Celebrating our Local Women's History
Stories from Women Living in the Southeast Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Gilbert Historical Museum
Oral history of Joanne Cornwell Wiley
 

Oral History of Joanne Wiley
Interviewed by Sylvia Valenzuela on March 22, 2008

Joanne Cornwell Wiley sparkled head to toe in appearance and personality. Her known primary contribution to Gilbert may be the Chandler Gilbert Beauty Mall, but she also holds some of Gilbert's most cherished memories of history through her childhood. The stories she told reflected the simple life of a community, strengthened by friendships which never died.


Upstate New York was first the home town for Joanne Wiley when she was born in 1952. Four years later she traveled with only her parents and three brothers (Russell b. 1952, Gean b. 1959, Bert b. 1960) to Gilbert, leaving behind her grandparents Morris and Dorothy Millard, so her father could work at the dairy his cousin, Jim Tampin, owned. The dairy was called Dewer Dairy. Joanne's parents, Loise and Jay Cornwell, helped out at Dewer Dairy for years. Jay later began his own business repairing mobile homes, and Loise worked at Penmore making women's underwear. This couple met in high school back in New York. They were the children of farmers. Right after high school the couple married and began having children. Just like everyone else's parents, Joanne most remembers her parents for being strict but this type of parenting is what she credits for creating the backbone of the community.


For Joanne there was always something to do everyday in Gilbert. While growing up, she would go with her friends to the cotton gin to run and play on the cotton bales (although it was against parental authority). The library and swimming pool were also places for kids to visit at least 3 or 4 times a day. People also gathered in the basement of the library across the street to hear live bands play.


These same neighborhood bonds were carried throughout Joanne's school experiences too. Although Gilbert's schools were segregated by race and religion at that time, all groups got along with each other. Likewise, sports or club cliques in school that exist today did not separate the community. From first grade to graduation, Joanne attended all the Gilbert schools including the high school which is known as Mesquite High School today. One thing Joanne found interesting about her schools was that they were divided up by intelligence levels. She also recalled several special memories such as walking with friends to school while picking up classmates along the way, visiting the Gilbert Drug Store for Red River fountain drinks for only 25 cents, having ball and jack tournaments, and participating in or going to watch school sport games. One convenience for everyone in town back then was that everyone would ride bikes or walk to anywhere they were going. With no car expenses, few students had to work.


During all of her schooling, Joanne always thought her career in life would be to be a stay-at-home mom, but after high school, she got married to a fellow classmate, Ramio Seste. Joanne continued on to beauty school with a scholarship from Gilbert High School. Her total beauty school tuition after high school only cost her $125. Joanne has now been a hairdresser for 35 years. Following beauty school, she immediately got a job at a salon working two days a week, while caring for her first daughter. About nine years later her mother's friend, Peggy Goodwin, became pregnant and was going to give up her profession in Mesa; however, Joanne became her replacement at the salon and received an instant cliental from Peggy's previous customers. Eventually Joanne opened her own salon on William's Field Road and Gilbert called the Chandler Gilbert Beauty Mall. She loves the ability to raise people's self esteem and make them look gorgeous through her profession.


Joanne and Ramio's marriage lasted sixteen years, and together they had three children: Stacie (35), Shane (32), and Sheree (27). Stacie sells liquor to grocery stores; Shane worked in construction for many years, and Sheree is a policewoman. Joanne's two daughters also work at her salon as nail technicians.  Joanne is now happily remarried to David Wiley.


Throughout her life, Joanne was always an admirer of the women's movement. Although she did not actively participate, Joanne was glad to see women expressing their stamina and voicing their opinions because women had much to stand up for. Today Joanne believes that women maybe have "taken over just a little bit," meaning that maybe women now rule this country more than men. She saw the women's movement as a give and take for males and females. However, Joanne sees some negative results from the movement, such as the lost politeness of men and women, especially in the manner that men used to woo women.


If there were anything thing Joanne would have done differently or anything she would give advice on she would say to wait to get married and have children so you can first take time to enjoy a life on your own. Joanne has had a beautiful life of simplicity and love. She is an important part of Gilbert's community, both in its history and in its present time.

Photos courtesy of the family/Gilbert Historical Museum.

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Late 50's Gilbert

GIlbert 50's

Downtown Gilbert 1950's

Cotton Storage Bins

Cotton field 2006