Leona Stenner (Forbes) (1894 - 1997) MP

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Birthplace: Makin House, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, California, United States
Death: Died in Templeton, San Luis Obispo, California, United States
Cause of death: Cardiac asystole; myocardial thrombosis; arteriosclerotic heart disease
Occupation: School teacher; music teacher
Managed by: Jennifer Lynn Young
Last Updated:

About Leona Stenner (Forbes)

"Only special people live that long" -Steve Carlson

Leona Forbes Stenner was born 3 August, 1894 at Makin House, San Miguel, California and died 7 June, 1997 in Templeton, California at the age of 102. She was a proud graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 1913, a member of the first class that included women.

The eldest of five children born to Charles Robertson Forbes, Sr. (2 August 1863 - 21 December 1959) and Mary Jane Allen Forbes (12 January 1872 - 3 August 1956), Leona married Archibald ("Archie") Thomas Stenner (31 December, 1895 - 17 March, 1979) at her parents' home on Murray Street in San Luis Obispo, California, on 26 November, 1919. She was 24, having waited four years for Archie to complete his WWI service in the Philippines. To her great disappointment, they had no children.

Imbued with her mother's great passion for education and teaching, Leona became the first of the three girls to become teachers. Leona taught first and second grade in California for 32 years. Her first teaching job was at a one-room schoolhouse not far from the old family homestead; she had to ride horseback to get there and then chop wood for the stove which heated the building. Always kind, but a strict believer in the importance of education, Leona actually corrected in red ink several letters from nieces and grand-nieces over the years and returned them!

Leona was an accomplished musician and played the accordian with great flair. She could also play hundreds of piano pieces from memory. She played at Grange and Lodge meetings, as well as family functions, well into her eighties, and continued to give private piano lessons for more than 15 years after her retirement from school teaching.

After many years teaching and working in several southern California towns near Los Angeles, Leona and Archie retired and returned to San Luis Obispo. They purchased the rear corner of her parents' lot at the corner of Murray Street and Santa Rosa, and built a small wooden 'shotgun' house, so called because the rooms were all in a row; you entered each room from the one before, so that if you stood at one end of the house and all the doors were open, it looked as though you could shoot a shotgun all the way through to the other side.

The address of their one-acre lot was 65 Casa Street, and there they worked together to grow much of their own food. Many family members treasure memories of eating delicious berries or corn that they'd been sent out to pick just moments before. Leona and Archie gave away avocados, corn, many varieties of citrus, figs, kumquats, and a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables by the bagful. In fact, they often left a box of avocados and other produce by the back door, free for the taking. Several nurses at the hospital next door have shared memories of the "little old lady who gave away avocados".

Besides the fruit and vegetables, Leona was also an enthusiastic flower gardener, and maintained a large collection of flowers at the Casa Street home for more than forty years. Her beautiful old fuchsias were particularly cherished, one of which covered a 10' x 12' trellis by the back door. It was one of the frilly varieties with fat blossoms that looked like little ballerina tutus. Leona taught visiting children to pull the stamens out of the center of the bloom and suck the tiny drop of nectar. Outside the front door, above the living room picture window, was a fifteen-foot long arbor supporting an exquisite, bright magenta bougainvillea - a favorite spot for family photos.

Following the death of Leona's parents, their acreage (minus Leona and Archie's corner lot) was sold and a hospital, now called Sierra Vista Hospital, was built there. The Stenners became close friends with the hospital administrator, Glenn Carlson. He and his wife, Bernice, often took Leona and Archie to dinner and stopped by their house several times a week to visit. Eventually Mr. Carlson negotiated the purchase of the Stenner property, with the proviso that the Stenners would retain the right to live their for the remainder of their lives. It became a family joke that the hospital administration undoubtedly came to regret granting life tenancy to Leona, as they never expected her to live to be more than a hundred years old! At some point the hospital auditorium was dedicated to the Stenners and still bears a small plaque identifying it as 'Stenner Auditorium'.

After Archie's death in 1979, Leona continued to live a sturdily independent life. Thursdays were errand days, when she backed her beloved Oldsmobile out of the detached garage and went to her hair appointment, did banking, shopping, and other errands, and often visited with friends. Because her car had been hit once when she'd been trying to make a left turn, she mapped out her entire Thursday route through town so that she never again had to turn left.

Although a little anxious about it, she passed her final driving test with flying colors and greatly enjoyed telling people that her license had been renewed at the age of 96. Soon after, although, she reluctantly decided to give up her car and cease driving. It was a painful decision, as it meant giving up a portion of her independence and having to rely upon others. By that time she was eating most of her meals at the hospital cafeteria because it was a short walk across the parking lot - and a chance to socialize.

Leona had always been proud of never having had a serious illness nor having had to "go under the knife". In her middle nineties, however, she developed a benign, fluid-filled tumor in her abdomen, and had to have it drained. The outpatient procedure went smoothly and no complications developed, but Leona felt as though she'd weathered a major trauma. The doctor warned that the tumor would gradually re-fill and would probably need to be drained again, but shouldn't cause her problems otherwise.

Continuing to live at home and do many of her own chores, she hired a series of young people, many from the same family, to help for a few hours a week; she put the boys to work in the garden, pulling weeds and watering, and the girls dusted and vacuumed in the house.

When she was 98, Leona tripped and fell while taking the garbage cans out to the end of the long driveway. The tumor ruptured when she fell, and she had to go into the hospital for surgery - the first in her life - to have it removed. Her recuperation was long and slow, and she was in the hospital for many weeks. She was very glad to finally be able to go home at last, but never was quite as strong again. it wasn't long before another surgery was needed, and Leona never returned home again.

Instead, she spent the last three years of her life at a clean, cheerful nursing home in Templeton, California, three miles from the home of her youngest sister, Mary Jane Forbes Tate. Mary Jane took care of Leona's house and cat, managed her finances and other affairs, and visited Leona almost every day. Leona was extremely upset at not being able to return home and begged endlessly to be taken out of the nursing home. As her physical health declined, so did her mental state. By her one hundred-and-first birthday, she was often lost in memories. When she was aware, she grieved, saying repeatedly that no one should have to live this long, it was a terrible thing to live so long.

Although her body continued to hang onto life, during her final year she completely retreated into some interior world. Finally, on June 7, 1997, just two months short of her one-hundred-and-third birthday, Leona Forbes Stenner let go of her fierce hold on life. Those who knew and loved her like to believe that she is spending eternity in a gloriously-productive and beautiful garden, filled with fuchsias, gladiolas, and all of her other favorites, and no weeds.

Letter from Leona Forbes Stenner to Iris Forbes

[Transcription from handwritten original]

566 Ramona Avenue, Hawthorne, California November 2, 1933

My dear Cousin Iris,

Your letter gave me a big surprise, when it reached me last month. Since it has been fifteen years, that I was at Nacimiento Rancho, I was fortunate to get your letter at all. It reached my father at San Luis Obispo, and he sent it on. I had a card from Aileen [Eileen] last Christmas and it was sent to Nacimiento Rancho, also, but I got it in February.

I was married in 1919 - my husband had been in service in the Coast Artillery at Manila, for four years - and we were married soon after his arrival home. It will be 14 years on the 26th of this month.

You are fortunate in having such a nice family, and I regret to say that we have no children, so my offsprings will not be writing to yours. We are the only childless couple in any of the families.

My oldest brother, Elmer, has three children. His oldest is now fourteen - My sister, Ada, has two children, the oldest, a girl of six - Charles, my young brother just had one little girl, Joan Ann, three years old. She is a darling, and we all make a big fuss over her, but she isn't spoiled, yet. We married the baby of our family in September. She is Mary Jane - and is just 21 years old. She had two years at our State University at Berkeley, and now, she and her husband are both attending Teacher's College at San Jose. They both plan to teach. Mary Jane is majoring in Physical Education, and the husband expects to be a coach. He has been quite a football player. His name is Leonard Tate.

Dad and Mother are alone now, still living in San Luis Obispo. We celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on the 22nd of October. They still work quite hard on their little place. Dad raised almsot everything they needed to eat this year - he is up early every morning, and out hoeing in his garden. He has been having a little rheumatism of late. We see them quite often, as they are but 200 miles away, and with automobiles that travel fast, it doesn't take long to go.

Ada lives in Long Beach, just a few miles from here. She married a boy from the south. His name is Robert Dugger, and he is an engineer.

My husband was out of work for two years, during this terrible depression - but I had a permanent position, so we didn't feel the lack of anything we needed. We lost considerable in stocks and investments, but we still have our home, and now, Arch is back at his old job again with the Texas Oil Company.

I have been teaching first grade, here in Hawthorne, for eleven years; and in all, I have now taught nineteen years. This little town has a population of about 9000, and we are only 5 or 6 miles from Los Angeles. I usually go to the city on Saturdays, to shop. It is very crowded - especially at this season of the year. The big stores are always full of people.

Business seems to be "picking up" some in our country, now. We have a fine leader, in our new President, Franklin Roosevelt, and he is doing all in his power, to give the farmers and the laborers, some of the profits

[This is the end of the back side of the second sheet; the remaining pages of this charming letter are lost to time. Leona was writing to her cousin, Iris Maria (Forbes) Lee, who was just two years younger.

When Leona's grandfather, John Mitchell Forbes, Sr., emigrated from Scotland to the United States, his brother and two sisters went to Australia. Iris was the granddaughter of William Forbes, the Australian emigre, making Leona and Iris second cousins.

At the time of this letter, the two families had not seen each other since their respective emigrations. Later, Leona and her sisters were to visit the Australian Forbeses, and the Australians would visit California. All of the cousins kept up a lifelong correspondence from the time of this letter - 1933 - onward.]

Memberships

  • Order of the Easter Star
  • San Luis Obispo Grange
  • Rebekah Lodge
  • California Retired Teachers
  • Fuchsia Society
  • Cal Poly Alumni
  • First Church of Christ Scientist
  • San Luis Obispo Historical Society
  • San Miguel Friends of the Adobe

Sources

  • Back, Al. "A Look Back." Cal Poly Magazine. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Fall 1997. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1115&context=calpoly_magazine&sei-redir=1#search="leona+stenner">.
  • Brown, Eleanor J. "From Our Readers." Cal Poly Magazine. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Spring 2001. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1241&context=calpoly_magazine&sei-redir=1#search="leona+stenner".
  • Year: 1900; Census Place: San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, California; Roll: T623_109; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 33. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  • Year: 1910; Census Place: San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, California; Roll: T624_104; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0043; Image: 438; FHL Number: 1374117. Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910 (NARA microfilm publication T624, 1,178 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  • 1922 - Los Angeles County, California, United States; California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • 1924 - Los Angeles County, California, United States; California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • 1926 - Los Angeles County, California, United States; California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • 1928 - Los Angeles County, California, United States; California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • Year: 1930; Census Place: Dominguez, Los Angeles, California; Roll: 126; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 911; Image: 35.0. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
  • 1934 - Los Angeles County, California, United States;California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • 1936 - Los Angeles County, California, United States;California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
  • Place: San Luis Obispo; Date: 7 Jun 1997; Social Security: 564426171. Ancestry.com. California Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: State of California. California Death Index, 1940-1997. Sacramento, CA, USA: State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics.
  • Number: 564-42-6171;Issue State: California;Issue Date: Before 1951. Ancestry.com. Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
  • Leona Forbes Stenner Memorial Program. Family papers of Mary Jane Tate; inherited by Jennifer Young Forbes and Judith Leigh Young and part of their jointly-held collection.
  • San Miguel's Charm Dates Way Back, letter to the editor from Leona Forbes Stenner, unidentified newspaper clipping. Family papers of Mary Jane Tate; inherited by Jennifer Young Forbes and Judith Leigh Young and part of their jointly-held collection.
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Leona Stenner's Timeline

1894
August 3, 1894
San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, California, United States
1910
1910
- 1913
Age 15
San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo County, California, USA
1919
November 26, 1919
Age 25
San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, California, United States
1920
1920
Age 25
Templeton, San Luis Obispo County, California, USA

According to California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 (1920-1922)

1922
1922
Age 27
Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA

Registered as a member of the Socialist Pary

1924
1924
- 1928
Age 29
Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA

Registered member of the Republican Party; per the California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 (1924)

1934
1934
Age 39
Dominguez, Los Angeles, California, USA

Voter registration changed to Democrat between 1928 and 1934 records

1997
June 7, 1997
Age 102
Templeton, San Luis Obispo, California, United States
June 10, 1997
Age 102
San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, California, United States