Ethel Cleora Calk
Ethel Cleora Calk would have been amazed had she known about the rich, full life awaiting her in the future. I say this because she was born into a very modest home on September 9, 1881, in the small town of Bonham in northeastern Texas. Her parents were Early Jackson “Jack” and Wincy Titsworth Calk. Both of them had previously been married and Wincy had a 6 year old son, Levi Carlisle. Jack later adopted him.
According to both the 1880 and 1900 U.S. Federal Census records, Jack was a farm laborer. Chances are the Calk family lived a very simple life. I imagine that along with her family, Ethel learned to live modestly and frugally. In the years following Ethel’s birth the Calks had five more children – Clementine “Clemmie” (about 1882); Maude (1884); Helen (1886); Granvill (1889); and Early “Earl” Jackson (1894). I have little information on these siblings. However, it seems possible that Ethel had a lot of experience playing the role of “big sister” and, undoubtedly, was given a great deal of responsibility helping her mother in this busy household.
Sometime before 1899, Ethel met her future husband, George Franklin LeBus. He had moved to Bonham between 1880 and 1899. Family lore tells us that he was an inventive man with an entrepreneurial spirit, so I imagine him being a persuasive suitor. By the time they married, November 5, 1899, George had opened a blacksmith and tool manufacturing shop. I am sure they had hopes of growing a successful business, but little did they know that the door was opening to a life beyond their wildest dreams.
Along with a growing business, George and Ethel started their family with the birth of their first child, Frank Leyburn, born September 9, 1900. During the next few years while continuing to live in Bonham, the family grew larger with the births of two daughters. First, Hazel Annabelle was born January 23, 1902, and then Archie Carlisle, born December 1, 1904.
GEORGE LEBUS MOVES HIS BUSINESS AND GROWING FAMILY
George’s tool manufacturing business continued to grow, and in about 1905 his services were required in Madill, Marshall County, Oklahoma. He felt living here was important enough to move his family. While living there, Ethel gave birth to another son, Jack Blackburn, born April 17, 1906; and a daughter, Irene Clementine, born February 17, 1908.
By 1910 George had opened yet another place of business in Henrietta, Clay County, Texas. On the LeBus International website there is a brief history of the company with a few old photographs. One picture is of workers at the old Henrietta plant. So, as you might expect, George moved his family to this little community in north central Texas.
While living in Henrietta, George and Ethel added two more children to their family. Roy Henderson was born April 10, 1910, and Laura V. was born January 28, 1913. Unfortunately, we have no photographs of the LeBus family at this time of their life together, but I imagine it would have been a grand picture of George, Ethel, and their seven children. However, they are not finished growing yet!
ELECTRA, TEXAS BECOMES HOME FOR MANY YEARS
By 1917 we find the LeBus family in Electra, Wichita County, Texas. It seems that this little town grew somewhat when oil was discovered in 1911 and the Electra Oilfield developed. I believe this to be one of the reasons George wanted to bring his business to the area.
Living in Electra must have agreed with George and Ethel because they lived there for about fifteen years. During that time they would have three more children. George Franklin, Jr. was born May 10, 1917, and Ethel Marie came along August 6, 1919. Their last son, Donavel Calk, was born March 13, 1925. Sadly he died on March 22, 1925. I do not have information about the death of this child, but I think it was a tragic event in the life of this large family.
By the time of the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the LeBus family had grown much smaller. George and Ethel are listed with their youngest three children and one servant. As expected, the older children married and had begun families of their own. The LeBus family continued to grow, but this time it was with the addition of grandchildren. Because I am one of those grandchildren, I know that “Pa and Ma” loved their grand-parenting role. Nothing made them happier than being surrounded by their children and grandchildren and hearing of their accomplishments.
GEORGE AND ETHEL ON THE MOVE AGAIN
George LeBus knew he had to go where there were business opportunities, so when the East Texas oil boom occurred, the LeBus family moved to Longview to open a machine shop in 1934. This company developed into LeBus International.
In 1938 George and Ethel decided to make yet another move, this time to Wichita Falls, Texas. They found a very large and beautiful home there and the one which became a legend in the family. They called it “The Big House.” In her autobiography, Lucy Ann Nance Croft remembers it this way.
As I try to recall memories of Ma and Pa LeBus’s home (Mr. and Mrs. George F. LeBus, maternal grandparents) in Wichita Falls, Texas, the word that comes to mind is “palatial.” The house I am referring to was the one I remember visiting as a small child; they called it the Big House. They purchased this thirteen-acre estate in the early 1930s and lived there for about twenty years. Amid my mother’s memorabilia, I found the newspaper clipping from the Wichita Falls Record News about my grandparent’s home.
‘George F. LeBus, who left Electra a few years ago to enter competition in the East Texas oil field at Longview, made his return to this area auspiciously significant when he purchased the baronial home name by which the estate is known to Wichitans, covers an expanse of 13 acres on Harrison Avenue in southwest Wichita Falls. The construction of the home is of brick and reinforced concrete, towering three stories and supplied with 19 rooms and six bathrooms . . . the architecture is English colonial. An ornamental iron fence surrounds the grounds, on which are, in addition to the luxurious home, tennis courts, tea house, greenhouse, rose arbor, rose garden, lily ponds, fountain and a four-car garage over which are comfortable quarters for two servants and laundry room.’ (Wichita Falls Record News)
I recall that even though my grandparents were quite wealthy, lived in a lovely mansion with a high-profile life, and had many children and grandchildren, they were both very loving and caring to each and every one of us. There was a lot of laughter, visiting, and hugging in the Big House. Large family holiday gatherings, lively dinners, reunions, birthdays, and dances in the ballroom in the basement were not unusual in such a large family. As Ma said, “it takes a lot of living in a house to make it home.” My grandparents certainly accomplished that. (Croft, 25-27)
Ma LeBus loved “The Big House” with all its lovely furnishings and grounds. However, it must have been the glorious good times there that meant the most. It was, indeed, a luxurious environment. Best of all, Pa and Ma loved having family and friends gathered there to enjoy it with them.
As much as Pa and Ma enjoyed their big old house, a time came when they began to consider selling it. Even with servants, it must have required a lot of Pa and Ma to maintain such a property. Perhaps this was one of many reasons to sell “The Big House” and make a move. In about 1946 they made quite a big change after they sold the lovely home. Evidently they vacationed in California and liked it so much, they decided to move there! Some other family members moved there at the same time, so Pa and Ma must have led the way. Some of us recall taking summer trips out to visit them and hearing all the Hollywood stories. They lived there for about one year and I imagine it was a year long holiday for them!
At this time in their life together, Pa and Ma made the decision to move back to Wichita Falls. I suppose they felt it was really “home” to them. Undoubtedly, they had many long time friends there and deep roots in the community. I recall that they were especially involved in the First Christian Church. They built a lovely home on Miramar Street which was both large and comfortable. As always, it was important that their home be a gathering place for family and friends, and this home filled the bill having a spacious living room, dining room, kitchen, guest rooms and lovely yard.
After moving back to Wichita Falls, a very memorable event in the life of the LeBus family was George and Ethel’s 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration on November 5, 1949. It was, indeed, an evening to remember. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Wichita Daily Times about the event.
Mr. and Mrs. G.F. LeBus, who observed their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday, were honored guests for an elaborate reception held at the Wichita Falls Country Club. More than 500 family, friends, and relatives called between the hours of 7 and 11 o’clock. Hosts and hostesses for the affair were the couple’s eight sons and daughters, each sharing duties with his wife or husband.
On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, George and Ethel were interviewed by Frances Hyland, a reporter for the Wichita Daily Times. Ma LeBus gives us an insight into her full, rich life being married to Pa for all those years.
It’s like a big party all the time,’ says smiling Mrs. G. E. LeBus in describing her family life. And, that’s easy to imagine because now, as Mr. and Mrs. LeBus are completing 50 years of married life, they are surrounded, quite frequently, by most of their eight children, 27 grandchildren, four great grandchildren, and the various and sundry ‘in-laws.’
Like all big families, the LeBuses enjoy being together and seldom let a day pass without seeing one another if it’s at all possible. And, all is quite congenial, the mother says, because they have made it an unwritten rule to laugh away any differences that might ariseAs they aged, both Pa and Ma began to have some health issues. Ma may have been frailer, but it was Pa who died first. On December 24, 1956, Ethel lost her beloved husband, George. Even with very good help and health care, along with family to keep her company, life after Pa’s death was difficult for her. After being plagued by Parkinson’s disease during her last years, Ethel LeBus died on October 1, 1960 in Wichita Falls, Texas. Here is an excerpt from her obituary.
Mrs. George F. (Ethel) LeBus,) 79, resident of Wichita Country almost 50 years, died Saturday afternoon at her residence, 2204 Miramar. Funeral services will be held at
2 p.m. Monday at the First Christian Church with Dr. George R. Davis officiating. Burial will be in Crestview Memorial Park under direction of Owens & Brumley Funeral Home.
Survivors include three sons, Roy LeBus, George F. LeBus, Jr., and Frank LeBus; five daughters, Mrs. Hazel Grizzle, Mrs. Paul Bilbrey, Mrs. C.D. Knight, Mrs. Denzel Morrow, and Mrs. Bennett Nance; and one brother, Earl Calk; 34 grandchildren, and 28 great-grandchildren.
Reared in Bonham, where she was born Sept. 9, 1881, Mrs. Ethel LeBus and her late husband were married at the home of her parents in that city Nov. 5, 1899…Always active in community affairs, Mrs. LeBus was one of Electra’s busiest P.T.A. workers, and taught a Sunday School class. In Wichita Falls, she was a conscientious member of the First Christian Church, the Woman’s Forum, and the Garden Club and for a time served as sponsor of the Senior-Junior Forum.
In her autobiography, Lucy Ann Nance Croft remembers her grandmother Ma LeBus.
Ma LeBus was a very affectionate, caring woman who would always reach out to me for a hug and a kiss. Having her family gathered around was extremely important to her. Even though she had servants who helped keep her home in beautiful condition, her house reflected her good taste and style in its design, art, and furnishings. If you were a guest, she was concerned about your comfort and gave you special attention. I think of her as a religious person but not overly pious. She and Pa were interested in their church (Christian Church) and were committed to its work and worship. (Croft, 41)
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 Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.
Ethel C. LeBus, death certificate no. 62986,Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Fannin County, marriage certificate no. 103410, vol. L, p. 508, Bonham, Texas.
Heritage Quest Online. 1930 United States Federal Census.
Hyland, Frances, “Mr. and Mrs. George F. LeBus Recall Events in Life Together During Fifty Years Since Marriage,” Wichita Daily Times, November 6, 1949.
LeBus International, Inc. (website), “The LeBus History,” http://www.lebus.us
Wichita Falls Times, obituary for Mrs. George F. (Ethel) LeBus, October 1960.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, “Bonham, Texas,” www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonham
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2010