Raised in the Fredericksburg during the Depression and WWII, seven women grew up together, then drifted apart as their lives carried them away… before bouncing back collectively in their later years. This is a story of a special group from the graduating class of 1948 and how their friendship endures and inspires today, as our own Lance Avery Morgan reveals.
Photography courtesy of The Gillespie County Historical Society and Personal Archival Collections
[Editorial Note: This group of women have opened their hearts and homes for this feature, conceived from past and present anecdotes from their monthly luncheon gatherings, as initially shared by my mother, one of the subjects, Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery. This is a story of them all, from their early years to their later, platinum years. I learned early on that a woman is entitled to her secrets, so their revelations may have special resonance for the readers who will be inspired by their friendship and lives with tales that bred fortitude in the inevitable good times and bad. For the sake of editorial streamlining after their introduction, only their first names are used.]
It was the perfect day for an autumn luncheon. Sunny skies and even sunnier dispositions gathered to enjoy a monthly get-together, this time at Fredericksburg’s chic Main Street eatery and store, Vaudeville. This group of Fredericksburg-area women who were born at the same time, in the early 1930’s, graduated high school together in 1948 and have retained their friendships, even while going separate ways. They have assembled for the periodic every-ten-year reunion over the decades, until in later years they decided to meet more frequently, every two years due to the periodic loss of classmates. They reunite after leading very full lives that parallel the course of major events and the tenor of the times of the 20th and into the 21st century.
Now aged 81 – 83 due to early and late birthdays that fell within the school year, these women also gather for lunch monthly in retirement to share their lives once again. Here we capture their highs and lows, expectations met and opportunities lost in some cases. Life goes on and they continue to serve as a support system for one another, through widowhood for some and ailing husbands for others. How do their friendships inspire many for the current generation? We will answer that as their photos and anecdotes will tell a robust story, a year-end sentimental look at the lives and loves of Texans in our region.
IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME
The past, at times, can seem like another planet, especially with the reflections of the dynamic men who grew up and lived in the early to early middle years of the last century, often called The Greatest Generation. The vibrant women of that era, too, can be defined by that moniker. Collectively, almost 600 hundred years of life have been lived between these featured women, and now they share what they experienced in the era in which most of their mothers were barely adults when women were granted the right to vote in this country.
Born into the financial plague that gripped the world in the early 1930’s, and after that WWII, most women who grew up in that era early on learned to “make do” with what they had in their lives. Usually their parents and extended family bonded together to make ends meet so that the sacrifices would not noticeably impede a young girl’s progress. However, they were very aware that there was not an over abundance of much of anything during their youth, except an upbringing that nostalgia experts pine for today.
The women of yesteryear had encountered strong women in action, whether it was the culturally iconic Rosie The Riveter, or their mothers, family members, and neighbors in a small town of the Hill Country’s idyllic Andy Hardy movie-sequel charm, with Fredericksburg’s population of less than 3500 residents, mostly of German ancestry. These women, Dorothy Luckenbach Basse, Dawn Laurence Beckendorf, Viola Feuge Blackwell Jones, Dorris Mittendorf Fullwood, Barbara Cox Knutson, Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery, and Betty Bailey Nebgen have lived through this era to share how they were raised and the importance of friendship.
Now, the patterns of roles in which many people fall in a group are as evident as the group dynamic was then: Dorothy is the outspoken one who takes the lead. Dorris is the one prone to deeper thoughts. Betty likes to have a good time. Viola is the quiet observer. Barbara shares her insight a great deal toward any conversation, Carolyn and Dawn have a wry sense of humor that offers the comic relief needed to lend their perspective, and Betty’s cheerfulness knows no bounds. Then, as now, the women are happy and have experienced (like most of that era) times of strife, yet those challenges do not cloud who they are. Attractive as younger women, they have become more attractive because of the inner wisdom gleaned that makes them truly beautiful in their own, unique way.
I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU
Imagine the world of 1931-1948 Fredericksburg, Anywhere, USA, long before the town found international claim as an unspoiled tourist destination decades later. The Thirties started with a crash and ended with the combustion of war into the Forties, which paved a path for peaceful, can-do solace and optimism. Much of the facade of the town’s Main Street still resembles what it looked like in yesteryear: storefronts where the owner’s families often lived above them, or within a few blocks away. The buildings were meant to last and they have. Then, as now, family names that sounded like the old country were common, as was the language that reflected it, and those German names being as frequent as those that were English.
The friendships of “The 48r’s”, as they call themselves to signify the year they graduated Fredericksburg High School with a class of 88 students, transcend any one culture. It is a state of mind. “A lifetime friend is one that you see again after years apart and it feels you have never been apart. We 48’rs grew up with similar backgrounds and similar ideals,” shares Dawn Laurence Beckendorf, who entered the group in 7th grade from close-by Willow City. A mother of five (Kathy, Linda, Ben, J. Scott, and Joe), she married noted fine artist Charles Beckendorf, which took them to California, San Antonio, Houston, Wichita Falls and back to Fredericksburg where she helped run the their gallery and her husband’s career (the gallery is still family-run in Fredericksburg). “We were always friends, just in different areas, until most of us ‘moved back home,’” states Barbara Cox Knutson, a mother of three (Katherine, James and Thomas) who married Vernon Knutson, while working as a registered nurse in Austin and Kerrville. Knutson spent time in Pasadena, California and Austin before settling back in Fredericksburg in 1949.
Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery, who married retailer Donald Morgan, had three boys (Rodney, Larry and Lance), worked in the business world as an executive secretary and then with the U.S Treasury Department before marrying agriculture professional Clemon Montgomery, while spending most of her life in Austin and briefly, in California recalls, “We were born at a difficult time for this country and we’ve seen it progress so vastly. We had generally similar backgrounds regardless of financial wealth and those backgrounds offered us a way to be generally progressive in thoughts, words, or deeds, and in helping others.”
“Yes, we grew up with a lot in common and we still do,” agrees Viola Fuege Blackwell Jones who grew up on a ranch in nearby Kerr County and also became a registered nurse at The University of Texas, then married her first husband, Clifford Blackwell, a fireman who was killed in the line of duty. They had two sons together (Charles and John) before she married her second husband, Rudy Jones. As Betty Bailey Nebgen, mother of three daughters (Donna, Susan and Eileen) and married to Hilmer Nebgen, lived in Stonewall most of their lives puts it, “When you know German people, you know them for life.” For Dorris Mittendorf Fullwood, who married Wendell Fullwood and is the mother of a daughter (Lynne) went to business college in Austin and later lived much of her life in California before returning to Fredericksburg, is more succinct by saying, “We were raised to have morals and to respect others.” One favorite member of the group, Marilyn Geistweidt Riggle, went to Texas A&I in Kingsville where she met her husband, Bob Riggle. She was a teacher, mother of three (Cary, Lori and Sara) and unfortunately, passed away a few years ago. She was an integral part of the monthly lunches and is with the ladies in spirit to this day.
Life in Fredericksburg growing up for these women was indeed idyllic, yet full of contributing to their lives in town and on ranches. Dorothy Luckenbach Basse, mother of two girls (Susan and Cora Lynn), who married rancher Roscoe Basse and received a degree as a registered nurse at the U.T. says, “In those days, you really knew everyone and they knew you. I walked home down Main St. and all the business owners knew me by name.” The Andy Hardy movie analogy arises again and, as Dorris Mittendorf Fullwood plainly states, “I believe one reason is that the town has kept its heritage.”
For their elementary school, the girls attended either public, local elementary school or St Mary’s Catholic School, and as they grew older, the Girl Scouts became a common denominator and those experiences would serve most of them well in later life, too. “The most exciting event that took place in Fredericksburg for me was the day I came in on our school bus from Willow City to enter school here. My whole world changed. I joined the Girl Scouts and with their love and generosity I became lifelong friends of so many including some of these same 48’rs,” remembers Dawn..
AC-CENT-TU-ATE THE POSITIVE
When it came to the most memorable events that spring to mind about their childhoods, the common denominator seems to be the Christmas holidays. Most of the women point toward the holiday season for cherished memories. “I loved Christmas at my maternal grandparent’s home and farm with aunts and uncles. Plus, I remember receiving special packages from my father’s family who lived in Virginia,” confides Carolyn. “We went to my grandmother’s house for Christmas,” says Viola. “We had a huge kitchen. Everybody came for Christmas dinner,” shares Betty.
“My favorite Christmas memory was getting a big desk, although I had to share it with my siblings,” muses Barbara. Travel nearby was another experience for the women, most of whom did not travel beyond Texas until they were grown, “My family and I did a lot of group singing, usually at Christmas, and we would meet at my grandfather’s house. I do recall our big family vacation (to Dallas) for the Texas Centennial in 1936,” remarks Dorothy. “Our family went to San Antonio often since my mother’s mother lived there. That was a real treat each time,” shares Dawn.
San Antonio had a population at that time was around 400,000, compared to Austin’s at less than 100,000, so the choice was simple for a young woman of the era and her family; San Antonio had much more to offer with shopping. “We always went to San Antonio for shopping because of the larger and better selection of stores like Joske’s, Frost Bros., The Vogue, and more that carried just about anything you wanted. My mother and I would start at one end of downtown in the morning and work our way through all the stores by day’s end,” remembers Carolyn.
Sharing seems to be an undercurrent theme for all of “The 48r’s”. There wasn’t a country club in Fredericksburg then, or now, since the town was quite egalitarian, and frankly too hard-working for such diversions and when I asked the group if they recalled any scandals of the era, most of them shook their heads an emphatic ‘no’. “What you were privy to depended on your mother and the women she played bridge with,” states Dorris about the gossip of the era. So there was scandal, likely: it was just well hidden in the recesses of the memories of people to whom it happened who are long gone now. Although the mothers were similar, many were different. “I remember one time having lunch during high school at Carolyn’s house and they used cloth napkins. Cloth napkins! I ran home to tell my mother that I could hardly believe it,” shares Dorothy of Carolyn’s mother’s homemaking skills.
OH! WHAT IT SEEMED TO BE
The Second World War took its toll on the entire planet and Fredericksburg was no different. “When war was declared our family went to church in the evening and it was the first time I heard God Bless America. Our preacher sang it as a solo,” Dorothy recalls with clarity. “After Sunday school on December 7th, 1941 I heard my friend’s older brother and her mother speaking about a cousin stationed in Pearl Harbor and they were hoping he was safe. I did not know why they were worried. When I got home my dad explained it all to me,” was how Dawn reacted. “I was sent out of the room when President Roosevelt came on the radio about Pearl Harbor,” reminisces Barbara. Viola recalls, “I saw the Army trucks transporting goods down a country road and knew the impact it would have.” Several of the women had older brothers who fought in the European and Pacific theatres of war.
The days of WWII and after weighed heavily on all the minds of the community, yet it also saw the girls’ lives filled with occasional school and birthday parties, carnivals, the annual Gillespie County Fair, and later, the Easter Fires pageant and the ubiquitous war drives throughout the conflict. Dorris says, “We dated, and we went to movies, dances, football and basketball games.” The other women remember it differently, not always having boyfriends, but palling around in groups. Many of the girls in the group played basketball, because of their height, and others were on the high school Pep Squad, played volleyball and much of their exercise was gained by helping around the home, tending vegetable Victory Gardens, as well as working on the family’s farm and ranch. They also walked just about everywhere they wanted to go in town. “We learned to save, really without knowing. We gathered for the war efforts and learned that it was hard to get food and resources, as well as gasoline for driving,” shares Dorothy. Dawn agrees by stating, “We grew up when everyone was so patriotic and all of us had a love of our country. Neighbors were real neighbors and would help one another any time there was a need. People really loved and respected each other. This group is still that way.”
Viola recounts spending a great deal of time with friends at Edison Street Methodist Church where her family was part of the congregation. Church played a role in each of the girl’s upbringing, with confirmation being a high note. There was no malt shop in particular that would symbolize the following decade’s youth, but, as Carolyn shares in cohesion with the rest of the group is the memory of the soda fountain at Kallenberg’s Drug Store. One time she and a group of the girls, she recalls, was adventurous and played hooky for the last periods of a day their senior year by going for a soda at the drug store. As an after thought, going to such a public place was not ideal since they would be seen not being in school where they should be, but they did not get into any real trouble by their parents. “I happened to work in the school office at the time and the next morning after we played hookie, the principal could barely keep a straight face and told me that if that’s the worse that will happen to me in life, then I’ll be all right.” Dorothy says, “The other place was the Sunny Side Hut, which was a drive up place where you could get sodas. The owners were always nice and enjoyed having the high school children there.” Barbara assesses, “The Palace Theater and Kallenberg’s Pharmacy were special to me because I worked at both of them,” while Viola agrees, “We always went to the movies and had a Coke and a popcorn.”
The group also recalled movie stars who came through (since they were in nearby San Antonio or Austin) for bond drives during WWII in their early teen years. “The war bond drive usually always had some stars along to say how important buying war bonds was to help the war. I remember (MGM star) Arlene Dahl was one,” says Carolyn. “We were always so exited to see the movie stars. I remember the singer Peggy Lee coming one time,” relates Dawn. Barbara says, “I thought that it was exciting. I was in the Girl Scouts and got to work in our information booth during one of the bond drives.”
Pop culture, then as now, was prevalent in the ladies’ lives as young women. “LUX Presents Hollywood on the radio is what I recall, says Dorris. “My brothers and I stood around the radio, which was on top of the refrigerator, to listen to the Saturday morning radio shows,” says Barbara. “When I was young my brother and I would listen to The Hit Parade every Saturday night, which is why I still like the easy listening music to this day,” shares Dawn. Carolyn agrees by saying, “I always wished I could carry a tune, but couldn’t, so I loved the shows like singer Dinah Shore had.”
When The 48r’s were asked what they would buy for a dollar in the 1940s, the response was a timeless look at what motivates teenage girls then and now. Barbara, Dorris and Carolyn Nichols Morgan agree by sharing in their response, “A tube of lipstick, which we thought would make us look grown up.” Others were more practical, “The one thing I remember buying for a dollar was gasoline, and one could drive for a week on that dollar’s worth of gas then”, states Dawn, while Viola comments, “I would have kept that dollar.”
Clothing and hair trends come and go; yet precedence on grooming and style for these ladies was as important then as it is now. “My mother made me a light blue velvet dress and it had a white collar and big white pearl buttons with big scallops at the buttonholes. I thought that dress was really special,” says Dawn. Viola shares, “I loved a light blue, spring coat I had,” while Betty says, “I wore whatever was in style. My mother sewed all my clothes, like many of our mothers did.” “I had a white eyelet, off the shoulder dress I loved,” says Dorris. “For our graduation I looked everywhere for a special dress in Fredericksburg and San Antonio, finally finding one in Fredericksburg. Of course it had to be taken down from a size 12 to a size 9, but I wore it for a number of years.” says Dorothy. Carolyn says she “always liked to wear pretty dresses or suits, but the dirndl skirts my mother sewed never were quite full enough for my taste.”
Fun, fashion, and extracurricular activities aside, The 48r’s, along with their parents, placed a high priority on good grades. There were many teachers who were impactful to the group, as many teachers usually are on impressionable young women set to conquer the world. Stella Jung was a ubiquitous favorite for many of the women. “She didn’t have any teacher’s pets… we were all her pets,” recalls Betty. Another was a speech teacher, Mrs. Krause. “She taught me how to speak up in class,” while Dawn asserts, “Mrs. Krause helped me in talking with the many people I would encounter, especially later in our art gallery.” Carolyn recalls when agriculture teacher Joe Tatum first arrived to the school, saying, “We all swooned because he was about the best looking thing we’d ever seen up until then.”
War heroes are rare, so the arrival of Fredericksburg native and WWII’s Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz into the town was with great fanfare in 1946 after the war; it was all hands on deck for the town to welcome him properly. Buoyed by post war optimism, Fredericksburg laid out the red carpet with parades, ceremonies and grand private gatherings with the area’s notables. All of The 48r’s participated in the celebration by either seeing him, marching in the parade in the pep squad or their parents were at gatherings he attended.
I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?
Fast forward to when The 48r’s were young women, out of high school, hopeful for a bright future. When asked what attributes their mothers had which still influence them today, the varied reactions represent how the group lives their lives to this day. Dawn relays, “My mother loved to read books, and I have always loved reading because of it.” “I like to do for others, like doing extra things for my grandchildren,” shares Dorothy. Viola says, “I have the same mannerisms as my mother,” while Betty confirms, “My mother was the type who had no enemies and kids always loved being around her.” Carolyn muses, “Mother was self sufficient, and I definitely have that trait.” When it comes to sharing what quality they had in childhood that they still possess today, a resounding reply by most of the ladies was “my sense of humor.”
While recalling phrases that their parents often said that still resonates with them today, Dorris says, “My father always said that if you want to have fun in this life, make it for yourself.” “Waste not, want not,” was what Viola heard often in her household. Betty says, “When my mother fussed at me in German, I jumped because I knew she meant business.” “’Act like you’ve been somewhere before,’ along with ‘always put your best foot forward’” is what Carolyn was repeatedly told in her youth.
Much of The 48r’s group was married right after high school or college, now considered, in retrospect, quite young at 18-22 years of age. When asked about their wedding day, it still affected them deeply. “My husband Charles was in the service, had a few days off and had just gotten out of the hospital with pneumonia. I had just finished my finals and the late January weather was so bad that pipes had frozen and deterred many guests from attending,”’ says Dawn. She continues, “But the wedding went on, a small reception at my parent’s home, and after a few miles down the highway after we left, Charles asked me if I would please drive so he could lie his head down because he was feeling so bad. So there I was in a car that looked like it had only one person . . . with ‘Just Married” written all over it. Boy did I get crazy looks.”
Dorris recounts, “We had a reception dinner dance and was it ever a hot day,” while Barbara recalls, “I was married in the small chapel at First Methodist Church, and my siblings were my attendants while the reception was in my present house.” “I was married at Edison Street Methodist Church to such a wonderful person,” states Viola. Betty says, “I was 20 and it was a beautiful day with a house full of people. Five days before our reception hall was damaged in a storm so we had to make other arrangements.” Married at almost 20, Carolyn recalls her wedding was “a happy occasion, with warm and sunny May weather, in a small ceremony at my parents’ home with family and friends, where they lived in San Antonio by then.” Dorothy reminiscences, “My parents planned a very nice wedding, and I will never forget first seeing the church full of relatives, friends and my future husband waiting for me in front. We had a banquet-type reception at the Nimitz Hotel with over 200 people and we were able to celebrate our 60th anniversary at the same place last August with family and friends. What a blessing.”
While the first year of married life is always different than one expects, especially in the early 1950s when the only guiding forces for advice were usually Dear Abby and the Ladies Home Journal, the ladies were as authentic as ever. “The first illusion I had about marriage was that I would not have any children for at least two years. Wrong, because 11 months after I was married I had my first wonderful baby,” muses Dawn. Dorris thought, “that everything would be without problems” while Carolyn confided, “The reality was that it was give and take, and hard work.” When asked what first “big” item they bought when married, Viola says, “A big deep freeze.” Dorris shares, “A 23-foot trailer.” Dorothy says, “We bought an electric range two and a half years after we bought our farm,” and Barbara recalls, “My husband came home with an outboard motor . . . for my birthday.”
I’LL BE SEEING YOU
As life progressed, marriages happened, children were born, divorces occurred, and the women created their own places in the world, some were touched by fame. “I remember meeting Robert Wagner and Don DeFore,” says Dorris, while Dawn recalls, “So many distinguished people from all walks of life came into the gallery over the years that I had the pleasure of getting to know and hearing their stories.” Carolyn’s husband Don knew movie star Zachary Scott, and she met MGM studio honcho Dore Shary and Shlomo Bardin, founder of the California-based Brandeis-Bardin Institute, who happened to appear on the cover of Newsweek magazine while she worked for him. Betty Bailey Nebgen was related to former president Lyndon Baines Johnson, so they were around the White House Ranch crowd near Johnson City quite a bit before, during and after his presidency.
As the years advanced, now surrounded by loving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the women can look back at the way the world was then and it is now. “The biggest change in how people act and think. That is, lots of people have no respect of themselves and they do not respect others,” says Dawn. “Now the young people are much more outspoken and I believe some of what they say (and do) should be reserved in their own thoughts and actions,” admits Barbara. “Being responsible for yourself is important,” attests Dorris. Carolyn weighs in by sharing, “The young and old now have more exposure to current lifestyles, global happenings and technologies. These are not bad things, but it can cause extreme unrest when some or all want to participate and do not have the skills to do so. There are many who are mainstream by reason of hard work and persistence, and this is very good. This is my observation,” she says, continuing, “During my own childhood and young adulthood and onward I have felt people generally were very appreciative of their lives and their place in society.”
The 48’rs have seen the world change and view it without revisionist historical perspective: you cannot change the past and you were born the way you were. Do they have any advice for creating a successful life, as well as making and retaining lifelong friendships based on their own with this group? “Be yourself, do not try to impress others, and be honest,” states Barbara Cox Knudsen. Viola Feuge Blackwell Jones says, “Just keep going. Have persistence.” While Dorris Mittendorf Fullwood shares, “Treasure the friends you have. Don’t look back because today is your day.” Carolyn Nichols Morgan Montgomery echoes that by saying, “Keep a positive outlook on life, have tolerance when needed and always maintain a cheerful attitude.” “We all have broadened our world, but have still remained the same kind, caring, and loving friends we all were so many years ago. I recommend living each day to the very fullest because there will be both happy and sad times, and with God’s help you can get through them all,” acknowledges Dawn Laurence Beckendorf. Betty Bailey Nebgen agrees, “We had our little groups and drifted back together.” “We always remember our classmates, so as the years went by we were always happy to see one of them stop and visit from far away places. As we got older, we always enjoyed seeing each other. So our special group started to get together once a month. Now we wouldn’t miss it,” relates Dorothy Luckenbach Basse.
Seventeen Magazine: The War Years
Targeted toward teenage girls, Seventeen magazine identified with the teenagers by using slang such as “going doe,” and discussing topics relevant to their lives, such as their complexion, boyfriends and woes with parents. Reflecting the fact that the U.S. was in the midst of World War II in both its advertisements and articles, one article stated that teenagers should stay in school as opposed to joining the war effort. The reason being that this would allow them to be of more help later on, because they would have more education. In another article that also seemed to be part advertisement, a teenage bride described how she decided to lose weight after her husband went off to war. The weight-loss ad, of course, seemed oddly similar to that found in current female-driven magazines.
Seventeen during the war seems closely related to the teen magazines of today. The models used in the 1945 edition are the same petite size as the models in recent issues. This shows that the standard model size will never change and these small models wear clothing designed to attract the male eye. Since photography, especially color photography, was expensive and rare, many of illustrations of women with unrealistic bodies and tiny waists. All of the photos throughout the issues, however, provide wholesome images of very real young girls primarily concerned with fashion and beauty products.
The magazine also encouraged women to spend money on the latest trends and offered advice about how to have the perfect relationship. The ads speak frequently referred to dating tips with boys and spending time with girlfriends. also promoted home entertainment; encouraging girls to learn hostessing skills for the future as wives and mothers. All these factors prove that magazines aimed at young women have remained constant throughout the past seven decades and in both content and ads, Seventeen magazine during the 1940’s implied that teens value friendship and have an interest in beauty and fashion. Some things never change.