Stanford celebrates 100 years
By Dana Delgado
Imogene Stanford turns 100 years old on April 2.
“I never thought I’d be 100,” she said. “I guess it was all the hard work in life, clean living and learning to do without things until you could have them.”
The longtime Liberty Hill resident isn’t quite sure what she’ll be wishing for when she blows out the candles at her birthday gathering at Park Place Retirement Home in Georgetown where she has been living the past six years.
“When you get this old, there’s not much you can hope for except to stay healthy,” she said.
“A nice surprise would be getting her 100 birthday cards,” said Belva Cox, who became quite close to Stanford 12 years ago. Cox stepped in around 2005 when one of Stanford’s best friends, Cox’s mother, passed away.
“My mother and Imogene were always on the phone for hours since the early 1980s and through 2005,” Cox said. “She worried about her and looked in on her all the time especially when the sheep were not in their pen.”
Stanford had continued ranching after her husband died in 1991 until 2011. In her later years, those stubborn sheep were knocking her down, but she always got back up.
Cox invited the community to send birthday cards to Stanford. Cards should be mailed to the following address: Imogene Stanford, Park Place Retirement Home, 101 FM 971, Georgetown, Texas 78626.
“She’s had a hard life, but this would really make her happy,” Cox said.
“We had so much fun,” Stanford recalled about her good friend, Mrs. Cox’s mother. “We had a lot of laughs.”
A birthday celebration is scheduled April 2, from 2 – 4 p.m. at Park Place Retirement Home in Georgetown, which Stanford calls “a wonderful place.”
“She would love to see everybody,” added Cox.
Stanford was born in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Burnet in 1917. She was welcomed by her parents as their seventh child of what would be a family of 10 children — five girls and five boys.
On the day of her birth, President Woodrow Wilson asked the US Congress for a declaration of war on Germany, which would come a few days later.
In 1920, the family moved to the community of Live Oak, just northeast of Bertram. It was there that she attended school. Live Oak was a bustling community then, she recalled, with over 75 students attending school up to ninth grade.
“My father called me ‘Beans’ because I was a handful,” she said.
As the seventh of 10 children, she said she was a bit rambunctious, followed others, and got herself “into everybody else’s business” as her mother would say.
When she contracted measles, she seemingly carried it to everyone including her mother — quite the stir for the household.
“We didn’t have much, but we were happy,” Stanford recalled with a wry smile.
Living through the depression, the kids made do without shoes and her mother created something out of everything, traits she would carry on as an adult.
But there was always time to have fun and make some wonderful memories.
“I loved to play baseball,” she said. “I wasn’t the best fielder, but I sure was a good batter. I hit lots of home runs at school.”
She remembers her parents giving all the kids a nickel to spend.
“We were crossing the old bridge at Joppa when somehow I swallowed my nickel,” she said. “One thing for sure, my nickel lasted longer than the others.”
There were also fond gatherings at Live Oak where the locals as well some folk from the adjoining communities would gather for “ring games.” Everyone would form a circle and then take turns starting a song or singing parts of a song and then move about festively, similar to square dancing. Stanford recalled a boy from nearby Florence who always came to the gatherings.
“He would tell us that we were so pretty that we should be in the movies,” she said. “We all just laughed.”
Then there was the unforgettable Dr. Thomas Vaughan of Bertram. He made getting sick all worthwhile; although, the trip into town in their old Ford — the only brand they ever owned besides horse and buggies — was quite bumpy on all the gravel roads.
“Dr. Vaughan was wonderful, so kind, and had so much patience,” she said. Dr. Vaughan would later deliver her own two boys after she got married.
While attending 10th grade in Bertram, she surprised many by eloping. Stanford said her father was not happy but in those days, it was one less mouth to feed.
Imogene, a young girl of about 16 years of age in 1933, took all the skills she’d learned from her mother and moved with her new husband into a small house in Liberty Hill. They took to what they knew — farming. On a few acres, they grew cotton and nurtured a vegetable and flower garden to die for.
“I had a wonderful garden and we canned a lot in those days,” she said. “Once I grew a two-pound onion and wanted to show it to everyone, but it rotted. Charles Canady once told me that I had the prettiest garden around. I always wanted it to grow beautiful.”
She also somehow found time to cook and sew, which she truly loved to do, and even did upholstery — skills passed down from her mother.
While she tended to her garden, Stanford was also looking after 53 sheep and milking cows. The milk was sold to a cheese factory in Leander. The wool from the sheep was sold at various markets including Lometa and Goldthwaite. She also raised goats and became known as a cat lady.
“I’m just a farm girl and was one all my life,” she said.
Picking cotton, however, was among her least favorite chores.
“It was the hardest thing,” she said. “I got so tired of bending over, the ground was so hard and you had to watch out for the snakes.”
After having to infrequently use the crank telephones when she was growing up, she was excited when the dial system was introduced in Liberty Hill around 1972. Calls were still somewhat limited but she had friends in high places, includuing the Liberty Hill telephone office. The good thing about the old crank phones, she recalled, was that it served as an immediate call to the local community with a series of rings to sound an alarm during an emergency.
Once, the whole community came out to her house thinking the barn was on fire when some neighbors noticed smoke. Turned out, her sons had accidentally set the outhouse on fire.
Stanford was also quite active in her church.
“I joined a Baptist church in Liberty Hill,” she said. “It’s called Fellowship now, but I taught Sunday school and vacation bible school.”
She also worked at various variety stores like Winn’s and TG&Y in Georgetown.
“I was happy when I was working,” she said. “I earned $1.75 an hour. My boss told me not to tell anyone.
“I’m the last one of my family,” she said. “Two of my brothers died early as did my mother.”
One brother was among those 581 killed in the massive 1947 Texas City explosion, which was ignited during the loading of a freighter at a pier in Texas City. The explosion shredded the ship, leveled 500 homes and destroyed nearby shipping facilities.
Six months later, another brother died in Cherokee while putting up power lines, and another had a heart attack.
“They all died so young,” she said.
With a big smile, Stanford, a lifelong joke teller who has found a way to look beyond the tragedy and hardship, said she is looking forward to her 100th birthday celebration.
“I just like to make people laugh,” she said.
She just missed being an April Fool’s baby by a day; although, her father thought so for a long time.
“So much has happened in my life,” she said. “I’ve had some fun times and have met some wonderful people. If I wrote a book, you could title it, ‘Believe it or Not.’”