WASTELLA KANSAS NEELY February 21,1891 “Wasness” or “Cee Cee” July 29, 1983 92 years old
By Doris Cornett (Bill’s wife) In collaboration with Bob Comett and from tapes made by Bill Cornett about 1990.
Wastella Kansas Neely was born in Blount County, Alabama, on February 21, 1891. In later years she said she was one day older than George Washington. The bible entry of Kansas Wastella is apparently incorrect. She has always been known as Wastella Kansas, even as a young child.
As far as I know Wastella had three nicknames during her lifetime. Roy and her siblings often called her “Wasness.” When the boys were small they called her “Mothey”. At about 14 months Koneta, the oldest grandchild, tried to say Grandma C. and it came out “Cee Cee”. We always called her that and that was her name to every one in Tempe who knew her. In Tempe when asked her name she always said Cee Cee Cornett.
As told to Bill and me, Wastella’s early memories were of work: cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, and tending babies. I think her perspective on family life was very different from that of the boys and younger girls since she was the third child and oldest girl of William Henry and Ulah Neely; she was “Mama’s helper”.
When Wastella was six her father made her a rather shallow pine bread bowl that was about 20” long and 15” wide. She remembers it was her job to make bread of some kind three times a day. It was usually a quick bread, but sometimes she made yeast bread. It was always amazing to me how she could bake and never had a recipe. When I asked for her cinnamon roll recipe, she measured things by eye as she usually did, put them individually in containers and then I measured them with measuring cups and spoons. The bread bowl was used so long and was scraped so much that Wastella wore a hole in the bottom. It has been handed down to the third generation. I had it for years and gave it to our daughter Koneta. It is on display in the lobby of the Copper Queen Mine tour building in Bisbee, Arizona.
Wastella remembers her mother as always being “sick”. I assume it was either before or after having a baby. When “Mama” was sick Wastella was the person responsible for maintaining the household. The bigger boys were in the fields with “Papa”. There was always a baby that needed tending. Wastella remembers her mother reading a lot when she was sick. I asked once where all the unusual names for the children came from. Wastella indicated that other than family names, the names came from whatever book her mother happened to be reading.
Will Henry's involvement with the railroad resulted in Wastella having a railroad stop named after her. The stop evolved into a very small settlement. The naming of the town of Wastella in Nolan County Texas is a little different in Wastella’s version than some other verslons. According to her, the railroad surveyor asked Will Henry the name of his oldest daughter. When he was told Wastella, he said that’s what the statlon would be called.
Wastella's schooling was a topic she never discussed although she read well and was proficient in math. She insisted that her boys go to high school and expected her three grandchildren to go to college.
On December 12, 1912 she married Cullen LeRoy Cornett (Roy). She was always very proud of the diamond Roy gave her because he had picked cotton for a whole season to get the money to order it from Tiffany's in New York. Roy was a native Texan as was his father. He was only 5'6" and Wastella's father made some comment about his size. She informed him that her measure of a man was what was between his ears and in his heart. The marriage lasted until Roy died of cancer in 1969.
After the marriage Roy, who had formerly sold Watkins products, went to La Pryor, Texas to build a house on land there while Wastella stayed at home. It seems as though he was so busy building he lost track of the days (or the time). Wastella arrived but Roy failed to meet the train she arrived on, so she hired someone in town to take her the four miles to the farm. I can imagine the scene!
Wastella and Roy lived on 160 acres north of La Pryor. They lived in a wood house that was painted white with white columns and the "necessary" out back.
Roy and Wastella's first son Jack was probably born in 1913. That, too, was a topic seldom talked about even when questioned. All we know was that Jack was born sickly and died at 18 months. We have no dates or cause of Jack's death. I do know that Jack died before Bill was born because Wastella said she felt guilty because Bill was so small. She was so busy taking care of Jack that she did not eat properly or rest. Bill (William LeRoy) was born December 13, 1914. (That was a fun birth date: 12-13-'14.) He weighed three pounds, was full term and was small enough to fit into a cigar box. The third son, Bob (Robert Neely Cornett) was born August 11 1916. He was a big baby and soon was bigger than Bill.
Both Bill and Bob said that Aunt Kansas lived with Grandpa and Grandma Neely as far back as they could remember. Both commented on Aunt Kansas always being in her rocking chair and thumping her cane to get attention.
In 1918 Fairye took Bill with her by train to visit her parents at Barstow Texas. We think Fairye was living in La Pryor and worklng as secretary in a La Pryor bank at that time.
In 1919 Roy and Wastella had a Model T Ford. Wastella was driving to town with Bill and Bob in the back and she let go of the steering wheel to settle an argument between the two boys. The car did not respond quite like a horse but there were no serious consequences. All it took to settle arguments in the car for a long time was to ask if the boys wanted her to have to turn around.
In 1922 while still living at La Pryor, the family had walked to visit Clyde’s family and their house burned to the ground. No one was sure how it started, but think it was in the wood stove area. Since Bill was starting school the family moved into La Pryor. Anna Bradshaw, called Miss Anna, taught first and second grades. Miss Anna later married Will Henry.
In 1925 the family moved back to the country in a house north of town. This house was not much of a house and they soon built a house on the original 160 acres. This house was also white and had a screened porch all the way around it. The new house had cold running water in the kitchen and bath. Water was heated on the stove and poured into the tub for baths. A Coleman kerosene stove provided heat -- and also burned a bottom or two. They even had a generator for electricity!
About this time a friend of the family, Lt. Duncan, who had been a World War I Air Force pilot, would cause quite a stir when he occasionally landed his plane in a field. He would taxi across the field and when stopped, he would inspect the propeller to be sure it had not cracked on landing.
At harvest time neighbors would help neighbors and go from farm to farm to harvest. Oats were driven in horse drawn wagons to a thresher powered by a tractor. The host farmer’s wife provided the meals, with the big meal being at noon. Wastella, right along with the rest of the ladies, tried to provide the most sumptuous meal. Other crops were cotton, onions, sugar cane, and broom corn. A neighbor had a cane mill so sugar cane was a feasible crop. At one time the price of onions was so low that they could not give them away and they were left to rot. The cows got into the rotten onions and ate them. Their milk was of a vastly different flavor.
Roy was active in the Farm Loan Association. In 1926 Wastella and Roy went to San Antonio for a church conference. In 1929 Wastella and Roy sold the farm and moved to Lubbock, Texas. After one year they decided it was too cold and Roy moved to Coolidge, Arizona. Wastella, Bill, and Bob stayed at Lubbock until school was out. They loaded all their belongings in a small four wheel trailer and pulled the trailer with a Model A Ford. In New Mexico a wheel bearing had to be repaired. Bill was able to do it with the one tool, a wrench, they had along. The tires were small and they had flat after flat that the boys had to take care of. When the family reached Coolidge they arrived after dark and parked for the night. The next morning they went to the cotton gin and finally to the post office to find where Roy was located. Will Henry was also farming 640 acres in Coolidge. Bill went to Gilbert to stay with Ulah so she wouldn’t have to be alone while the others stayed in Coolidge.
About 1932 Roy and Wastella moved to Hackberry Wash, east of Dewey in Yavapai County, Arizona. Roy proved several mining claims where he mined gold, some silver, and copper.
In 1941 Roy and Wastella moved to Jerome to load ore tailings of the Little Daisy Mine. They were now profitable to be reworked because of the price rise in copper in World War II. Carlos Aguilar and Roy were partners and were also together on many other ventures. In Jerome the roof of the house was level with one street and the entry was on another street. They could not come and go the same way because of the steepness of the street.
After Jerome, Roy and Wastella and Bill went to Belmont where the Navajo Ordinance Depot was being built. Bob had re-enlisted in the navy. Typical of construction camps, they lived in a tent. From there Roy and Wastella moved to Delta, Utah to mine manganese. From Utah they moved to Aguila, Arizona. Roy again mined manganese for a while and then leased a lead mine. Bill and Bob were investors in the lease. After a period of time they profitably sold the lease. Wastella had started a restaurant. After selling the Aguila restaurant, Roy and Wastella moved to Congress Junction, Arizona.
In Congress Junction they built a house on the desert close to the foothills. They blasted the soil to break it up so they could plant fruit trees. Water for the house had to be hauled. The house had doors and windows that opened on all sides to catch the breezes.
While building the house, Wastella and Roy also built another restaurant. The restaurant was on what was the main road to Kingman and Las Vegas at that time. In the summer it was really busy. In the summers of ‘57, ‘58 and ’59 our three kids and I would go stay with them so I could help in the restaurant. It was not the best way for the children to spend the summer. Roy and Wastella realized that could only be a temporary solution and sold the restaurant. In 1960 while Wastella was talking (arguing?) with the new owner and trying to evict him for non-payment, he picked her up and tried to take her through the door and broke her leg. He vacated the premises quickly. They took the restaurant back, operated it a short time and sold it again.
When Wastella took a stand she very rarely backed down. The only time I can recall was when she put chard on the plate of a 9 year old grandson and was determined he would eat it. He was just as determined he would not and furthermore he was going to walk home. Home to Tempe from Congress Junction, about 75 miles. Roy picked him up about two miles from their home and the chard was gone from his plate. Nothing more was said. Normally the grandchildren and the Cornett grandparents had a mutual admiration society. They certainly learned water conservation during the Congress Junction years. All of them to this day do not brush teeth and leave a faucet running.
In 1965 there was an example of Wastella’s determination. She was injured when their car ran into the back of a truck. Her leg was badly broken. From the hospital she went to Otie’s to stay until she could get out of bed. The doctor told her if she wanted to walk she would have to exercise the leg. Heavy cast and all, that leg was never still a minute unless she was asleep. She exhausted herself exercising, but she walked without a limp.
In 1962 Wastella and Roy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Congress Junction. They were by that time spending most winters in Mexico.
Wastella and Roy continued to spend winters in Mexico until 1968 when they came back from Mexico early and Roy had to be hospitalized with cancer. After Roy’s death in 1969 Wastella sold the Congress Junction home so she could move to Tempe, Arizona to be near our family. By this time she had been legally blind for several years with macular degeneration and was frail from osteoperosis.
Wastella lived in a trailer park on Apache Blvd. four blocks from our house. There was a big empty lot behind a business next to the trailer park that we rented for a dollar a year so she could garden it. She planted fruit trees, and about every kind of vegetable that would grow in the Valley. She supplied produce to one and all. Wastella figured a way around not being able to see. She put boards around the beds to walk on for orientation and she weeded on her hands and knees by feel. When I stopped in to check on her she usually had a plant growing that she couldn’t identify by feel. She’d ask me to identify it, then she’d feel it again before pulling it or letting it grow. Rarely did she ask about the same kind of plant twice. She did most of the watering with a bucket and fussed because she couldn’t carry a full bucket in each hand.
There was a young couple living on a shoestring behind her garden. They were trying to start a business on Mill Ave. in Tempe and Wastella kept them well supplied with produce. They took a picture of her in her gardening grubbies. After their business was established and they could afford to do so, they had the picture enlarged to 15”x 20” and hung it on the wall in their business. They call the picture “The Gardening Angel” and vowed they would never have made it if she hadn’t fed them.
In December of 1972 our family took Wastella to visit all the Cornett and Neely Texas relatives we could find. We saw people I had heard of, and never met; and people I had never heard of. She had a wonderful time visiting and reminiscing with relatives and a few old friends.
In 1981 Wastella could no longer live by herself. Bill had retired, but I was still working. It did not work for Wastella to be around Bill for an extended period. She had never stopped “mothering” him. If they sat together at the table, she would fill his plate for him. Consequently when she ate at our house, one sat at the foot of the table and the other was at the head. When Bill was working she wanted to see what he was doing and because she couldn’t see, would get between him and his work. He was wonderfully patient, but living here couldn’t be a solution to her living alone.
Moving into a care center was not easy for her, but she looked at the bright side. She went to “take care of the old folks”. That is exactly what she did. She cajoled non-eaters into eating, pushed people in wheel chairs to the dining area, and refused to let people retreat into hibernation. The staff and some of the patients loved her because she was always upbeat. I’m sure other patients wished she would just go away.
At first she would spend most of the Sundays with us and then it was just long enough to eat dinner. Before long she didn’t even want to come because she had people to tend to. At that point she asked us to sell her trailer.
In July of 1983 Bill and I drove to Alaska. When we left, Wastella was going to the dining room and doing the things she normally did. Before we got to Anchorage she was in the full nursing area. She died of congestive heart failure in the Tempe nursing home before we got back. The doctor said she appeared to just get tired and quit. Arrangements had been made for years for both Roy’s and Wastella’s bodies to be donated to the University of Arizona Medical School. In her words, “God will give me a new model if I need one.”
As a small boy, Bill could tell by the sound when machinery was not working properly. He spent most of his adult life working with machinery. He ran a cotton gin and repaired heavy farm and construction equipment. He could fix or create most anything. He knew carpentry, electricity, mechanics, welding, and most anything else a person could do with their hands. Because of a bad back, Bill retired and went back to college. He needed 3 1/2 years of college work. We had some mighty lean years with both of us at college for two of those years. He then taught for ten years before retiring because of opthaphamgeal muscular dystrophy and macular degeneration. He married Doris Sommer June 7, 1947. We had three children. Bill died Oct 7, 1998 in the Chandler Hospital.
Bob spent 17 years in the Navy. After discharge, he had a wrecking yard in Prescott, Arizona. He was married three times, but had no children. His stepchildren, who were young adults when he married their mother, looked upon him as a father. He died from emphysemia in Prescott Valley July 4, 2000. He also had the ‘Neely’ macular degeneration.
About Grandpa Neely:
Bill and Bob had little to say about Grandpa and Grandma Neely.
In 1948 when Bill and I visited Grandpa Neely in Gilbert, Grandpa Neely asked Bill if he could fix the rockers on Aunt Kansas’ chair. When he said he could, Grandpa Neely gave it to him. It not only had the rockers fixed, it was refinished and had the unborn Holstien calf hide seat replaced. The chair is in my bedroom beside my desk.
About the same time Grandpa Neely gave me a five dollar gold piece that Miss Anna had given him. I guess that not only astounded me, but others as well. Bill commented he had never known Grandpa Neely to give money away. It is a treasure.