Article and photos by Pat O’Connor
The East Mt. Vernon neighborhood runs from Harry to Pawnee and Oliver to Woodlawn. Many of its homes were built for working and middle-class families in the post-World War II housing boom. The natural setting at the edge of these neighborhoods colored the adventures.
“I lived on Bunting Drive, which is off of Mt. Vernon, kind of by Cessna (Park). My mom was one of the original Rosie the Riveters. She worked at Beech — she really riveted — when my dad was gone to the War.
“She said it was hot and that it was hard work. She had good friends there and she liked the company back then. Mr. and Mrs. Beech were good to their employees. She worked first shift, and when we moved into that house after my dad came back, my dad worked second shift. He would pick me up for lunch from school every day. I went to Booth Elementary which no longer exists. Dad would take me to Spears Restaurant. We ate pretty fast. It was very nice for me. When I got home from school, my mom would be there. That went on for a lot of years and then he went to first shift.
“I remember the kids across the street. Sometimes we would play with them and sometimes we would be throwing rocks at each other. It was a typical growing-up neighborhood. I rode my bike. When we first moved in, there were just fields east of Woodlawn. I remember my cat used to bring home big rats from the fields.
“One of the only things that was east of us was Morley’s. That was a Dairy Queen. We went to Moo-to-You, a little drive-in, and Pizza Hut over on Kellogg. When they first came out with pizza, that’s all everyone loved.
“I took dance lessons with my best friend, Sharon. Our mothers made costumes for us and they were exotic. The studio was on East Douglas, and you had to walk up a long, dark flight of stairs. I remember after practice, we would all go out to get hamburgers. I never felt in need of anything. We had two incomes. It was unusual at that time for mothers to work. Good income, good pension; I think my dad got laid off once but not anything like they do now.
“I started working when I was 15 at W. T. Grant at Eastgate Shopping Center. I was babysitting for the accounts manager and she asked me if I would like to go to work there. It was a good opportunity to work with her in the accounting area — gave me money, gave me experience. She was kind. I drove to work. Back then, you could get a learner’s permit at 15 and drive to work or school. My dad bought me a car. I think it was a ‘56 Ford. It leaked transmission fluid a lot. I worked after school and on weekends all day. It was like a department store. Eastgate had the latest fashion stores.”
“My dad farmed at Rose Hill, Thunder Road and Tawakoni. We moved to Wichita in the spring of ’50. They had a terrible drought ’48, ‘49 and ’50, and that pretty much wiped them out. He bought a house on South Pinecrest for $11,500. When we moved in, they only had half of the street poured.
“I was an indifferent student at Allen Elementary. I read a lot. The bookmobile was one of the most important things that ever happened. When I was five or six years old walking two blocks up and getting two or three books for the weekend … I was one of the few that went. I liked Western stuff, Wichita and Kansas history, where I learned where everything started — Kit Carson and the Santa Fe Trail.
“My father was a master carpenter and a cabinet maker and the best painter in the world. My mother started working when I was six or seven years old as a secretary. She worked for Duane Wallace at Cessna and she worked for Dan Carney as his secretary. We had a woman named Dolores who kind of took care of us kids until my mom got home. She was with us for five years. She was a black lady as tough as nails.
“We spent most of our time roaming around out by our house before the Turnpike was built in ‘53 or ’54. They opened McConnell (Air Force Base) about that same time. We got to watch the B-47s take off over our house. You could see the pilot sitting in the cockpit. We would go to McConnell to the swimming pool and the bowling alley.
“My first job, I worked at Park Lane Plaza for a $1.25 an hour, putting stock out in the back room. Later on, just out of high school, I worked at Beech in the mailroom and eventually worked up to being Mrs. Beech’s driver. She picked her driver from kids who worked in the mailroom. I had been there six or eight months. She called me into her office and said she wanted to get a new driver. She interviewed me and, on the way out, she said ‘By the way, quit biting your fingernails.’ I never did it again.”
These interviews were conducted for the Old Neighborhood Project. Previous articles can be found at theactiveage.com. Contact Pat O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-832-0309.