Oral History of Dena Eoff
Interviewed by Richard Martinez conducted on March 22, 2008
Dena Eoff is an independent, self-motivated, and family-oriented woman, traits which she attributes to her mother, Geraldine Halick. Born and raised in Gilbert, Arizona, she has first handedly seen the progressive growth of the town. From an old town with just a couple of shops and one major road to one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Gilbert has changed dramatically in her lifetime.
Mrs. Eoff was born in a small hospital in Mesa, Arizona to Geraldine Halick and Albert Nichols. Her parents had originated from Oklahoma, with hopes of finding a prosperous town that wasn't affected by the Dust Bowl. Dena's mother and father met when Geraldine was a senior in high school and Albert had just returned from the Navy; coincidentally enough they married graduation night . Dena remembers hearing how her father and mother met on the same street she would soon come to know herself growing up in Gilbert; "my father took one look at my mom in the small diner in downtown Gilbert and said, 'Hey! I'm gonna marry you some day'", and the rest was history. After their marriage, the incredible couple both worked full-time jobs. Her father worked as a mechanic restoring old cars, and her mother ran their own western store located in downtown Gilbert. Both parents were involved in Dena's and her siblings' lives making sure never to miss any kind of event their children were involved in. They also played a big role in the community by serving on community boards and partaking in the very festive Gilbert Days. Dena remembers being part of the Gilbert Days festival, "My dad would decorate his old car with colorful ribbon and we would all pile in the car and ride through the festival". Dena's parents believed that family was the most important part in their life, and Dena feels this was one of the best values she has inherited from her mother.
Dena spent most of her childhood as every other child in the 50's, playing outside until dark, spending summers in the local town pool, and roaming around town. She was very close with her friends because, back then, kids were placed in classes according to their learning ability, so typically they would be in the same class for years. In her early childhood, Dena states that there was no social "clicques", just the sounds of marbles hitting the floor from girls playing jacks and the yelling from the boys playing football in the background. Once she moved onto high school, she became a twirler in the marching band. She would twirl a baton beside the band and even made it into Nationals. Organized women's sports teams were uncommon then, which left many of the younger girls aspiring to do more. Mrs. Eoff attended school up until her senior year because she had decided she wanted to enroll in beauty school, which she did and actually graduated with a license. Dena worked in the beauty industry for about 20 years.
Dena worked in the local beauty shop twice a week trying to help support her family. Both her parents and her husband's parents helped take care of her first child, which enabled her to save a little bit of extra cash on child care. Between Dena and her husband they were able to save up and purchase a car for $3600 dollars, and eventually they bought a house in Gilbert with a monthly payment of $100 dollars a month. They went on to have two more kids, with a total of three: Jason, Justin, and Brittany. Mrs. Eoff remembers holding all the functions the kids were involved in at her house, with Little League and Girl Scout parties being the biggest. The kids adored the house because it was on an acre lot with plenty of space for all the kids to run around, just like Dena had done in her childhood. Unfortunately Dena and her husband split and, as a result, Dena ended her employment with the salon and moved on to work at the Gilbert postal service. She eventually moved into an apartment with her kids; she explained, "It was hard to go from house with plenty of room, to a small confined apartment". Nonetheless she supported her children and kept her career going for another 18 years. Dena says she had the best of both worlds because she was able to work when her children were little as well as spend quality time with them. Once they got older and could take care of themselves, she started working full time.
Growing up in Gilbert during the 50's and 60's was an amazing time for Dena; "when people say the good ol' days, my mind takes me back to my childhood and the closeness in the community". There was plenty of opportunity for men and women with equal paying jobs and a comfortable life setting. With very few regrets such as the pursuit of her education and stressing over the minor details, she says that she loved growing up in Gilbert. It was the best place to be for her childhood memories and a great place to raise a family, which is why she is still here to this day coaching her grandkids' Little League baseball team.
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Photos courtesy of the family.