St. Andrew's host long-time Taftians and quinoa and conversation
(Editor's note: Rev. Heather Mueller is the priest-in-charge at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. She invited some long-time Taft residents to gather last week and share stories about growing up in Taft and the community's rich history. Here is her account).
One of the first things I did when I came to Taft in June of 2013 was to visit the Oil Museum. As I got to know people in this town I became very aware of the interest in the history. Many of the people here in Taft have lived here all or most of their lives and the connections to events and experiences in the past days, abound.
I began to hear the stories of school days and childhoods so I thought it would be great fun to hear the longtime residents remember their former days in Taft. I looked forward to the opportunity to hear the stories which came out of the memories and lives like moments of gold.
The gathering took place at St Andrew's Episcopal Church on May 9 and we started with sharing a meal.
Bud Robert Sewell and his wife Carol came down from Ridgecrest.
Esther Dopyera Livingston, Don Maxwell, Verna Rees Black, Bill Black and Don Maxwell joined, too, and all had some wonderful stories to tell. Doug Keeler was present and took some wonderful photos of the people at the gathering.
Mabel Mitchell was not able to come but she has shared many moments. She lived 7 miles away from Taft in the Honolulu Hills with her big family and Lierly's plunge was an important part of her childhood. Mabel speaks about the Basque sheep herders who would regularly come past her home and the ways her mother showed kindness to these people. It was very often that her mother would provide meals for all sorts of travelers and people with broken down cars.
Esther Dopyera (a Slavic name) Livingston tells us that her father was a builder of the wooden derricks. There were 6 men on the crew and they could get one built for Standard Oil in about a week. Esther had 5 siblings and she lived at 219 Oak street when she was a girl.
Esther spoke of A. W. Noon and his role as Supervisor for the 4th District, the planning he did for the Itinerant workers housing project and his role at the radio store. The daughter of A.W Noon, Frances Noon Damon, has placed a bench in his memory at the Oil Museum and the organ at St. Andrew's Church is given in his name. She still comes regularly to Taft from Dana Point because she is involved in the ongoing care of Noon Park.
Verna Frances Rees Black speaks of her early school days at St Mary's when she , her mother, Marie, and her sister lived on 4th Street. Verna spoke about the many ways her mother worked to provide for her daughters. She was the cook for the Fire House crew and this facility provided a place for the family to live.
The USO United Service Organization was active in 1942, and Verna's mother married a soldier from Gardner Field.
Robert “Bud” Sewell had so many good memories of Taft. He moved here in 1927 when his father was called to teach history and algebra at Taft High School. They lived at 608 Philippine Street and the house had been owned previously by a bootlegger so they witnessed some cautious knocks on their door for some time after they moved in!
His father Edward Sewell was involved in the community in many ways but one of the most memorable was his role as coach of the Taft High School Wildcat football in 1930 when they were the Valley Champions. Eight year old Robert, was the mascot for the team the two years that the team beat Bakersfield and won the Valley Championship.
Bud and his family were active members of St Andrew's. He and his mother, Pauline Stahl, sang in the choir and his mother did an enchilada dinner as a fundraiser for the church once a year.
One of the most interesting stories involves the time his mother brought Marion Anderson to sing in the Taft High School auditorium. After the concert they had to take Marion Anderson back to Bakersfield as she was not allowed to stay in Taft. This sad scenario was true for some of the athletes who came to Taft to play on various teams over the years and African American soldiers at Gardner Field were not welcome in Taft.
Bud has many memories of Taft and even earthquakes and the big flood.
Bill Black came in 1936 and his father worked for the United States Geological service. Bill has a number of memories about the lack of water in town. ( The only people with a green lawn were the Dykses and he was the doctor who could afford the water) He spoke of Taft as an island surrounded by the Jameson Trust. The people could not own land or build in those days but with his father as a contractor he was able to drive a car at an early age...17... and getting gas during the war was not a problem for him.
Don Maxwell was there and he was a great gift to have as part of the evening., As an historian he was a great help in putting some names to faces in the St Andrew's Photo albums.
Many histories have been written about Taft but the real agenda for the gathering last Friday was to get together and reminisce and have fun...That we did. It was a high spirited walk down memory lane and to hear about the connections amongst families was a great part of the fun.
We have another evening planned for June 26 at 6 p.m.
Verna Black is going to make a Cajun dinner and we are inviting everyone in the community to come. It will be in the St Andrew's Parish Hall at 703 5th street.
You are invited to come and share Taft stories or just listen and be entertained by the Long timer