Conneaut Lake, PA
“Mama never told me” . . . [but I never asked]
In 1940, seventeen-year-old Esther Templeton was a junior in Hickory High School. She fell in love with a guy named Bill Jones and quit school to marry him.
“My mother cried when we walked in and announced that we were married,” Esther said. “She was broken hearted. But I shrugged it off, thinking she’ll never miss me because there were still seven more girls and four brothers at home.”
During her first year of marriage, Esther would have laughed if anyone had suggested she would become a contestant in a Mrs. America contest some day. Or more likely, she would have cried.
“After we were married a couple of months,” she said, “the honeymoon was over. One Monday I dragged myself out of bed at almost noon and sat staring at the dishes stacked in the sink. There was a pile of laundry to be washed, and I hadn’t even done last week’s ironing. The house was a mess from the weekend, so I started scrubbing the floor. Halfway through it I sat down and started to cry. Mama hadn’t told me there would be days like this.”
But of course, she admits, she hadn’t asked. When she did run home to ask Mama for advice and sympathy, she got a surprise instead.
“One time after a little spat, I went home to Mom. I told her how mean Bill was, how hard I had to work, and how awful everything was in general. All she did was agree with me. Can you imagine that? So I cried. I thought, ‘Mom thinks my Bill is so mean, she thinks I’m too young to be married, just a baby.’ Well, that shocked me out of my mood. I was back in my own home before the day was over, acting like the adult I was, or thought I was.”
Esther also gives her husband a lot of credit for getting her through that first year.
“I was lucky to get an extraordinarily mature husband. Not many twenty-year-old husbands are that mature. He would tease me out of my stubborn fits, as he called them, and we would talk things out. I would stomp my feet and scream at him, but he would just laugh. When he got tired of that, he would stomp his feet and scream back at me, so I stopped that because it looked quite ridiculous.”
Esther envied her friends who hadn’t gotten married.
“While they worked and brought home paychecks and spent them on anything they wanted, I had to concentrate on a home.”
After Bill was drafted into the Navy, Esther learned that her friends’ lives were difficult, too.
“My husband’s mother kept the baby and I worked at Westinghouse. I had never realized how hard it is to work eight hours or how important it was to do a job well. So when I came home I was determined to make my eight hours in the home just as important.”
Even then she didn’t realize that she was starting down a path that would lead to her recognition as a model wife and mother. But her determination to become better at whatever she did got her moving in that direction. So did a discovery she made about doing things outside the home, such as with the Shenango Valley Junior Women’s Club and Girl Scouts.
“I became involved in various community projects, not because I had extra time to spend, but because I didn’t know anything about them and I wanted to find out. I learned that being interested in the community not only helps you to grow, but also is an investment in the future of your family. Being involved in Girl Scouts gave me a better understanding of my own children.”
She also joined a sewing club.
“When I was first asked to join, it frightened me because they could all sew beautifully. I received so much from them.”
Bill worked at General American, but his family was his highest priority. He spent every Sunday with them. In the summer they spent a lot of time at Conneaut Lake.
“We just had a little old trailer,” Esther said. “Lots of people would come up there. Sundays we didn’t know whether we would be feeding five or 50. But they all came with food.”
So by the time 1958 rolled around, Esther and Bill had four children: Sandy, age 17; Janie, 10; Marcia, 8; and William, 2. The marriage that had started out so shaky was solid and happy.
“We had good parents,” said daughter Janie. “People make fun of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and all that, but that was the kind of life we had. And it was a good life.”
Then one day early in 1958 Esther got a big surprise in the mail. “It was a letter saying I had been selected as a contestant in the Mrs. America contest. I didn’t know anything about it until I got the letter in the mail. My sister had seen an announcement about it in the paper. They had gotten a form, filled it out, and sent it in with my picture.”
Although Esther was pretty enough to compete in a beauty contest, that isn’t what the Mrs. America competition was in those days. Contestants were judged on their homemaking skills, such as sewing, cooking, even setting a dinner table with their own china.
Esther prepared for the contest with her usual thoroughness, enthusiasm, and good humor.
“There was a pie baking contest,” she said. “If you’ve ever seen someone baking a pie, there’s dough and flour everywhere. Well, I practiced at the kitchen table until I got it down where there wasn’t a mess. I won the apple pie baking contest.”
“We ate a lot of apple pie,” Janie said. “A guy at work drew a cartoon showing my father being carried out because he had eaten too many apple pies.”
After winning the titles of Mrs. Sharon and Mrs. Western Pennsylvania, Esther went on to compete for the title of Mrs. Pennsylvania. She was one of three finalists, but didn’t win.
“The girls in the Mrs. Pennsylvania contest all thought I was the winner,” she said. “I felt good about that. That was the highlight of the whole thing.”
The reaction of Esther’s family was not what you might have expected. They were delighted that she was just Mrs. Jones, and not Mrs. America. Her seven year old daughter Marcia said that she was just a plain old mommy – and that was enough for all the kids.
“We were so glad she didn’t win because she would have been gone so much.” Janie said. “She would have been gone for a year traveling.”
Esther didn’t work outside her home until 1970.
“I went to work when I was 45 to put my kids through college. After being at home all those years and go to work when I was 45, that was hard. I was a press operator at Packard Electric.”
Just before Memorial Day weekend in 1972, Bill bought an orange motor boat.
“He had this little captain’s hat,” Janie said. “He was riding around thinking he’s big stuff. But he never got to enjoy it.”
“We left the lake, came home, and went to bed,” Esther said. “He woke up in the middle of the night with a heart attack. Just like that. No sign of it or anything.”
“Every Sunday my dad had always made a roast,” Janie said. “We would come home from church and had dinner. When we were sitting in the funeral home after he died, we said, who’s going to cook the roast now?”
It turned out eventually that another Bill would end up doing that. His name was Bill Boyle, whom Esther met about two years later.
“Five of us girls were out partying,” Esther said. “Bill Boyle came up to me and said, ‘This is the third place I’ve followed you. May I have the next dance?’”
They dated for the next 15 years.
“Bill was born and raised in Conneaut Lake, but he was living in Cleveland. I didn’t want to go to Cleveland and he didn’t want to come to Sharon. I would have had to leave Packard and he would have had to quit his job. But he came faithfully every single weekend, no matter what the weather. He never missed a weekend. We retired and got married when we were 65 – in 1989. I sold my home in Sharon and he sold his in Cleveland. We pulled down the trailer at Conneaut Lake and put up a modular home.”
“Every Sunday,” Janie said, “he would cook a roast, so we stayed with the tradition.”
Esther and Bill spent their summers at Conneaut Lake and their winters in Fort Myers, Florida, until Bill died about two years ago.
But for Esther, it’s still all about family.
“We rent a hall every year for Thanksgiving,” she said. “This year there were 105 family members there. We used to have it in our home, but everyone started having children and grandchildren.”
Her daughter Janie (now Nix) has two girls, Sandy (Leipheiner) has three boys, and son Bill has two girls and a boy. There are twelve great grandchildren. That’s quite an outcome from a marriage that didn’t look like it would survive its first year.
Excerpt from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008