Virginia Little will be 101 on July 29 of this year, and she might just be the most amazing centenarian that I have ever known. My visit with her this past week was truly a delight, and from the time I first stepped into her beautiful historic home until I bid the dear lady goodbye as she sat in the swing on the stately front porch, I must admit that I was in total awe. Her wit, her kindness, and her love of life seem not to have dimmed at all over the course of the past one hundred years.
I suppose I actually planned my visit around the fact that it was Mrs. Little’s husband, Joe Little, who was instrumental in bringing the rodeo to Dublin, and I assumed that I would be picking the woman’s brain about those days in long ago Dublin.
Of course, you will remember what it was that Steinbeck had to say about the “best laid plans…”
Our conversation flowed as fast and as varied as most conversations and before I had typed my last note, I had come to understand that there is way, way more to Mrs. Virginia Littlepage Beever Little than just a rodeo, much, much more…so I decided to go back and see if I could find the beginning.
Virginia Littlepage was born in 1914 to Noel and Mable Littlepage, and her growing up years occurred in Dublin, Texas, where her high school years were spent during the Great Depression.
“The people in our class had a pretty nice life, but it was very bad during the Depression. When I was a senior in high school, we decided that the Depression did not matter; we were going to make our last year of high school memorable, and we did.
“Back then, they played the football games in the afternoon. We’d get together after the game and chip in on the food so that we could have a wiener roast or something like that in the evenings. I don’t know how the boys could play so hard and then join us, but they did, and we all had a great senior year.”
Virginia Littlepage was the Valedictorian of her senior class, which provided her with a scholarship for her first year of college, and she traded Dublin for Abilene, where she attended Hardin Simmons University.
“Of course, I should have gone to Tarleton like so many of the kids did, but it was only a junior college at the time. I went to Hardin Simmons that first year, and then the Depression really hit, and I had to quit school.”
The Higginbotham store in Dublin offered the young Virginia a job, and she took it!
“I took journalism at Hardin Simons, and I certainly never intended to teach…but then I had to stop my college because of the Depression. I had an aunt who lived in Pearsall, Texas, about fifty miles from San Antonio. My aunt and uncle secured a place for me to teach there, and I met my husband there…my FIRST husband,” she laughed.
The lady (who cannot possibly be 100 years old) sobered immediately as she explained that her young husband, George Henry Beever, was killed in an accident while they lived in Pearsall. She was expecting what would be the couple’s first and only child, George Ann.
“I left there before she was born and came back home to Dublin, where I stayed with my parents. I didn’t finish my college degree until after George Ann was born. I went back and forth to Howard Payne from Dublin. My wonderful mother kept George Ann for me, and I continued to stay with them.”
I stopped my typing here long enough to mention that the cars of that day had no air conditioners in them and that the trip from Dublin to Brownwood could not have been an easy one.
“My sister had been working here in Dublin, and she decided that she would get her degree so we went together, and Sam Wolfe went with us.”
“So it was a good time?” I asked.
I understood exactly what she meant when she smiled slightly and said softly, “It was fine, but it was hard.”
And then the young girl who had never intended to teach (do I understand that one!) became a music teacher in the Comanche school system.
“Bob Carpenter was my good friend, and he and his wife, Mildred, were the reason that I got a place to teach there. Mildred had lived in Dublin before she married, and we knew each other. There wasn’t a place in Comanche for me to live, and a man built a little house for me; however, it was way across town from the high school. The next year, I was able to get a place nearer the school.”
Of course, at this point I had to stop and see how many of the teachers we had in common. Mrs. Little remembers Hattie Brightman, Marguarite Ross, Pallie Palmer, and Jewel Werner, all people that I knew well myself at one time.
And then the country moved from the Great Depression to the Great War, WWII.
“When the war started, all of the women went off to work…and they never came home,” the quick witted little lady laughed.
Obviously, the men left first, and if the country was going to continue to function, the women didn’t have a lot of choice. They had to step up and fill in where once there had been men to take care of earning the living and keeping the wheels turning, so to speak.
“When the war started, classes became huge, way too large for one person to be able to handle. At that time George Ann was in kindergarten, and the teacher had a yard full of kids, way too many. I probably should have been living in Dublin where my parents were, but I had a little girl, and I was determined to do things on m own.
“I had a lady who stayed with me and helped me, and then the war started. All of the women went to war, and I had first one helper and then another. One day I went to pick up George Ann from kindergarten, and she wasn’t there. Of course, I was absolutely terrified, but the poor teacher just had too many children to take care of all of them.”
Thankfully, George Ann and her young friend, Joe Wayne, were unharmed, and probably had no idea that even the police were searching for them. They had simply seen a man ride by on a horse and had decided to follow him, intrigued, I’m sure.
“After that, I decided to call my parents in Dublin and ask if I could come home. Comanche asked me to stay until they found someone to take my place and before I returned to Dublin, that Superintendent called me and said that he had a place for me.
“I was a music teacher at that time. Then, in later years, our school became smaller, and the music went to the band director. My degree was in English so I went to junior high English, but I did get to teach one class of girls’ chorus.”
It was at this point that Vera Ivie Nasser, the woman who helps care for Mrs. Little, spoke up.
“She taught me 3-4 years of music, and I was in her Christmas programs for years. I was also in her junior high English class so she is pretty special to me. She’s a little lady, but she had command without having to use a lot of discipline, and we loved her.”
“Those were good years. I’ve heard people say they don’t know how anyone can stand to teach, but I loved it…” the former teacher trailed off. “I don’t remember exactly when I quit, but I know I aged out under the old system, and they asked me not to leave.”
When George Ann was nine, Virginia Littlepage Beever married Joe Little, Jr. in Dublin, and the couple purchased the home in which she still resides.
“There was a club of young men…Dublin was full of older men…but these young men decided that they would start a club. It was known as the Sportsmen’s Club. At that time Mr. Colburn had his ranch (the Lightning C) down here, and he took his livestock and equipment from Dublin to New York. The guys in the Sportsmen’s Club decided that it would be a great thing for Dublin to host a rodeo each year before the stock left town so they went to see Mr. Colburn about that very thing. That was the start of the Dublin Rodeo!”
“When we first started, we had the Rodeo in the park. Then, they built Colburn Bowl. During the rodeo, people came from everywhere. Everybody had somebody who came to see the rodeo, and most people had people staying with them. There weren’t enough rooms in Dublin,” she laughed. “Even the porches were full of cots!”
“They had wonderful parades,” Vera entered the conversation again. “I remember the girls with their fancy western outfits on the horses. I always wished I could wear those outfits and ride a horse.”
Mrs. Little went on to talk about the money the rodeo brought into the town of Dublin, how wonderful those thousands of people were for the economy, and she and George continued to make their home in the little town. It was easy for me to see that they also made their mark upon the town as they worked to make Dublin an even better place to live.