Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lee Earl Hefley & Thressa Irene Stegman Hefley

Many of my summers were spent visiting Downs, Kansas where my paternal grandparents lived. It is a small farming town in North Central Kansas. Not only was the Kansas landscape different than any place I had ever lived, the small town of Downs offered a  uniqueness like no other. I loved how everyone knew everyone else and the coziness of the town.

My paternal grandparents were two fun loving people. I always had a good time with them. They took us camping, fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming and just out exploring the world. My Grandmother was always making some kind of handiwork. Knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, quilting, sewing, painting, you name it she could do it.  My grandfather spent hours in his basement "piddling around" making the most wonderful things out of wood. He was a self taught master carver who even had some of his pieces featured in a magazine. Some of my most treasured items were made by my grandparents.


The Hefley's arrived in Downs, Kansas in 1873. My grandfather Lee Hefley grew up on the farm homesteaded by his grandfather Arthur W. Hefley. Lee's parent's John and Grace Simpson Hefley resided on the farm for 60 years where they farmed and raised livestock.

Lee Earl Hefley was born May 22, 1917 on the farm north of Downs, Kansas. He was the youngest and fourth child of John and Grace Simpson Hefley. Their first child died at birth in 1910, Mildred Mae was born August 25, 1912;  and Howard Henry was born December 17, 1914. All children were born on the farm.

Lee grew up on the Hefley farm Homestead. His father was a farmer and raised cattle, horses, pigs and feed. He made most of his money from cattle. The family was poor and I would assume all the kids helped out around the farm.

Lee  and his older sister and brother attended a one room school in District 34 called Rose Valley.  Lee started attending Rose Valley at the age of 6 during the school year of 1923-1924. 11 children attended Rose Valley during this time between the ages of 6 and 14. Lee must have been a dedicated student as he never missed a day of school. I can image him and his brother and sister walking the few miles down the dirt road to school everyday carrying their lunch pails.

In his youth Lee taught  himself woodworking. He could often be found sitting beside a tree with a chunk of wood whittling away.  Later in life he became a Master Woodcarver.

Lee attended Downs High School and participated in track and football. He continued to never miss a day of school and graduated in 1935.
Lee Hefley- Downs High School Football
Lee worked various jobs in his youth. His Uncle Ernie Simpson owned a pool hall and Lee worked for him at the pool hall and unloading coal. Lee also worked for different trucking companies driving trucks. He work for Jacking Company and also Mets Trucking Company.

Lee’s right fingers were almost cut off by a large buzz saw while cutting and processing firewood. The cut went through the palm toward the index finger. Dr. Hardig at Beloit put his hand together. Another Dr. wanted to just cut it off. Lee carried a rubber ball and worked this rubber ball to get the use of his hand back. Lee and Irene were dating during this time.

Lee had dark brown hair, kinky curly, his brother's hair was curly but not not as curly, and Mae’s hair was wavy. Lee may have taken his hair after mother. Lee had brown eyes and was 6ft and 170lbs in his late teens.


Theresa Irene Stegman was born July 29, 1917 in Ellis, Ellis County, Kansas.  She was the first child of Adam and Ora Parsons Stegman. Adam worked for the Union Pacific Rail Road. Irene was about 5 when Union Pacific RR went on strike in 1922 and the workers went to work for Missouri Pacific Rail Road in Downs, Osborne County, Kansas. Adam went to Downs first and then Irene and her mother followed later.  Irene remembered riding the train with her mother Ora from Ellis to Downs and seeing the Downs Train Station and Gazebo for the first time. She thought it was so beautiful.

A two story house on Ray Street was the first house they lived in. She went to the school that was down the street. Then they moved to a little house north of town. Her father, Adam, always said Ora would move them every time the moon rose. The school she attended was torn down and she went to the school up on the hill. (Where the Downs school is now.)

In 1925 when Irene was seven her sister was born February 25, 1925 in Downs. Jewel Nadine Stegman was born while Irene was at school and Irene remembered sitting on the front steps of the house after she got home that day and a friend of hers asking if she had seen the stork and she told them no she had been at school. 

Five weeks later the family can be found living in Grant Township, Osage County, Kansas on the Kansas State Census of 1925. Adam is listed as a machinist for the Missouri Pacific Rail Road. A current rail road map shows BNSF now goes through Osage City, Kansas. I don't know why or how long they were there but was surprised to find them there in 1925. It seems Adam had to move around at times for the rail road. I can only image how hard it must have been for Ora to pack up and move her family not long after giving birth. My great grandmother seemed to have a, make the most out of life attitude so I could see her just doing what needed to be done.

By 1930 they are back living in Downs according the the Census. The 1930's brought the dust bowl years which brought black blizzards. These were severe dust storms that covered everything and could get into the smallest cracks of homes. They would blow in large dark clouds and reduce visibility to a few feet.  Irene said she remembered the "Dirty Thirties" well. When a black blizzard would come through the school would close and they would stay home and play music and dance. After the storm they would have to help clean all the dust and sand out of the school. [They lived in town so I can only imagine it was much worse on the Hefley farm north of town.] There was not a lot of work in the 1930's so Irene and Jewell felt very lucky their dad had a rail road paycheck.

Irene and Jewel shared a room and slept in a double bed. Many mornings they would wake up with a dog between them. Adam and Ora loved the outdoors and  would drag Irene to the river to go fishing. Irene was not a fan of the outdoors and would get mad and sit in the car and read. Many times after supper they would go for a ride in the car. Irene and Jewel loved to stop for ice cream and loved to get “Out West.” The 7th Day Adventist had a settlement and a big garden out there.

Adam and Ora lived in Concordia for a few years. Jewel went to high school and they had an apartment. They closed up but kept the house in Downs.  Then they moved to Kansas City for Adam  to work with Missouri Pacific Railroad. Adam retired in Kansas City and got a Railroad pension. Ora worked at Montgomery Ward in Kansas City to get social security. Irene lived in a boarding house while they were gone. [My grandmother told me this and I have tried to figure out the years for this time. I am guessing Jewell went to High School starting in 1939 and graduated in 1943. Since Irene lived in a boarding house it had to be before 1940 when she was married and the  Stegman family was on the 1940 census in Downs.  So I am guessing they moved to Concordia and Kansas City in the late 1930's, maybe between 1937-1939.]

When Irene was in her 20’s she had brown, straight hair and green eyes. She was 5’2” and was between 120lbs-130lbs.  She was an average student and was into everything. She was a cheerleader at Downs High School and had a cheer leading club. They wore purple skirts, white blouses and purple beanie hats. There were the Downs Dragons. One time a boy took her hat and she chased him all the way across the grass to get it back. She doesn’t remember why but one time she marched the cheerleaders across the basketball court with a toilet bowl plunger in her hand. I can image my grandmother doing this with a big smile on her face.
Irene Stegman in her front yard in Downs, Kansas

Irene graduated from Downs High School in 1936. She wanted to be a beautician; Ora took her by train to Kansas City but would not let her stay because the city was dirty. On the way back they stopped in Lansing to visit  a friend named Minnie. Minnie gave her a job. She then worked in Lansing Kansas for Minnie Payton at the grocery store she and her husband owned. She worked there for a couple of years and then came home because she hurt her arm. She then worked at Darby Laughton’s Drug Store as a clerk. She worked every day from 8 a.m. till night, she went home for lunch. She did everything- sold merchandise, made sodas, decorated windows, and made malts and Sundays. The drug store got the first soft serve ice cream maker in the area. Irene and Bill, the owner’s son, would decide which flavor ice cream they wanted to make. They would crush up peppermint or cut up strawberries for the ice cream. For all this she made $10 a week.


Lee was working for Mets Trucking Company and Irene was working for Laughton's Drug store when they started dating.
Lee Hefley and Irene Stegman

I will be writing about their life together soon.