Contributed by  James E. Stafford, and produced by Susan Stafford and Rick Housh.

Margaret Young Stafford:  A Life of Strength, by James E. Stafford

The following information is largely anecdotal. Where possible, dates and places have been documented by census data, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. Other sources include an incomplete draft of a Young family history written by Mildred Leonard immediately prior to her death June 1, 1986.
--James E. Stafford
December 1998


     My mother, Margaret Young Stafford, was born on a farm near Pauline, Kansas, on January 19, 1892.

     She was a product of a Spartan, rural Kansas upbringing that taught her selflessness, service to others, unshakable Christian faith, and an unswerving code of ethics. Early in her life she was taught frugality and the work ethic that was essential to surviving on a Kansas farm. Everyone did what he or she could for the common welfare of the family. Since my mother was the oldest of the children she participated in the care of the younger children, particularly when her mother was indisposed. Grandmother Young had numerous incidences of illness that incapacitated her for periods of time when the others would have to keep things going. This covered food preparation, childcare, laundry, and farm chores. Small children could gather eggs and older ones did more difficult or physically demanding tasks. The crucible of my mother's childhood forged her into the strong, caring, ethical person she was all her life.

     My Grandfather Young's family had come from Pierre, South Dakota, where they had gone to homestead, then went to Indiana. I remember grandfather as a sweet man with a subtle sense of humor. Grandfather was very fond of cigars but grandmother wouldn't let him smoke in the house. I can remember that grandfather often had a cigar in his month on the screened in porch. For some reason the cigar would get shorter and shorter although it wasn't lit. I found this very curious.

     Grandfather was a good friend to me. He was hard-working and loved his farm animals, pigs, horses, and cattle. One of my early memories was my fascination with a brand new litter of pigs. They looked like red velvet. My grandfather picked one up for me to hold and I remember my disillusionment when I felt the coarse red bristles that looked so soft. Another memory was of his milking cows in the barns and the attendance of the barn cats to the proceedings. He would direct a stream of milk directly from the cow into the mouth of the cats. Amazing. He was very protective of bull snakes because they caught rats. He didn't like to have them in his chicken coops however.

     My grandmother, Fannie Jones Young, was born in Tullahoma, Tennessee, but moved to Concord, New Hampshire at the age of three. Her family relocated to Chicago in 1881 where she graduated from high school, then to Gainesville, FL for her mother's health. She lived there until 1884 when she took a teaching position in Miller, South Dakota. While in Florida, grandmother developed a reputation as a fine seamstress. Later she was to impart these skills to her daughters.

     My grandmother and grandfather met and married in Miller, and moved to Pauline, Kansas, in 1890, where my mother was born.

     When Mother was five years old, the family bought and moved to the farm in Richland, Kansas. This was in 1895; the Young family remained part of the Richland community until 1949. While in Richland, the family attended the Evangelical Brethren Church. This church sponsored Campbell College in Holton, KS.

Margaret Young Stafford     Mother attended this college and when she graduated, she taught in schools in northeast Kansas, as Grandmother Young had done in South Dakota. A Campbell College catalogue for 1909-10 indicates Margaret Young of Richland, Kansas, as a student with the classification of Junior. Mother would have been seventeen then.

     My father, Jack Stafford, grew up in Shawnee county. My paternal grandfather, Watis Elbridge Stafford, and my grandmother, Rebecca Ann McLin Stafford, were both born in Washington, Davies County, Indiana where their parents were part of the agrarian economy. This was near where the Youngs had been living, but the two families didn't know each other until much later. Grandfather and Grandmother Stafford were married in Edwardsport, Knox County, Indiana, and their first child, Eva Mae, was born there in 1888.

     Rebecca McLin's brother, James Grant McLin, married Georgia Ann Houha in Vincennes, Indiana, on September 5, 1893. James and Watis took their brides to northeast Kansas, Watis in about 1889 and James sometime later. They settled on small farms in the Silver Lake area. The two families were very close and their descendants remain in touch today. It has been my privilege to maintain contact with my cousin Gordon McLin until his death this summer. I remain in contact with his son Marshall who has a Christmas tree farm near Silver Lake.

     Mother received her state teaching certificate May 23, 1914 (No. 2389). Records of Nemaha county teachers employed, 1883-1921, Nemaha Country Superintendent of Public Instruction indicate that Margaret Young taught in the school year 1911-12 with a monthly salary of 55 dollars per month, in 1912-13 for 60 dollars per month, 1914-15 for 70 dollars per month, all at District 44 in Nemaha County. It indicated that she held a "state" teaching certificate. It was somewhere in this time period that she met my father-to-be.

The Years in Rancagua

     My father had entered business by that time. After running a business college briefly, he was employed by the Santa Fe Railway in La Junta, Colorado. While in Colorado, he had an opportunity to join the Braden Copper Co. in South America. He jumped at the opportunity.

     So it was that before he left he came to Topeka, and he and my mother were married there March 11, 1916. The second day after they were married, father departed for Rancagua, Chile, South America. Mother finished her school teaching commitment and in August of 1916, she left to join my father.

     For a young Kansas girl that had never left the state, the idea of traveling by herself on a month long trip to a foreign country must have been overwhelming. She traveled by rail by way of Chicago to New York and then took a boat down the East Coast of the United States, through the Panama Canal, and thence down the west Coast of South America to Valparaiso, Chile.

     My father met the boat and after a brief visit to the capital of their new country, they proceeded to Rancagua where the offices of the Braden Copper Company were located.

     Rancagua was semi-tropical and had no snow in the winter, which in this hemisphere was in June, July, and August. The mines were up in the Andes as was the smelter, which extracted the copper from the ore. The company hospital was also at the mine site which near Sewell. A narrow gauge railway connected Rancagua and Sewell. Also near Sewell was a resort area we called Banos for the hot springs there.

     Braden had built a walled compound in Rancagua to house its management employees. In the center of the compound was a tennis court and the homes were arranged around it. There was a small schoolhouse at the back of the compound and our home was close to the school. Mother taught the school when she first arrived until later when the company hired another teacher. The school used the Calvert Course, a curriculum purchased by Braden, which was originally intended as a correspondence course.

     Both my sister Barbara and I, born in Rancagua, attended this school. Six years after mother went to Chile, Barbara was born and two years after that I was. We were both delivered at the company hospital in Sewell. Mother was in Chile for thirteen years, Barbara for nine, and I was there for seven years.

     Because of the small number of students and the individual attention this made possible, by the time Barbara and I returned to the States, we were two years ahead of our age group. This posed a few problems for me, not only in participation in athletics but socially as well.

Margaret Young Stafford     The Braden community was international in nature. There was a lot of entertaining and we have pictures of formal parties and costume balls that, of course, we were too young to participate in. We also entertained at home. In our dining room there was a button under the rug at the kitchen end of the table where my mother would sit. She could press this button with her foot and summon a maid from the kitchen. I was most impressed with this. My mother blossomed in this milieu. She became a popular hostess, learned to play bridge and rode her own horse. Mother had learned to ride on the family farm but this was a whole new thing with riding clothes, English saddles, and horses trained for riding rather than work. By the time mother returned to the States for good, she spoke Spanish fluently and was an expert bridge player. After my father's death and our return to Topeka she taught both Spanish and bridge.

     Mother and father made two trips back to the States as a family. The first one was when I was a baby and I remember little about it, of course. The second one was when I was about five and I do have some memories. My dad had given me my very own pocketknife as we were leaving for the States and he tried to teach me to whittle with it. We were on the boat and wood to whittle was hard to come by. A crew member took my dad to a false funnel on the ship that was used for storage. In this compartment was a small cannon looking thing that really captured my attention. It was used in cases of emergency to fire a line between ships for rescue purposes. I don't remember much about the whittling but I seem to remember having a whole lot of difficulty saying the word.

Margaret Young Stafford     My mother and father (and therefore Barbara and I) always traveled the Grace Line boats to and from the States. My mother's favorite captain was a Captain Parker. Mother and Captain Parker always had a contest on one night of the voyage to determine who could eat the most curried chicken. Since mother was a very small woman, I can't imagine how my mother could compete on an even basis but I have been told that she could hold her own.

     During this trip, while in Topeka, my sister and I contracted scarlet fever. We had an apartment on West 7th Street, just east of Topeka Boulevard. The apartment was quarantined and father had to stay out of it or join us for the duration of the quarantine. Since he was needed in the outside world we had to be content with visits through closed windows, while mother was committed to full-time nursing for two sick children. I can remember that it was all right for us to have chewing gum. My father bought us a box, not a package, of chewing gum. We had never had so much gum at one time. The sad ending to this amusing memory is that when the quarantine was lifted and the apartment was fumigated, the gum was left behind and couldn't be used. Such a loss.

     There was a tennis court in the center of the compound. Both my parents played. My dad also had golf clubs but I don't know where he played. Perhaps in Santiago (where he belonged to the Hulein Masonic Lodge). They were left-handed clubs although I have been told he wrote and did everything else right-handed. Dad shot doves in Chile and was a fly fisherman. He had a hand-made Charles Boswell (London) side by side shotgun in a heavy leather case. It had two sets of barrels. The case was lined with blue velvet and there was a gold medallion with dad's initials (the same as mine) on the stock. It had two dummy cartridges for dry firing.

     I also inherited a long three-section split bamboo fly rod that would be a treasure today. Unfortunately it was grist for the mill of my early fishing experiences in Kansas and didn't survive. I used the top two sections as a cane pole without a reel. I don't recall ever fishing with my father but perhaps I did. I hope so.

James E. Stafford     We had a smooth hair pointer named Tommy in Rancagua. He was my father's bird dog but he was very friendly and he was my buddy. We also had a short palm tree and a pepper tree in our front yard. Facing the house, there was a fence on the left and at the back. The house had a large screened in porch across the back. There was a large ice chest there and I have a memory of a live lobster on a block of ice in this chest. I was very concerned about the future of the lobster, which required his being plunged live into a cauldron of boiling water.

     In early spring of 1929, father had been selected for a promotion to Vice President in the New York office of the Braden Copper Company. He had some residual work to accomplish involving travel to Bolivia and they decided that mother would take the two of us to the States and visit family while he finished his work in South America. We would then establish our new home in New York City.

Visiting Bolivia: Letter of November 20, 1928

     Mother received word that father had pneumonia and was seriously ill in Valparaiso. She considered returning to South America by air. There was a plane that took passengers from Miami to Chile at that time. Before she could conclude her plans father's condition turned critical. We were riding a train west toward Oregon when mother received a telegram that father had passed away. I can remember that she excused herself after reading the telegram and left us for a little while. She returned looking very sad but trying valiantly to maintain her composure for our sakes. She gave us the news as gently as she could and we were all joined in ineffable grief as we began to realize our loss.

Back to Kansas

     We were en route to mother's sister's home in Salem, Oregon and she decided to proceed there while she tried to put her life together for her children. Again, this Kansas girl was faced with a whole new role in life.

     One of mother's closest friends from Rancagua was going to Nevada to get a divorce from her husband. She had two children about the ages of my sister and I. She wanted mother to join her for a year. We shared a home in Carson City, Nevada. Life was difficult for mother and the faith she had learned as a child in Kansas was an enormous strength to her then as it was for all the rest of her life. Barbara and I were seven and nine and adjusted to our new mode of living very quickly. We rented a large house across the street from the statehouse from a man named Seltzer. Mr. Seltzer also gave us piano lessons. While we lived there, they poured concrete sidewalks in front of our house. This was about 1929. I attended the third grade in Carson City.

     Mother decided to return to Kansas where both her and father's parents lived. On the way we visited another family from Rancagua who had returned to the States earlier and bought a large sheep ranch in Texas. After a pleasant visit, riding horses and renewing acquaintances, we returned to Kansas.

     It wasn't apparent to either Barbara or me how difficult it must have been for mother to make the transition from a relatively affluent life style to her suddenly reduced circumstances. A well meaning family member had advised her unwisely on some investments that soon became worthless. She rented a small house at 1420 West Street (now Washburn) in Topeka, Kansas. She bought furniture at Karlan's and we started a totally new life. We were actually quite poor although my sister and I weren't aware of this. Mother didn't want to work full time while we were so small but she was able to have some income from bridge lessons and substitute teaching. It was only later that I realized how frugal she was. She made some of our clothes including shirts for me that I thought were special. We had no car. We had a coal furnace and mother kept it going by herself. We walked the three blocks to Central Park Grade School and later about eight blocks to Boswell Junior High School.

     Her love for her children was unconditional and total. There was never any doubt of this for my sister or me. She taught us in many ways but strongest among these were the lessons we learned by example. One little story that comes to mind happened when mother was downtown on her lunch hour. She wanted a candy bar and there was no one to wait on her. She had to get back to work so she put the coin on the cash register, took the candy bar and left.

     Barbara and I attended Central Park grade school. It was close enough so we were able to walk. When we got home from school, mother would always be there with a snack ready for us. I remember having Horlick's malted milk or hot Ovaltine. The malted milk was prepared without ice cream. There was always homemade cookies or graham crackers with a cocoa frosting.

     One summer after I had learned to fish in the Central Park Lakes I woke up on a Sunday morning. I told my mother I didn't feel too well and thought I should stay home from Sunday school (at the Central Congregational Church). Mother said all right. I stayed in bed until after Sunday school would have started and then told mother that I felt a whole lot better and that I thought I would go fishing. She said, all right but you should wait until Sunday school is over. She knew what I was up to. And I knew she knew. And she knew that I knew that she knew. A lesson learned and no cross words or confrontation. This was very typical of my mother. I not only loved her for her unconditional love but she was my best friend as well.

     I completed Central Park Grade School in 1933 and mother enrolled me in Boswell Junior High School. Sometime after my fourteenth birthday, mother bought a used Pontiac and taught my sister and I to drive. My mother was less than five feet tall and I was small for my age (fourteen). When I was behind the wheel, I had to look through the steering wheel to see the road. With my mother sitting beside me I had the thought that people who saw us pass by would wonder if there were anyone driving the car at all. Driving an automobile opened up a whole new way of life for me. I developed an almost irrational love of the independence and excitement of driving that would last (haunt me) the rest of my life.

Margaret Young Stafford     When I entered high school, mother rented another home, this one at 1244 Clay Street. Somewhat larger and nicer and a good deal closer to the high school that both Barbara and I were attending. Mother had been doing some volunteer work with the YWCA in a job which included screening job opportunities which were offered to women who needed employment. When I graduated from Boswell and enrolled in Topeka High School, mother saw a job offer from the Provident Association (later Family Service of Topeka) and asked her supervisor if it would be appropriate for her to apply for the position. When she was assured this was ethical, mother applied for and got the job. The Provident Association was in a brick building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Jackson, although they moved later to a building on Topeka Boulevard. This began a labor of love that mother followed until she was seventy years old, beginning with routine clerical work and growing into progressively more responsible positions. She was the office manager/bookkeeper at the time of her retirement.

     When I finished High School, mother rented the top floor duplex at 215 Clay Street. I lived here until after my military service in World War Two and my subsequent marriage.

     Grandmother Young came to live with mother when she was eighty-four. Mother cared for her for eight years and worked at the same time; she honored her mother and gave her the best care and love in her power. Grandmother died in mother's home at the age of ninety-two. At the end of these eight years mother was exhausted. She took some private time to herself and recovered physically. The long arduous grind left its mark on mother, however. Years later, when she was part of our home in Dayton, Ohio it became apparent that she had a deep dread of not being self-sufficient and therefor a burden to us. My mother was fiercely independent until her death in our home in Dayton in 1969.

     After Grandmother Young passed away, Mother moved to an apartment in the nine hundred block on Huntoon. It was smaller but adequate to her needs. It was directly across the street from the Presbyterian Church and although mother hadn't belonged to the Presbyterian Church before, the convenience caused her to attend it.

     After Grandmother Young was gone Mother agreed to visit us in Mobile, Alabama and brought the children with her. Mother always traveled by train. Susan, my youngest daughter, remembers the trip well, including the scratchy upholstery.

     Susan and mother had a special relationship. When Susan was quite young they played some simple card games. Susan had an interesting view of the rules sometimes. She tells me of grandmother saying that she didn't care if we played Susan's rules, or the regular rules, but that they should pick one set of rules and stick to them. I'm not sure that at the time Susan saw the wisdom in this, and I'm equally sure it was counterproductive in terms of results. Another memory Susan has of this time is always having "tea" when Susan visited her grandmother, chocolate cake and Dr. Pepper. The strength of that memory persists to this day, along with the pleasure of playing "dress-up" with clothes from Mother's old trunk. Mother made her a full-length red skirt for this purpose; today Susan has a long red skirt and every time she wears it, she thinks of that other one, and playing "Pioneer Woman Caught in a Tornado" in it.

     Mother was an excellent cook and we all had our special recipes we liked. One recipe that everyone liked especially was her Spanish meatballs. I don't know who started this, Susan or I, but the technique for eating Spanish meatballs with mashed potatoes involved making them come out even. Sometimes it was necessary to take a little more mashed potato to finish up the rest of the Spanish meatballs. And then, oddly enough, there would be a little mashed potato left over, and it would be necessary to take a little more. Well, you get the idea.

Life in Ohio

     The summer the tornado devastated Topeka, my mother was visiting my sister in Los Altos, California. My Uncle Frank Stafford managed to get to my mother's apartment and discovered that it had been badly damaged and exposed to the environment. He was able to get a storage company to come and salvage her belongings, putting them in storage. This was a near miracle considering the widespread desolation of homes and the need for storage services. When I think back on this, it occurs to me that it's a typically Kansas thing. Family helping family. One just did this as a matter of course.

     Mother finished her visit in California and then came to visit us in Dayton, Ohio. We wanted her to make her home with us but she was reluctant to commit to a long-term arrangement. We finally agreed that we would try it for awhile and see how it went. I was attending graduate school and the children, who lived with their mother in Topeka, came to Dayton for the graduation ceremonies. When it came time for the children to return, Susan expressed an interest in staying in Dayton. When we were working out the arrangements, mother and I talked of the impact a teen-ager would have on our orderly existence. Since my wife and I both worked during the day, mother's role became critical to Susan's staying with us.

     Susan did stay, and she and mother became even closer that they had always been. I think it was a good thing for both Susan and mother and sure was for me. Susan finished high school in Dayton, distinguishing herself on the debating team and making us all very proud. She entered Bowling Green of Ohio after high school.

     Mother continued her love for the game of bridge. She occasionally filled in when we played with friends. Three of our friends' wives started playing with mother on a regular basis and she would take her turn hostessing the group. Mother played a quiet, very competent game of bridge and it was a privilege to play with her.

     Then Mother had developed a heart problem and was under a doctor's care. One evening she made a special effort to say goodnight to Susan, my wife Pat and I, and then went back to her room to retire. A short time later, Pat called me and I found mother unconscious. We called the emergency medical technicians and they rushed her to the hospital. They were unable to revive her, and her life of service to others was over. This was in June of 1969. It was a very difficult time for all of us. She died as she had lived, quietly and with consideration for everyone but herself.

     Mother's body was airlifted to Topeka, Kansas for the funeral and burial in Memorial Park Cemetery -- my mother's first airplane ride.

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