Emma Hazel Holmes Biography

Hazel was born 18 Mar 1910 near the town of Ganado, Jackson County, Texas. She stated that she was born under a covered wagon. Her father Daniel Morey Holmes was engaged in the business of making charcoal from mesquite wood. Her parents had just moved from Cherokee, Oklahoma a short time before, apparently with Hazel’s maternal grandparents, Francis A. Van Buskirk and Elizabeth Jane Sneary, g-grandfather Andrew Van Buskirk, g-uncle Porter Perry, and cousin, Joseph Van Buskirk. Hazel was the fourth child and third daughter of Mary Margaret Van Buskirk. Hazel’s older brother Warren Andrew had died before she was born.

The Holmes moved around a lot in their charcoal business. The 1910 census records the Holmes and Van Buskirks as living in Victoria County, 1-JP. He was listed as a farmer, which means the Charcoal business may have been only part time. They would continue to live in Texas for at least the next four years. During that time they may have lived for awhile with the Van Buskirks in Port Lavaca, Calhoun County, in a nice two story white frame house on Water Street. Hazel’s grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Sneary Van Buskirk passed away in Nov 1914. This may have prompted the move by the entire Van Buskirk/Holmes family back to Cherokee, Oklahoma. The Holmes probably moved in 1915. Some the Van Buskirks may have moved later, as Hazel’s uncle John registered for the draft in Port Lavaca, Calhoun County in 1917, but Hazel’s g-grandfather Andrew Van Buskirk died in Cherokee that same year.

Hazel and her family probably lived on the old homestead near Cherokee during 1915-1916. This was acquired by Hazel’s grandmother Mary Crowley Holmes during the Cherokee Strip land rush in 1893. She died in 1902, apparently leaving the farm to Daniel. It seems Mary made a poor choice of a homestead. It was located east of the present site of Cherokee, close to the Great Salt Plain of Oklahoma, and the ground was simply too salty to be good for farming.

Religion was an issue in the Holmes household. Daniel was raised in a devout Catholic household, while Mary Margaret was raised in a traditional Disciples of Christ (Christian) family. They were married first by a Christian minister, but Daniel’s older sister Emma (for which Emma Hazel was named) insisted they also be married by a Catholic Priest. To do this, Daniel signed an agreement to raise the children Catholic. Daniel, being an honest man, complied. Hazel remembered attending Catholic services as a child in Cherokee.

Daniel Holmes quickly gave up farming on the homestead and moved his family west to Cimarron County, Oklahoma. This county was on the extreme western end of the Oklahoma Panhandle, and was as close to a desert as you can find in that state. The county was dominated by the Black Mesa, which straddled the junction of Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The Holmes lived on the prairie a little east of the mesa.

Life was harsh on the prairie. There were no trees, so no fire wood. Fuel for cooking and heating consisted of “cow chips”. The task of collecting this fuel fell to Hazel and her older sisters. This was also the beginning of the great “dust bowl”.

Hazel related an experience about this time, which I tell in my words.

One day Hazel and her older sisters went out onto the prairie to gather cow chips for fuel. When at some considerable distance from home, they saw an advancing cold front, or “norther”. It appeared as a solid black wall extending well up into the sky. Seeking a place of refuge, they found a large haystack, which they crawled into for shelter. First the thick black dust cloud hit, and then it began to rain mud. Soon the rain turned to snow, black snow. In the morning, the haystack and ground were covered with several inches of it.

Another problem the Holmes faced was religion. In Cimarron County, there were no Catholic Churches in the vicinity; keeping Daniel from fulfilling his pledge to raise his children Catholic. Feeling his family needed a church, he allowed them to attend a Disciples of Christ Church (Christian), which was the religion of Mary Margaret. Hazel would join, and remain a member of that group for the rest of her life.

Daniel apparently was not very good at farming, so by 1920 he had moved his family eastward to Texas County, near the town of Guymon. Close to town, Daniel would be able to obtain part time work as a laborer.

Poverty was crushing upon the Holmes family. As Hazel began to mature and advance into High School, she developed a determination to rise above the economic underachievement of her parents. She was an excellent student at school. Hazel also developed all the physical characteristics that men admired in a woman. However, she was fairly straight laced when it came to romantic relationships; never getting involved, and always keeping focused on obtaining an education so that she could support herself at a level of comfort.

In 1928, she graduated from Guymon High School, and was admitted into Oklahoma A&M at Stillwater, now Oklahoma State University.

Meanwhile, the health of Hazel’s father, Daniel, began to deteriorate. Unable to farm, he moved his family into Guymon, where they lived in a tiny two bedroom house. I visited that house a number of times between 1944 and 1952. It was long and narrow, with ceilings no more than 7 feet high. Light fixtures were single bulb sockets, hanging by an electrical cord from the ceiling. The small living room often served as a bedroom. On the side of the living room was a door opening into a small master bedroom. The rear of the living room had a door leading into the narrow kitchen and dining area. Behind them was a small bedroom for the children. A door on the side of the kitchen opened into the backyard, where there was always a nanny goat, which was the family’s milk source.

The 1930 Texas County census listed Daniel as a laborer, with wife Mary and children John Daniel and Zita Mae. John Daniel would soon pass away from sickness. Daniel’s poor health and John Daniel’s passing put Hazel in a difficult position. As much as she wanted to obtain her college degree, she realized she needed to help support her family. Her two older sisters were married and away from home, so it was up to her. She dropped out of college and returned home.

About this time Hazel became close friends with a Thelma Henderson, whose fiancée was Lon J. Holland. He, in turn had a close friend named Bill Evans. Thelma and Lon decided to get Hazel and Bill together on a blind date. It worked and soon Hazel and Bill were in love. They were married 8 Dec 1934 at Guymon.

These were the depression years and the newlyweds were poor. Bill had little education and no profession, though he was drifting toward being a cook and baker. Hazel was still supporting her family; though at some point her older sister Iola, her marriage failing, moved into the little house and eventually took over most of that responsibility. Bill and Hazel moved in with his mother on the other side of town. Within two or three months, Hazel became pregnant with their first child.

On 29 Jul 1935, Daniel Holmes lost his battle with his illness. He had a large extended family and they all showed up for his funeral, including Hazel’s aunt Emma Holmes David. It was after the traditional dinner after the burial that Aunt Emma, after whom Hazel had received her first name, approached her about Hazel’s marriage. Emma said Hazel and Bill had to be married by a Catholic Priest before the child was born. Hazel refused to agree to the demand. Emma then said something to the effect of “Then all your children will be bastards”. Both Emma and her namesake Emma Hazel were very strong willed women, with tempers. The remark caused a permanent rupture in their relationship and I do not believe they ever spoke with each other afterward.

Hazel’s first child, Daniel Lee, was born in November, 1935, at the home of Bill’s mother. Shortly after, they both realized that they needed to move out and establish a home of their own; however Bill’s employment picture was still bleak. It was Bill’s friend, Lon Holland, who came to the rescue. Lon and Thelma had moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. Lon notified Bill that he could probably find employment in that town as a baker. They moved in 1937.

Hazel and Bill moved into one of a group of small cabins, located on the northern end of “Downtown Corpus”. They were between the present locations of the Corpus Christi Museums and Nueces County Courthouse. They are all gone today, but, as a child I saw the exterior of them, They were very small, probably only two small rooms. Bill found work at the Fair Maid Bakery in uptown. It is unknown if Hazel was employed at this time. They had no car, so Bill used a bicycle for transportation to work.

Sometime in 1938 (before November) they moved uptown, closer to Bill’s work. They lived in a trailer or mobile home. Hazel was expecting her second child at the time. Robert was delivered in November 1938 at Fred Roberts Hospital, within easy walking distance of the Trailer Park. Having a baby in a hospital was a first for both Hazel and Bill’s families.

Bill was always looking for improvement in his salary. In 1940 the Navy built a new base in Corpus to train carrier fighter pilots. They needed civilian bakers for their bakery. Bill applied, and was hired. However, when he reported for work, he found the rules had changed. The Navy now required that all bakers had to be in the Navy, so he enlisted. The family was now eligible for base housing, so Hazel and the kids moved into a nice two bedroom duplex on the base. Hazel then applied for, and was hired, a job in the accounting department of the base.

On 7 Dec 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed; an event that changed the life of almost all Americans. In 1942, Bill was deployed to the Southwest Pacific, and Hazel had to give up her base housing. She moved to a public housing project known as La Armada. It was located in south Corpus Christi, between Ayers and Port streets. Daniel was now old enough to enter the first grade, and Robert was placed in kinder garden in the project.

Soon Hazel decided to move again; this time back to Guymon. The move may have been motivated by Bill trying to support both his family and his mother. Hazel and her sons moved in with her mother in law. Grandma took care of the kids, and Hazel found a job in the OPA, keeping track of rationing stamps for the Federal Government.

The war ended in early September 1945, and Bill was fortunate to find his way home quickly. His first job was to repair the roof on his mother’s house. A man helping him, possibly a relative of Hazel, told him of a job opportunity in Cherokee, Daniel Holmes old home town. Bill did find work there as a baker, and his boss allowed him to live in a two bedroom home, across from the Cherokee elementary school, as part of his salary. The family moved in late Oct 1945.

In the summer of 1946, Lon and Thelma Holland paid a visit to Bill and Hazel. They convinced them to move to Corpus Christi, Texas again. The moved occurred in Sep 1946.

Hazel and Bill moved in with the Holland family, while their new home was being built. The Holland family lived on Osage Street in Meadow Park, on the west side of town. Bill had purchased the new home using the GI Bill. It was located at 4742 Archer Street on the south side of Corpus, near the intersection of Ayers and Padre Island Drive. The house was two bedrooms, one bath, 700 square feet of floor space, and a two car detached garage. Bill bought his first car, a 1938 Chevy, to go in the garage. They moved in early in 1947.

While living in Meadow Park, Bill worked at a bakery; but the new home was too far from work. At this point, he made a career change, leaving the baker’s profession, he became a salesman.

In 1947, Hazel became pregnant again, and delivered a “baby boomer”, whom she named Lonnie Jr. Soon thereafter she found employment, as a secretary, at the Foote Engineering company, which was soon acquired by the Brown and Root construction firm. Wanting to improve herself, she then enrolled in a correspondence course in Accounting, with the aim of becoming a CPA. This was in the days when this course could be substituted for a degree in accounting to qualify for the CPA exam. She finished the course, but never took the exam. However she used her new skills in obtaining a position with the Nueces County Auditors office ca 1952, from which she would retire in 1973,

Religion was important in Hazel’s life. She and Bill first attended the Prescott Christian Church until about 1951, when they became founding members of the Bethany Christian Church, much closer to their home on Archer St. They were very active in participating in the Church.

Bill’s career as a salesman had its periods of feast and famine, so they relied on Hazel’s steady income as a base for their financial needs. Although still limited in income, they enjoyed a standard of living far above their parents. One of the advantages of being married to a salesman is that you can easily acquire that which was being sold. While working for Flato Appliances, Bill bought Hazel a Chambers Range, advertised to “Cook with the Gas turned off”. That it was so well insulated that after a short cooking period, the oven and “thermos well” would continue to cook for hours. The range was the pride of Hazel’s kitchen.

Despite her status as a career woman, Hazel managed to successfully raise three sons, all of which completed high school, honorably served in the military, then went on to obtain a college education.

After her youngest son left home in 1966, Hazel and Bill began to re-invent their lives as “empty nesters”. They engaged in extensive travels through the U.S., and spent some time in a square dance club. She did a little painting, with some of her work now framed and hanging on the walls of one of her children’s living room.

In 1972, Hazel began to suffer from an unknown ailment which affected her speech and control of her muscles on her left side. It was eventually diagnosed as a brain tumor. In 1973 she underwent an operation that successfully removed the tumor. With therapy, Hazel was able to recover her speech and most of her muscle control; however it forced her retirement from the auditor’s office.

During this time, it was difficult for Bill to physically take care of his wife, or for them to take care of their home, so they sold their house on Archer St, and moved in with their son Daniel, in his house on Sinclair St. This home was near the bay. They also started attended the First Christian Church of Corpus Christi, though maintaining membership in Bethany Christian.

In early 1978, the cavity crated by the removal of the tumor had filled with water, and was causing pressure on her brain. She was readmitted into the hospital to drain the water. While the operation was a success, she never recovered from the anasethia.

Emma Hazel Holmes passed away 9 Mar 1978, and was buried in the Masonic Mausoleum in the Seaside Memorial Cemetary on Ocean Drive in Corpus Christi.