Ethel Mae Mohler began what would be a very long life in Orion Township, Illinois on August 10, 1891. Her parents were Thomas Jefferson and Mary Bowton Mohler and she was their sixth child. They were one farming family among many in this part of Illinois. Three more children were born in this family before they left Illinois and moved to Nebraska in the late 1890’s. I cannot imagine the ordeal of moving a family of eleven people.
When the 1900 United States Federal Census was taken they were living in York, York County, Nebraska. T.J. Mohler is recorded along with his wife, Mary and their children Charles, Lena, Ethel, Darrel, David, and Ewort. Thomas and Mary had another son, William, born in 1885 in Illinois, but he was not residing with them. The two older children, Flora and Ellsworth, were no longer living with the family. Information from the census shows that the family is living in a home which they owned and was not on a farm. The enumerator’s handwriting is difficult to read but it appears that Thomas is working as a carpenter.
Unfortunately we have no diaries or recorded family stories to help us better understand Ethel’s youth. Thanks to the U.S. census records we do get a glimpse of her family’s life. The 1910 census shows that Thomas was farming and his younger sons were helping him on the family farm. Ethel and her sister, Lena, were teaching school. With seven mouths to feed and the same number of bodies to clothe, undoubtedly the days were long and arduous for all members of the Mohler family.
A young man named Oscar Croft lived in nearby Clay County, Nebraska. Though we do not know where or how, he and Ethel met sometime in the 1908 or 1909. Evidently they were attracted to each other and courted for a time. On October 5, 1910 they married in York County, Nebraska.
It is likely that after their marriage Oscar and Ethel lived on or near his father’s family farm land in Clay County. Since Ethel’s father was also a farmer she was familiar with the lifestyle. While still living in Fairfield, Clay County, Nebraska they became parents when their first child, Lloyd Ollie, was born February 9, 1913.
Evidently Oscar made the decision to leave farming because on the 1920 United States Federal Census, he, Ethel, Lloyd, and Keith are living in Hastings, Adams County, Nebraska. It may have been the family rift that caused him to leave the farm. However, he may have felt he was not cut out for the farming life. Nevertheless, the census recorded his occupation as automobile salesman. Later that year they had their second son, Keith Lyle, born November 15, 1920.
Sometime in 1929 Oscar and Ethel opted to leave Nebraska. Family sources indicate that during the latter part of the 1920’s the large Croft family began to disperse with each family group moving in different directions. Some traveled northwest, others east, some to the southwest, and a few to Kansas. It is surmised that the reason for the dispersion was the combination of the terrible drought and the historical United States depression. We know that Nebraska was one of the states that felt the brunt of the Dust Bowl that occurred in the early 1930’s, so it is entirely possible the Crofts were feeling the early effects of it in their area. If that was the case, we can understand their need to seek “greener pastures.”
OSCAR, ETHEL AND SONS MOVE TO TEXAS
Oscar and Ethel moved to San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas in 1929. We do not know what drew them to this part of the country, but perhaps it was the promise of better employment opportunities and living conditions. Oscar, Ethel, Lloyd, and Keith are recorded on the 1930 United States Federal Census and are residing at 1625 Broadway. This residence must have been a rooming house because five other individuals are recorded at this same address. Ownership of the house is not indicated. The census also gives the information that Oscar’s occupation is District Representative in the automobile industry.
1937 was an important year for Oscar and Ethel Croft. They embarked on a new venture with their son Lloyd when together they founded the Croft Trailer Company at 1423 North Flores Street in San Antonio. Later they developed a trailer rental business and became a part of the Nationwide Trailer rental chain. Oscar’s brother and sister-in-law, George and Lena Croft, lived in Kansas City, Missouri and founded a branch Croft Trailer Company there, too. The company was quite successful and the San Antonio branch was in business for over 70 years.
Family members recall that Ethel was involved in the Croft Trailer Company from its very beginnings, working right along with her husband and son. Her role was assisting in the business office. She was quite serious-minded, and it is likely she ran a “tight ship.” At some point, she and Oscar moved next door to the business, so more that ever, she was on the job 24/7.
When Ethel became a grandmother, they called her “Grandmother.” However, her first great grandchild called her “Gee Gee” and that stuck for the rest of her days.
In her autobiography, Lucy Ann Nance Croft shares her memories of “Gee Gee.”
In looking back on the people who have gained my deepest respect, I would put Grandmother Croft at the top of the list. Because she lived in San Antonio, L.K. was able to spend a great deal of time with her as a child and they developed a close relationship. Consequently, it mattered a lot to Grandmother who he married. Fortunately for me, she let me know from the beginning that she approved of his choice.
When L.K. and I married, Grandmother had been widowed for a number of years (Oscar Cameron Croft, 1887–1952), and I realized right away that she was a fearlessly independent woman. Perhaps it was just her nature, but I believe it had a lot to do with the fact that she had worked at the Croft Trailer Company handling properties, investing her money, and planning her life in all respects. Father and Mother watched out for her and included her in their life as much as possible, but Grandmother had a mind of her own. She died on June 30, 1989, in San Antonio, Texas. She was ninety-seven years old and still lived alone.
Ethel Croft was a person of deep Christian faith. She was an active member of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. Because she had a commitment to its work and worship, the church played a major role in her life. Some of her lasting friendships were with people she met there and with whom she served over the years. She exhibited her spirituality in numerous ways. Though a frugal person, she was also generous in her giving, to both the church and to individuals who needed her assistance or encouragement. She was faithful in the reading and study of her Bible and made its truths a part of her daily thinking and living.
Though conservative in dress and demeanor, Grandmother was an attractive woman and took pride in her appearance. Perhaps her good health and longevity could be attributed to her good genes, but she knew the importance of staying fit and healthy by eating well and exercising. Even in her later years, she would walk in the neighborhood—sometimes to the beauty salon to have her hair done.
When the family got together for dinner or a celebration of some kind, Grandmother, or “Gee Gee” (the name given to her by her great-grandchildren), really enjoyed herself. She was reserved and quiet, but she listened intently to the talk going on around her. It pleased me that in her later years, if someone engaged her in a conversation she responded very enthusiastically. It is wonderful that our children were able to know their great grandmother. That’s not true for many of us. Each of them went to Trinity University in San Antonio and would see her from time to time.
One thing that concerns me as I grow older is staying mentally alert. Gee Gee was role models to all of us. We were constantly amazed at her sharpness and continued interest in the world around her. When we would think of the changes she had experienced in her lifetime, it astounded us that she could cope so well. L.K. would phone her each week and she would remember things he had told her the week before, such as our plans for a trip, our recent activities, or an item of news about our children. Her interest and curiosity were admirable and impressive. L.K. would often compliment her on her abilities and her longevity. She surprised us when she said that living a long time was not something we should be impressed by. She felt that she was no longer contributing to the world and was a worry to those who loved her. As I reflect on that, perhaps in some respects that may have been true. However, even up to her last days, we respected her wisdom, her caring manner, her encouragement, and her constant support and love for us and our family. In those ways, she was still giving of herself.
Ethel Mae Mohler Croft died on June 30, 1989 in San Antonio, Texas and was buried at Mission Burial Park South next to her husband, Oscar Cameron Croft.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census, [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census, [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network. Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census, [database online]. Provo UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census, [database online]. Provo UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Clay County, marriage record, Clay County Clerk’s Office, Fairfield, Nebraska.
Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.
Ethel Mae Mohler birth record, State of Nebraska, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Ethel M. Croft death certificate no. 060184, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011.