Hood County Texas Genealogy Society
THE LIFE OF ROBERT MILTON NEWTON
Written by Robert Newton, Jr. and Ann Tackitt
Reprinted from Hood County Genealogical Society Newsletter
dated February 1998
Robert M. Newton was born November 30, 1907, in Coryell County, near the community of Purmela, Texas. He was the fourth child of Joseph (Joe) Norwood Newton and Nettie Coleman Newton.
Robert's father was a farmer who bought land, improved it for several years, and sold it for a profit. As a result, Robert experi-enced a number of moves in his early years, but all moves kept the family in their native Texas.
From Purmela, the family moved to Clyde for five years, then to a farm in Scurry County for two years. Hail storms and bad weather sent the family back to a farm in Coryell County near Levita about 1915. After a couple of years, Joe sold that farm and moved to another one also near Levita.
Robert was nearly eight years old when he started school and had normal chores for a farm boy of that age. They included a trek every morning to the pasture to find the horses and drive them to the barn for feeding and work that day. But Robert's special duty was to be his father's companion when Joe went hunting and fishing. Robert liked hunting, but detested fishing, but he really had no choice; he was his father's chosen companion.
At Levita, Robert's older brother, Bennett, bought the first automobile in the family. Robert learned to drive this car, a predecessor of jeeps called a "Baby Overland," although he did so without benefit of his brother's knowledge or approval. When their father bought a family car, Robert quickly mastered it as well, also without permission.
When Robert finished eighth grade, Joe moved the family back to Clyde and the same property he had owned before. There the family operated a fruit and vegetable farm, as well as a small grocery store.
While Robert attended Clyde High School he spent the summers working to save money since he hoped to go on to college. One summer he worked on his uncle's farm at Hawley, between Anson and Abilene. The next summer, he got a better paying job working on the Bankhead Highway between Baird and Abilene slinging a sledgehammer and shoveling dirt. He graduated from Clyde High School in 1926 as the highest-ranking boy in his class and received a scholarship from the state which made college a reality.
The closest state college was Tarleton Junior College in Stephenville. At age 19, Robert boarded a train and went away to live in a boarding house and wear a uniform for ROTC.
After four semesters, he got a teaching certificate and went to Buckholts where he would teach a variety of classes from fifth grade through seniors. He enjoyed teaching but hated coaching the basketball and baseball teams, responsibilities which were expected of any male teacher.
While in Buckholts, Robert became interested in radios. He ordered a radio kit and put one together following the instructions because buying one already assembled was just too expensive. The owner of the boarding house where he lived put up an antenna so that Robert's three-battery radio could pick up one of the few stations in existence.
In the summer between his first and second years at Buckholts, Robert returned to Tarleton for more classes. Even though he was quite shy, his good looks attracted the attention of several coeds. Robert was also one of the few boys on campus who had a car: a 1925 Model T Roadster. One weekend, Robert had a date with a girl named Ophelia Wilson to go for a ride in his car. Robert's best friend and his date were also going with them. The other boy's date lived in the dorm, and dorm rules prohibited them from riding in cars with boys. However, Ophelia knew a girl named Dora Carney who lived in a boarding house and was not subject to the same rules. So the automobile ride went on as planned, but some-where along the way the boys traded partners! Although with four people in a Roadster's one small seat, it was hard to tell who was really whom. That date led to more dates, and soon Robert and Dora were in love.
When Robert returned to Buckholts for his second year, this time as the principal, he made several trips to see Dora at Tarleton and at her home in Tolar. By the spring he and Dora had decided to marry. In order for Robert and Dora to apply for a teaching position together in the fall, they had to exchange vows in time for their application to go out in early May. So on Saturday, April 20, 1929, they were married by the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Stephenville in his parsonage.
Their first school together was Camp Branch, near Hico, where they stayed for one year. In the summer of 1930, they attended Texas Tech College and returned to a small Hood County school named Haye's College where they taught for two years. In September of 1932, Robert moved to the school in Hill City. However, they lived in Tolar with the Carney's because Dora was pregnant and there was no doctor in Hill City. Barbara Ann was born in April 1934.
When school was out in the spring of 1934, Robert "retired" from teaching. He was disillusioned with the profession, especially the coaching part, and the Great Depression had turned their income into credit slips from the State which the stores then discounted.
For the next four years, they lived at Goree in west Texas, where Robert's father needed help in farming. Robert did not want to be a farmer, but at that time he had no other options. Meanwhile, a second child was born in 1935, and they named her Mary Nell.
While in Goree, Robert renewed his interest in radios. He wanted off the farm and was ready to do anything for a steady job during the Great Depression. So he studied and obtained a certificate as a radio repairman.
As the Depression dragged on, Robert tried to make a living repairing radios. He worked first in Tolar, then in Abilene, and finally Rotan, northwest of Abilene, where he opened his own shop. But a fire destroyed much of downtown Rotan in 1939, including Robert's shop. To his dismay, he had to return to farming with his father who had bought a farm at Funston.
Determined to get off the farm, the family moved to Port Arthur in 1941 where Robert attended a radio technical school. He obtained a license to work at radio stations and found a job at KSAM in Huntsville working 12-hour shifts as the engineer, as well as announcer and disc jockey. This budding career was interrupted by World War II as Robert was recruited to teach in the Navy Communications School at Texas A&M College. There he taught Morse Code and radio theory to Navy and Marine recruits for two years.
After the difficulties of the Depression, Robert finally felt that his income was stable and their life in Bryan was pretty good. Knowing that the war would not last forever, he found a job at a radio station in Fort Worth and moved the family to Grand Prairie in October of 1944. Robert stayed at WBAP for six years as he and Dora added Robert Jr. (1945) and Donna Ruth (1947) to the family. Then the radio station was sold, and he was not sure that his job would last.
Meanwhile, his sister Irby and her husband, Amos, had a farm near Seymour that was producing bumper crops due to perfect weather and rain. Amos had health problems and could no longer farm, so the family moved to the farm near Seymour. Robert took over the farm just as the years of prosperity ended with a tornado and an extended drought. Robert sought supplemental income by working at the tiny local radio station in Seymour, again as engineer, disc jockey, newsman, and just about everything else.
After only one year in Seymour, the family returned to Grand Prairie where Robert was hired again by his former employer, WBAP radio. They remained there until retirement.
Just as Robert and Dora found financial security, their family started to change. Ann married in a big church wedding in 1951. Nell married more informally in 1953. Robert and Dora's circle of friends soon forgot that they had older children. Most people thought that they had married late and their kids were just now starting school. They were middle-aged with young children: an unusual condition for that time. However, the lifestyle must have agreed with them, because as their friends settled into sedentary lives, Robert and Dora were involved in school activities and keeping up with their younger kids. As a result, they stayed young themselves!
As the years progressed, both Robert Jr. and Donna grew up, married, and moved away as the number of grandchildren multiplied. In 1972, Robert retired at the age of 65 and settled into a more domestic life when he and Dora moved to Granbury and established their home amidst numerous relatives and lifelong friends, including a number of former students.
However, the Hood County Sheriff's Office desperately needed a night dispatcher, so Robert stepped in to help out for a while. He didn't know anything about dispatching, but he did understand their radios. Although a native Texan, he had never owned boots or western wear. Suddenly, he was sporting western boots, cowboy hats, and big belt buckles! He learned about the seamy side of life in Hood County and loved every minute of it. After working many night shifts as a relief dispatcher, Robert realized that the workload was becoming increasingly hectic. So six years after he stepped in to help, he retired at the age of 73.
However, he could not remain retired very long. He became active on the Building & Maintenance Committee at the First Baptist Church in Granbury. Never one to hire things done that he could do himself, he often mowed the church property, fixed a speaker, built a podium, etc.
In 1982 the Hood County Genealogical Society was founded, and Robert was among the original members. For the next ten years, Robert was heavily involved in many projects for fund raising and restoration of the old depot for genealogical archival use. He did everything from replacing windows to building a model of the depot for a float in the July 4th parade.
After his second retirement, Robert and Dora began to travel. Their trips have taken them to Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, and all over Texas.
In January 1994, Robert suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). In spite of this, his optimistic spirit led him to fight back as he made a remarkable recovery.
On November 30, 1997, Robert reached his 90th year, still in the good health with which the Almighty has blessed him. Active in every way, Robert continues to surprise us all with his delight in life and interest in everything.
Web Page by Virginia Hale
© HOOD COUNTY TEXAS GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY, 1998. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.