The life of 104 year-old Opal Owens, as told by her son
■ Dwight Mitchell / Contributed
Opal Owens, who was born Opal Easter Mobley on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, turns 104 today. She was the fifth of nine children, and her father worked as a mechanic in an Arkansas marble quarry. Her Mobley family history can be traced back to America’s colonial period to Baltimore in 1658.
When she was around five years old, her family moved to Delta County, Texas, to work in the rich cotton fields. There the family worked, hoeing and picking cotton — her father also worked as a mechanic keeping the local cotton gins operating. They lived in a small Texas township named Brushy Mound, where Opal and her siblings attended a one-room elementary school. She graduated from Cooper High School in 1932, the only high school in Delta County. She learned to drive at an early age in her father’s Model T Ford because her older sister was afraid to back up the car and Opal was good at driving backwards.
Opal married Morris Mitchell on September 4, 1935 – the midst of the Great Depression. A year later her first son Dwight was born and 15 months later her second son, Jeffery was born. From 1935 until 1942 Opal and Morris and the two boys lived on a cotton and cattle farm, where Morris worked as a cotton sharecropper and a ranch hand. Thing were tough in those days where Morris made 50 to 75 cents a day working from sunup to sunset. The family lived in a three room sharecropper’s house with a tin roof, no electricity, water from the cistern well, outdoor toilet and wood burning stove.
“I can remember my mother making our clothes with a push-peddle sewing machine, growing a vegetable garden, making her own soap, canning her fruits and vegetables, and washing clothes in tin tubs with a scrub board,” she recalled. “There was a storm cellar for tornados. These were tough Depression times, but we were not alone as everyone else in the area was experiencing the same conditions.”
Living the good life in California
In 1942 Opal’s sister, Mildred, who had earlier moved to California, wrote and told of a job opening for Morris as a ranch foreman for an orange and lemon grove north of Glendora at the Brown School for Girls. Within a week the Mitchells were on their way to California. Opal said it was like going to heaven when they moved into the ranch foreman’s seven room house with electricity, hot and cold running water, an indoor toilet, and a gas burning stove.
For the next four years Opal worked in the private school’s dining room, dormitories, and as a receptionist/PBX telephone operator. Morris and Opal purchased and operated a horse riding rental business for the next three years. A third son, Michael, was born in 1946. Opal continued to work as a seamstress and for the last 20 years of her career as a drawings and records clerk at the real estate development company that planned and developed the city of Havasu, Arizona.
After her youngest son, Mike, graduated from high school and joined the Navy, life became difficult for Opal and Morris due to the death of their son Jeffery in an auto accident. Morris and Opal divorced in 1966.
Opal moves to Hemet and discovers love again…and shuffleboard!
Life became very happy again for Opal in 1970 when she met and married Ernest “Ernie” Owens and moved to Hemet’s Golden Coach Manor mobile home park on South Lyon Street. Ernie served in the U.S. Navy from 1917-1918 and fought in WWI. She and Ernie had a happy and fun life traveling, shuffleboarding, square dancing and attending family functions.
She was a very competitive shuffleboard player and team member, playing for many years representing Golden Coach Manor in Hemet city leagues and Hemet in California state tournaments. She is a member of the California Shuffleboard Hall of Fame and has won numerous shuffleboarding awards. She was active at the clubhouse, playing various card games in the afternoon and bingo in the evenings. She expressed her artistic side by crocheting clothes, bedspreads, table coverings, doilies and scarves for all of her family members. One of her favorite things was her annual trek to Cooper, Texas, to attend the Mobley family reunion and visit with her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews.
After Ernie died in 1984, Opal continued to live at the Golden Coach Manor and her active lifestyle until 2016, when she moved into the Yorkshire House for fragile elders. One trip she is especially proud of is an 8,000 mile road trip around the United States with her one of lady friends where Opal did all of the driving at age 85.
For years Opal was a member of the Baptist Church in Hemet, which is now the Cornerstone Church of Hemet, and she continues to receive visitors monthly to pray with her and read the Bible to her.
Opal was especially close to her sister, Mildred, Mildred’s husband, Rufus Black, and sister-in-law Estelle Mitchell, who also lived in Hemet. She also attended family functions with her children and grandchildren. She has three children (one deceased), nine grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
Several family members plan to attend her birthday celebration at the Yorkshire House in Hemet today to wish her a grand and happy 104th birthday. Happy birthday, Opal!