Meet DOROTHY EMERY –– a member of our “Greatest Generation” and an American treasure with a living history. . .

Dorothy Emery

Small-town values, big-city adventures

Dorothy Emery gets to Sunday school early, in order to meet the first children who arrive for her fourth- and fifth-grade class. She’s a favorite and a fixture at Rosen Heights Baptist Church, a multicultural, multigenerational sanctuary in the historic North Side neighborhood in Fort Worth.

“I began teaching Sunday school when I was 19 years old,” Emery says in a gentle, soft-spoken way. “I turned 91 on my last birthday, so I’ve had a lot of experience with children.” Emery’s smile is as gentle as her manner. She has a warm, welcoming expression in the way of true Texas women. Her life has been difficult, but rewarding. She grew up with small-town values which served her well along the way toward big-city adventures. Throughout her life, family and friends have always held a special place in her heart.

Born in Montague County, about eight miles west of Bowie, Texas, Emery attended a country school through seventh grade, and was named valedictorian for her graduating class. “My family didn’t get to come to the ceremony, because my brother had scarlet fever and was quarantined with my mother at home,” she recalls.

As her formal education in a rural school ended, Emery took it upon herself to add to her skills. “I had taken bookkeeping and business arithmetic in school, but I didn’t know how to type,” she says. “I found out that typing lessons cost money, so I rented a typewriter and learned on my own.” Emery’s mother took in laundry, worked at a cafeteria, made pies and, in general, took care of her small family. “We always had a vegetable garden, and I never realized it if we were doing without,” Emery says.

With her newfound typing proficiency, Emery got a bookkeeping job in Bowie and met a woman who worked as a legal secretary. “She encouraged me to learn shorthand, and she taught me herself after work,” she says. “I heard that the city attorney was looking for a secretary, so I applied and got the job. I got paid $4 a week.”

The Emery family, by this time, had moved into the town of Bowie. Doing well, with Dorothy and her brother, Ray, both working, they decided to make a bigger move for better opportunities—all the way to Fort Worth. America was about to get involved in World War II, and Ray Emery was drafted into the U.S. Army. “I had a job at Will Rogers Coliseum, which lasted about a year,” Dorothy says. She had a colleague who started an employment agency and who told her, “I’ll send you to the three best jobs I have.”

One of those was a clerical position at Texas & Pacific Railroad, which at the time was a going concern in Fort Worth with a huge, landmark station downtown. “I got the job, but they said it might be temporary,” Emery says. “I was hired on Friday and started work on Monday.” She worked in the T&P Store department, where train parts were stored and requisitioned for routine maintenance and repairs. “I worked in that temporary job for 36 years,” Emery laughs. Her office was on the corner of Montgomery Street and West Vickery, where an active train yard exists today. The historic T&P building is still standing downtown, and has been partially renovated and restored on Lancaster Avenue.

Besides providing a measure of financial security for Emery and her mother, Texas & Pacific Railroad would offer a window on a much bigger world. “I have always been fascinated by different places, new places,” Emery says. “Because of my job, I could get free rail passes to anywhere in Texas. My mother loved to travel, so we decided to take some long trips first.” Emery took the train to California, visiting San Francisco where her brother’s ship was docked, then to Redlands to see some distant relatives. In Los Angeles, the pair visited Knots Berry Farm—”a couple of times.” On various adventures, the Emery mother and daughter saw Colorado, New York City and Washington, D.C.

“We took the long trip to Chicago, and the railroad men told me to keep my hands in my pockets and watch out for pickpockets,” Emery says, laughing. “It was the safest big city I’d ever seen. We had a very nice time there.” She says she saw St. Louis often, since it was a hub for passenger rail travel for a long time.

Emery took care of her mother, who lived with her until her death in 1983 at the age of 81. Her mother’s sister had moved next door in Fort Worth, and Emery says she took care of her aunt also. “My aunt got sick and I was happy to help her. She was family after all,” Emery says.

Good health and long life run in the family. “I never went to the hospital until 2001,” Emery says. “I really don’t feel my age, although I feel better if someone takes my arm while I’m walking.” She watches what she eats, and enjoys exercise every day, using a “pedal-ciser” machine, which works both her arms and her legs. She helps keep up her extensive backyard flower garden, where she walks every day. “I have always loved flowers,” she says, strolling among vincas, impatiens and coleus plants. She points to a pot full of blooming geraniums, and explains that her geriatric care manager from CVHC brought it to her. Home care services and regular visits from an RN and a social worker help Emery maintain her health and quality of life. “I have true friendships with my nurse, Susan, and with Tina, my care manager,” she says.

“And I love being with children, helping them learn the Bible stories and singing.” Her uncle could play the organ, she says, and she remembers him playing in their home in Bowie. “I always loved music, and I always wanted to work with children,” she says. “One of my cousins was a school teacher. She was going to help me go to college for teaching, but that didn’t work out.” Emery doesn’t seem to mind. “There are some things you can do for children that you don’t have to go to college to learn.” She smiles, and begins to tell more stories about the fourth- and fifth-graders in her Sunday school class. “I get them started on their Scripture lessons and usually we have a worksheet,” she says. “I always tell them, ‘Try on your own, but if you need help, I’ll help you.”

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