Interview of Barbara Bohannon
Conducted by Ben Treadway
Barbara Bohannon Interviewed by Ben Treadway On May 8, 2008
Barbara Bohannon's grandparents were Frony and Forrest Clare Senior, who lived in Oklahoma until 1918, when they moved to Gilbert with a young Forrest Clare Junior, her future step-father. Her mother's grandparents were Jim and Elizabeth Bailey from Texas, who lived there all their lives. Times were hard, due to the economic conditions caused by the Dust Bowl, and like many others in Texas and Oklahoma, the clans moved west. Barbara's mother was Nina Claire, a loyal Texan who had three children with her first husband before moving west. Barbara was born February 15, 1932, in Rotan, Texas, before moving to Gilbert for her mother's second marriage. Nina met her husband working at a small restaurant next to a dance platform in Gilbert. Despite three prior children, Forrest Clare Senior happily married Nina Clare in 1936 and can only be described as a wonderful father.
Arizona was filled with fields of cotton when Barbara was a child. She used to pick it for fun in high school, though her mother made a living off it. Her mother would take the kids to the field, lay a blanket out, and would tell the oldest brother not to let them wander off, which he never allowed. Barbara remembers the smell of cotton permeating the air on the way to church every Sunday and the bike trips into the middle of the fields for picnics. At this time, her father owned a sheet metal shop and acted as the town plumber. Despite having only a second grade education, he could draw out complicated plans and follow them, working 12-14 hour days. He built silos all around the outskirts of Gilbert for the eventual harvest, though they are mostly gone today.
At home, the kids all slept in one room in what would be considered a small house today. Their father built the house himself using bricks from their church when it was torn down. Her family wasn't rich; they "never even had a telephone, but [they] didn't know any better, so [they] were happy." For entertainment, they had a radio that they would listen to, or spent time talking with friends or reading. The town itself was very small so everyone looked out for each other. The worst trouble in town ever saw was a few drunken brawls now and again, but kids generally avoided trouble. One of the "jobs" given to them by their parents was to behave themselves, and when they didn't, their parents made sure to rectify the situation.
Barbara attended grades one through twelve in Gilbert. Due to the small size, most of her classmates were like brothers and sisters, some of which she remains in contact with today. Her favorite high school memories revolve around the parties they would have. She would attend desert parties were they would barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers or church parties where the minister forced the kids to listen to a lesson before being able to join in the fun. When it would rain, she and a friend would go with their boyfriends in a Model-T and slide it along the slippery mud for fun. Her other favorite memory is about her husband.
Despite being a little shy in high school, Barbara received an engagement ring for graduation. Her husband proposed to her in front of Joe's Bar-B-Que where her father ran a movie theater the family cleaned every Saturday. After accepting, Barbara got a job at the drug store, where she worked for six months to "buy her pots and pans" before getting married.
Barbara's first years of marriage rapidly helped her to mature as a woman. Her husband was 26 years and she was 18 when they got married. Four years after getting married, she had her first child, Michael. Two years after that, her second son, Leonard, joined the world. Though her husband worked hard, they were not rich, nor in want. They had the basics and each other, which was more than enough for them. Though her husband was usually a solemn man, Barbara remembers him joking with a friend who had asked about her cooking skills. Her husband told his friend that they would have to "eat out of a can." Barbara was not to be deterred however, and quickly became a good cook. Some of her favorite times with him and their family were during the summer. The family would rent a cabin and the boys would go fishing while she would spend the day reading and cooking pot roast.
After the wedding, the manager of the town bank, who lived across the street from her, asked her if she would like to work at the bank. Despite her lack of experience in banking or a college education, Barbara accepted the offer and worked there for 35 years, only taking time out to start a family. While she was employed there, she worked nearly every job position in the bank, from cashiering to book keeping. One of her favorite parts of the job was financing the dairy farmers and milkmen of Chandler and Gilbert, who she remembers as some of the nicest people one could meet. It also helped end her shyness. At one point, after constant harassment she had been taking complacently, she grew tired of a female co-worker and told her off. Her manager "kicked back the chair and placed his feet on the desk before saying, 'Barbara, I've been waiting two years for you to do that.'"
She also remembers the subtle and outright gender discrimination at her job. Arizona had the lowest paying wage for bank workers at the time; she remembers her cousin in Texas making double her hourly wage. Regardless of the years of experience Barbara had, uneducated male new hires made more money than she did as well. Even though Barbara disagreed with the practice, "the men were in charge" and she knew there was nothing she could do alone. Looking back, Barbara thinks that if all the women had walked out, something might have changed, but she doesn't blame the management at the bank. She believes that if she had asked, her manager would have been willing to give her more money, but it was not his decision. It was a societal problem and even though she heard about the women's movement, Barbara believed that her place was to act as a wife and mother.
Looking back at her life, Barbara doesn't want to change anything. Even though her life had some rough spots, she feels that she led a fulfilling life and was blessed with a great husband and children. She continues to stay in contact with a life-long group of her close friends who have never left Gilbert, and she is happy that her children turned out well. She was never left wanting, and she had the strength to deal with any problems that arose. Overall, she is a remarkable woman, who used grace, logic, and the morals instilled by her parents to deal with her problems rationally.
Photos courtesy of the family.
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