. They usually drank wine instead of water. Lawrence had brought a jug of purified water home from the base. My neighbor, Madame Sierre asked me what it was. I gave her a taste. Her response was par bon (no good)."

She taught summer school while in France.

They were sent to Atwater, California in 1958. The year 1960 found them back in Amarillo at 2203 S. Hughes Street where Lawrence finished his military time in 1962. "It was here in Amarillo on September 20, 1960 that our baby daughter was born. We named her Elaine. She would become the future wife of Dr. Tim Stewart," she said.

Elaine was only two years old at the time, but they decided Edna Earle would go back to teaching. She had taught some at Amarillo College, but got a position in the school system and remained there for 20 years. Later, Lawrence got a Civil Service job where he worked for 17 years with the Bureau of Mines, Helium Operations.

The family came to Mason for family reunions held in the Lutheran

Park. Edna Earle noticed the house across the highway. She contacted Lehmberg Realty who had the house listed and looked at it. "I spoke with George Brannies on the telephone about my buying the place with a loan. He said it was possible, but when I came to Mason to see about it Mr. Brannies was out of town and other bank personnel wondered about woman buying property without her husband's signature. Well, I got it in 1978, paid for it and in 1982 we moved to Mason to stay," she said. By the way, the address is 311 Austin Street.

Edna Earle is a member of The First United Methodist Church. Now, there is a story here too. She told me, "As a child we went to church at Long Mountain. They met in a building by they cemetery. That building burned in 1934. We always had two-week long revival meetings in the summer under the old brush arbor. This particular time I went with my sister at the invitation. We were baptized in the creek at Streeter."

She has belonged to many organizations in Mason: AARP, Historical Commission, Historical Society, Garden Club, Long Mountain Community Club, Bluebonnet Study Club, Mason Concert Chorale, The Red hatters, Delta Kappa Gamma and Retired Teachers.

Edna Earle is an advocate of education and with delight told me, "All the Benton children began their higher education at Amarillo College. Tanya received her BA (1966) and MA (1972 in English and Speech from West Texas State University. Later she returned to school to receive her LLD from The University of San Fernando College of Law. Larry graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in Art in 1972. Myrtle Bob Majored in Theater, taking a BA from West Texas State University in 1979. Elaine received her BA in Sociology/Psychology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1984."

I asked her what invention has done the most for us. She replied, "The radio helped connect us to be aware of things we did not know. It alerted us to the fact there are others out there."

I asked what did she feel happened in her lifetime to change the life of women. Quickly she said, "The right to vote in 1920 is the major thing. The right for a married woman to acquire property by a bank loan without her husband's signature is another. There is also, the opportunity for women in politics. I am anxiously waiting for the time a woman will be president. I want to help vote her in office."

What has been the change in society to affect the people? "The right for everyone to accomplish what they dream if their enthusiasm doesn't lag and their persistence continues."

She has served people around here by visiting the nursing home, taking tapes of church services to shut-ins, school mentoring, cooking meals served to other volunteers. Singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School and just about anything else she is asked to do.

Perhaps you now can see about her abilities to retain data. Edna Earle has taken the life God gave her and with an eager heart and a vitality to pack into every day an excitement radiating through her smile, she has lived a very fulfilled life.

I leave you with this. I noticed the driveway from the highway to Edna Earle's garage is quite lenghty. I asked her if she backed out or had a place to turn around. "Oh sure, I back out," she said, "That's what the mirror on the left side of the car is for."

Edna Earle Benton loves life and those she encounters along the way.

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