Phyllis Poper life story by her son Jim Poper,
Phyllis Levonne Lawton was born in Emporia, Kansas on March 28th 1922. She had two older brothers and her younger sister is living in Arkansas. When she turned four years old, their family moved south to Kiowa, near the Oklahoma border where her father was postmaster. Kiowa is named for the Indian tribe, and there were Indians living in town, but they lived and dressed like everyone else.
One year the Mayor asked the local Indian families to present a program about their heritage. Phyllis still recalls this event and said it was privileged to witness. The men wore deerskin pants and played on their grand parent’s tom-toms. The women wore deerskin dresses, well worn moccasins and necklaces of seeds. They did a side-step in a circle around the center and young boys wearing loin cloths danced a stomping dance in the center.
Phyllis also recalls another major event in Kiowa that left an impression on her as a child. It was when the Rodeo came to town. The female star was Fox Hastings. Fox became your Phyllis’s idol and she decided then and there that she wanted to be a cowgirl when she grew up, just like Fox Hastings! Phyllis still loves horses and Rodeos.
After her junior year of high school, the Lawton family moved to a very small village. Their home there had no indoor plumbing and if you didn’t have a water well on your property, families had to carry water from the town water well on main street. Phyllis’s dad did that each week to supply their household.
Phyllis said that the move was a culture shock. There were only 14 students in her graduation class. She had always done well in school but now with her brothers away, and no money left for her to attend college, she took a job in a general merchandising store where she learned to candle eggs, sell plug tobacco, sell ‘yard goods’ fabric like calico and red flannel (for underwear).
She was rescued from small town life when a cousin offered a job in a nearby town. Her new job was to use a band saw to cut out two dimensional shadow-designs out of wood at the Marlow Wood Cut Factory. Phyllis saved her money and when a friend was taking the train to California, her friend invited her to come too. She quickly said yes! Her aunt was living in California, so she decided to visited her.
In California, Phyllis learned that Douglas Aircraft Company was hiring so she applied and got a job. There, she met a co-worker who was looking for a roommate so, they rented an apartment in Long Beach. The young women got along well and since they were taking a bus to work each day, they decided to buy a car together. They were excited to be saving money by cooking their meals and saving on bus fare. They felt that they were financially getting ahead.
Then, when WWII ended, so did their jobs. Phyllis believes that they were the first workers to receive unemployment benefits. So, what should two young, unemployed, women do? Travel, of course! Their car was a 1926 Ford Coupe that had to be crank started. But, gas was cheap then so off they went on their journey East across the US.
First they visited Phyllis’s family in Kansas, and then her friend’s family in Massachusetts. They took their time traveling and seeing the beautiful countryside (they could not hurry even if they wanted to, the car only went 35 miles an hour).
Phyllis didn’t get to formally go to college, but she feels that this trip across the country was like an educational experience that was priceless. She said that they never felt like they were in any danger. Everyone they met was nice and helpful. They found that each State had something beautiful and special to offer them.
After they visited her parents in Kansas, they drove on to Massachusetts and there they both got jobs at an airline. Her friend became a flight attendant and Phyllis got a job making flight reservations.
Before they began their trip across the country, Phyllis had met her future husband Richard on a blind date. He was in the U.S. Army Air Corps and they kept up correspondence while he was in the service and while she was on her trip. Their communication continued even when she was working back East. Later, Phyllis transferred to Dallas, Texas.
Richard was taking his mother to visit her family in Iowa and he told Phyllis that he wanted to stop in Dallas to visit her. After that trip Richard completed his service and attended the School of Architecture at USC. Back in California, Richard had made a decision. He called Phyllis in Dallas and purposed to her over the phone. Caught off guard, she said, “I have to think about it”, and she hung up! Minutes later, Richard called back and asked, “Did you think about it yet?” and she immediately said, “Yes!”. In 1940, they were married in Kansas at her parent’s home. Phyllis had made her own wedding dress. Her travel friend, Richards’s mother and some of their friends came to Kansas for the wedding. Their honeymoon was driving back to Long Beach where they started their new life together.
Richard and Phyllis raised three adorable children; Roy, Penny and Jim. Currently Phyllis has three grandsons, one granddaughter and 4 great grand children. She also have 3 great, great grand children, and last August, the Poper family welcomed another great granddaughter. Their family is ecstatic with this latest addition.
During her married life, Phyllis was involved in many service organizations: the California Council of Women’s Architectural League (She became the State President); She volunteered at St. Mary’s Guild; and was one of the first docents at Rancho Los Alamitos. She was past president of the LBCC Fine Arts Foundation; a certified member of the Los Altos United Methodist Church; belonged to the Naples Island Garden Club; and was invited into the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O). Phyllis says that she enjoyed her involvement in these organizations.
Phyllis continued her education during this time and she took classes in each subject or hobby that that she was interested in, such as: poetry, oral history, public relations, bridge, lapidary, sewing, knitting, creative writing, etc.
She has published two poetry books, written short stories, and a few years ago, Phyllis penned her first novella. She is honored to be a member of the International Society of Poets.
Phyllis’s parents were one of the first residents in Leisure World in 1962. When it was their time, Richard and Phyllis knew that Leisure World would be a great place to live.
Before Richard and Phyllis moved to Leisure World, she was honored to be invited into the Long Beach AF Chapter of the P.E.O. Then in Leisure World, she transferred to RT Chapter, belonging to the P.E.O Sisterhood for almost 40 years. She also belongs to the Leisure World Community Church (LWCC). She is proud to have been a member of the Lapidary Club, and the Creative Writers Club.
While Phyllis’s is not as active as she once was, her experiences with these organizations and clubs were a job. She said that the groups are filled with wonderful and creative people that have enriched her life. Phyllis turns 100 years old on March 28, 2022.