Nellie Ruth Koen was born on January 6, 1921 in Mills County, TX to Mary “Molly” Altha Carver-Koen of Comanche, TX and Justin Milton Koen of Johnson, AR. She had one brother and two sisters. Her eldest sibling was Mae Koen Read, her elder brother was Clarence Albert Koen, and her younger sister was Mellie Almeta (Meta) Koen. She grew up on a farm in Goldthwaite where she had cousins her age that she played with who lived nearby.
On August 5, 1940, she married Earl Nowell in Mills County. For a time, they lived with her father-in-law George William Nowell in Mills County, TX before moving into their own home. Her son Melborn Ray Nowell was born July 8, 1941 in Goldthwaite, TX and her daughter Willie Earline Nowell-Killian on March 6, 1943. Her daughter Sharon Kay Nowell was born on March 12, 1945 in Comanche, TX but only lived three hours. Ruth and Earl moved to Morenci, AZ in 1946 because there were jobs at the Phelps-Dodge mine. While in Morenci, her daughter Mickey Carlita Nowell-White was born on February 20, 1947. She was a loyal mother and wife who loved her family fiercely. She lived to know her ten grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and 12 great-great-grandchildren.
Her husband Earl passed away on December 28, 1993. She lived alone until she became re-acquainted with and eventually married Lowell Hively. After his death in 2011, Earline invited her to move back into the home that Ruth and Earl built when their kids were young. Ruth lived there until her passing.
Ruth was a dedicated Christian who loved Jesus with all her heart. She spent much of her time working at the church and eventually teaching at the school her church opened.
Those are the facts on Nellie Ruth’s life that can be found in public records or sites like Ancestry.com, but here are some things about her life she told me. I am Rebecca White the youngest of her grandchildren.
In her childhood she spent as much time as she could with her cousins who lived down the road. She told me a story about when her niece Dava Dean was a newborn and her parents were bringing her for a visit. Grandma was so exited to see her first niece! She spent her day at her cousin’s house, but when the time came to go meet her mom halfway between the houses her uncle told her it was too dark and would have to wait until the next day to head home. My grandma was having none of that. She took off down the road and ran all the way to her mother in the dark determined to see her new niece. It may come as a surprise to y’all but grandma was fiercely independent! She loved being an aunt and doted on Ida Mae’s kids. She loved them and all of her nephews and nieces with all her heart to the last minute.
She told me when she was ten years old she saw a UFO. She said that she was walking from her cousins’ house to her own when she saw a triangular shaped silver thing in the air. When she looked at it, it took off across the sky so fast she could not believe it. I asked her, “Did you tell your family?” she confirmed that she did and when I asked what they said to her, she simply said, “oh” and went on about their business. I couldn’t believe they were so blasé about such an exciting event until she reminded me that she was ten years old in 1931 and that her family had no compass of reference for a spaceship. They had never even seen a plane.
I have heard story after story of her playing house with her cousins in the basement of the farm house on the dirt floor, Singing and playing guitar or fiddle at the barn dances they had, and spying on her older cousins being courted by their beaus. She told me that she loved to dance but once her and Aunt Meta decided to join the Primitive Baptist Church that they weren’t allowed to dance anymore. She wasn’t sure she like that so much, so she and Aunt Meta would just dance in the kitchen to the music being played in the living room until Uncle Clarence snitched on them. She was so mad at him at the time, but her admiration for her big brother did not allow her to stay mad at him for long. She never said it to me, but I believe that aunt Meta was her best friend as well as her sister. I don’t think there is anything as important to Grandma as her family. Her children and grandchildren always knew that she loved them with everything she had.
She told me that as a child she always wanted to be a doctor and a singer. There were no women doctors in her day, but even so she dreamed about it. She was able to live the dream of being a singer when she sang and played at the dances that she and her siblings gave. She also led the song service in later years.
Her family was quite poor as were most people during the depression. When she completed high school, she could not afford the material to make her graduation dress, so she did not graduate. She later rectified that. When her youngest daughter, Mickey, was in high school grandma decided to go back and get her diploma. It was something that always bothered her and something she resolved. This example taught her kids and grandkids that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams.
She told me a story about her first job and how she used the money to buy paint for the family house. She painted a purple trim around the windows and in the kitchen. She used the rest of the money to help her family with household expenses.
She met my grandpa when she was quite young. Remember how I told you she used to spy on her cousins and their beaus? Well, that is how she met grandpa. He was ten years older than her and he was courting one of her cousins. She and her other cousin were pesky little cousins spying on them. Years later, she and grandpa met again as adults. They fell in love and decided to marry.
After she and grandpa were married, she told me that they lived with my great grandpa Nowell on the farm that grandpa and great-grandpa owned. Great grandpa was a widower and grandma cooked and kept house for him and grandpa. She developed a deep affection for great-grandpa Nowell. She spoke of him with love for as long as I can remember.
Grandma and grandpa loved going camping and fishing. They took their kids and grandkids on many a trip to the mountains. I learned to swim in the lake at Mary Hilda and how to fish at Roper lake. Even after they moved to Arizona, grandma made sure that they stayed close to their Texas family. Every year they loaded up the kids and later some grandkids and took their annual trip to Texas. Family was always so important to them.
I asked her about the difficulty of losing a child and she told me while it was so hard to lose Sharon Kay, she was so thankful that God gave her a few hours to hold her and touch her. She held on to the precious memory of Sharon Kay. Just this last June she told me about her and I could see that she could still picture that tiny body in her mind’s eye. She treasured her son and two daughters. She loved them with all she had. She made their clothes and ran their house like a tight ship. She taught them organization and preparation skills. Grandma may have been the most organized woman I ever knew… now I know where Earline and Diana got it!
I asked her if she was scared when she packed up her two kids to move to a strange desert. She told me that she was excited. That is how grandma lived life. She was fearless and excited for each new adventure. She told me that when she moved from the wide-open plains of Texas to the tall mountains surrounding Morenci she felt a little claustrophobic, but it passed quickly, and Grandma adapted. One thing my grandma could always do was make the best of any situation.
Grandma let her grandkids come and stay with her every year. In my mind I remember staying with her for at least a month at a time. That could be an exaggeration, but the mind of a three-year-old doesn’t always see things as they are. I can remember her making me a purple gingham dress with little matching shorts and then curling my hair and taking my picture by her flowers when I was three. I remember her making me a red night gown with angels on it when I was six. I remember her getting into the hot tub with me in December when I was 15 just because I asked. I remember grandma, grandpa, and their friends making me a beautiful quilt when I was seventeen because I came and stayed with her when she had knee surgery. I remember her teaching me to crochet, trying to teach me to sew, playing barbie dolls with me, cutting out paper dolls, and playing every game from Sorry to 42 with me. She and grandpa even let me play 42 with them when they met with their club… that is how much she loved me. She let an amateur player ruin her game and her friends loved her enough to allow it. I treasure every moment and memory I have with Grandma. Don’t get me wrong… she was no pushover for her grandkids. I know that is a shocker.
Grandma did not tolerate disrespect or folly in her kids and grandkids. I remember throwing a fit when I was little, and she told me to knock it off. She used her famous phrase, “You can get glad in the same clothes you got mad in”! If we did something wrong, she was quick to point it out but when we did something well, she was overflowing with praise and joy. Grandma loved God; she loved her family; she loved her life. Grandma loved to live. She really lived. If there is one trait that my Grandma has that I can mimic, I hope it is that my family will know how special they are to me and that I love them beyond anything on this earth.
A public viewing will be held on Thursday October 4th, from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at McDougal Caldwell Funeral Chapel and again on Friday, October 5th at 9:00 a.m. followed by the funeral service at 10:00 a.m. at The Church of Safford.
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