In Memoriam
Hazel  Rhoten
Sequoyah  High School ~ Teacher

     GOODRICH, Tx --  Laura Hazel Rhoten , died on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008.  She was 102 years old.

     She was born March 19, 1905 in Rossville, Okla. Territory and proud to be able to claim that she was two years older than the state of Oklahoma.

She is survived by her sister, Wanda Kathleen Gordon and generations of nieces and nephews.

     Mrs. Rhoten was the seventh child in a family of 12 kids (10 girls and two boys). She was raised in Oklahoma, graduated from Haworth High School at age 16 and then attended University of Arkansas, where she graduated prepared for teaching. She enjoyed a long career as a teacher, having taught in small towns around southern Oklahoma and over 30 years at the Sequoyah Indian Vocational School  in Tahlequah, Okla. After she retired, she made her home in Ace, Texas, where she dedicated her life to her family, friends and church.

     She was a long time member of Goodrich First United Methodist Church. She was known as someone around whom people could feel Godís presence and who spent her lifetime doing Godís work. She will be remembered for her big heart, her unconditional love for all people and her caring Christian attitude.

     Funeral Services were held on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008, at Goodrich First United Methodist Church. Interment followed at Brookside Cemetery in Houston. Expressions of sympathy may be made in Hazel Rhotenís memory to Goodrich First United Methodist Church ~ Organ Fund, P. O. Box 609, Goodrich, TX 77335


Laura Hazel Rhoten

As presented at Hazel's 100 Birthday Party
by Hazel's neice, Bendette Rea

 
      Today I have a story to tell you about a very remarkable woman I have known all my life.  She is not a missionary, but maybe in a way she is, because of the many things she has done for so many people and the many lives she has touched on her way through life.

     Laura Hazel Rhoten was born in a small farming community named Rossville, Oklahoma.  She laughs and says she is older than the state of Oklahoma because Oklahoma was still Indian Territory when was born and did not become a state until November of 1907; and she was born March 19, 1905.  She was the seventh child in a family of twelve: 10 girls and 2 boys.

     The children had to make their own entertainment as there not the toys and games that children have now.  All of them loved to read and if there was a continued story in a magazine they received, the one who could beat the others to the mailbox got the magazine, hid it and it didn't appear again until it was read cover to cover.

     There were many trees around the Rhoten house and each child claimed one for their own.  When the chores were done, they took a book, climbed their tree and spent hours reading.  Aunt Hazel says she read all of Harold Bell Wright, Jean Stratton Porter, and most of (?)Scott's books sitting up in her tree.

     There were singing schools in the area supported by tuition and after much begging and pleading, Hazel was allowed to attend one of the schools.  She learned how to read music and how to count time.  She practiced church hymns on the family's old pump organ.  This really paid off because she used her musical training in later years.

     Her father was a school teacher and later became a minister and moved the family to a small town in Oklahoma called Haworth.  He had a circuit of four churches.  Maybe that is where she became so interested in a teaching career.

     Hazel graduated from high school in Haworth.  the school had only five graduating seniors that year and three of them were Rhoten girls.

     After graduation, she attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  She traveled there by train and said she cried all the way there.  She was only sixteen years old at the time and didn't want to leave home.  She was fortunate to have a married sister living in that town and stayed with her during her college years.

     After she graduated from college, she returned to Oklahoma and taught a number of years in towns around southern Oklahoma.  One of the schools was Wheelock Indian Academy.  She became interested in teaching Indian students.  This was during the Great Depression and times were hard.  All the teachers had to take a discount on their checks at the bank, if the banks would even cash them; and sometimes they wouldn't.  She still has two checks, which she never cashed.

     During this time, she took a civil service exam and was called to report to the Sequoyah Indian Vocational School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  This was a school for Indians and she found that she would be expected to teach many subjects as time went on.

     This had been a Cherokee Indian Orphanage and the Indian Service had turned it into a vocational school for Indians.  It was first established as an orphanage for children from the Cherokee Nation who had been orphaned as a result of their fathers killed in the (Civil) war.

     The United States government began to help support the school, so it did become a fully accredited state high school.  When they later added a weaving shop, it was to carry over as a vocational training for retired adults.

     The children admitted to the school had to be 1/4 Indian.  They came from several different tribes such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek.  The students were trained in many different things so they would be prepared for a career when they left school.

     While teaching there, Hazel learned pottery, weaving, and spinning.  She taught all these things and they made tablecloths, blankets, afghans, and bedspreads.  They also made suiting fabric which was suitable for men or women's clothing.  She gave beautiful handmade men's ties to the men in the family for Christmas gifts.  I could never understand how this little lady could teach these wonderful crafts to the Indians.  Many of the items they made were for sale and they had quite a profitable business in many areas of the country.

     One year the craft department had a working exhibit in the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  This was a "Made in Oklahoma Crafts Show."  Then the group was invited to participate in an international textile exhibit in New York City.  This was an honor for Hazel to be included.  She later lived in New York City for a short time and attended Columbia University, taking some graduate classes.  She then returned to her teaching position in Tahlequah.

     Hazel decided at one point in her students education that they needed more training in proper etiquette.  She planned trips to restaurants in the town for couples.  The boys had to learn how to order food, pay for it, tip the waiter, and to treat the girls properly on a date.  She felt this was very important for them to know when they left school.

     Another activity Hazel was involved in was as a sponsor of the college unit.  This was a help to the students who enrolled in college.  She also planned school dances for the high school students.  At this time, Elton, my husband, was employed in the area of Tahlequah and Hazel invited him to one of their dances.  The girls thought it was great to have a man there who could jitterbug.  They asked Hazel if she thought he would dance with them.  She said they could ask him; they did and he spent the night dancing with the high school girls and had fun.

     Through a four-point program, some of the teachers from Sequoyah journeyed to Ecuador.  They began working with the Inca Indians in the Andes mountains trying to upgrade their old crafts.  This was to benefit the poor  workers in the hope they could make something they could sell.

     There had been weavers in Ecuador for centuries, but their looms were crude and the product they worked with was coarse, heavy, and not good enough for sale.  With the approval of the government, they had a new loom sent to Ecuador and the teachers taught them how to make cloth that would sell.

     Most of the workers were men and did not know how to set up the looms and make them work.  One day when the men went to lunch, Hazel took her tools and crawled under the loom and fixed it.  By the time the men returned, she had it in good working order.  The men just shook their heads and said "American Women."

     In Ecuador, it was forbidden for women to be on the street alone, so they had a problem going shopping.  One day Hazel and a friend decided they had to do some shopping and they were lucky to find a young boy playing on the street who wanted to be their escort.  He went shopping with them and showed them where to go, helped them with the language, prices, etc.

     Hazel and the other teachers lived in a town called Otavado, high up in the Andes mountains.  There were smoking volcanoes in this area.  One morning about 4a.m., she was awakened with the bed and her body shaking.  She jumped out of bed and rushed to the window overlooking a patio.  She decided if the house started to fall, she would just jump out the window onto the patio below.  I think she would have made it too.  For 3 days after this happened, the people spoke in whispers.  She found out that several years earlier there had been a terrible earthquake that had completely destroyed a town.  The people thought this was happening again, but after a few days things returned to normal.

     One morning she awoke about 3a.m. with the most terrible racket in the street; when she looked out the window, she saw a brass band come parading down the street with the catholic priests following it.  After the priests came the nuns and following the nuns was a group of men carrying something that looked like a raft on their shoulders, with a box on top of it.  In the  box were the ashes of a woman who had been made a saint because she had seen her fiancee's face in the creek where she was bathing.  Her ashes were being displayed in every Catholic church in the area, one day at a time.

     The last thing that happened while Hazel was in Ecuador, happened as she was ready to board the plane to return home. A man approached her with a brown paper bag and said "Buy Lady, Buy!".  She looked in the bag and there was a shrunken head of  a woman with long black hair.  There must have been headhunters in that area at one time, but it was against the law to try to sell the heads.  Needless to say, she boarded the plane without the shrunken head.

     Hazel returned to Sequoyah Indian School where she taught for 30 years.  When she retired, she moved to Houston (Tx.) and bought a home.  She lived there with her mother and father until their deaths.  Some time later she sold the house in Houston and with her sisters, moved to Wild Country, near Livingston, Texas.

     She and her sisters became very active in the Goodrich Methodist Church, where she was the organist for 20 years.  She retired from that position and became a choir member with her sisters.

     Until a few years ago, she took care of her own household duties such as cooking, her own baking, paying her bills, and lived in a home with one sister.  She cared for her sister when she became ill.  The sisters lived very close to each other and cared for each other for some time.

     One of my favorite memories, is the time we spent in Wild Country on Christmas Day.  We always looked forward to that day and Aunt Hazel's dressing and Aunt Wanda's baked chicken.  She doesn't make her dressing anymore, but we did have a  good family get-together Christmas Day this past Christmas.  We still have our fond memories of the days in Wild Country.

     One year a couple of nephews were visiting the aunts and one remarked that the place reminded them of an ant hill, it was so busy.  The name Aunt Hill stuck and someone made a sign with the name on it and all the aunts names.  It was placed in the front yard for all to see and remained there from then on.

     Hazel had and interesting life and is still amazingly active for her 100 years.  It was impossible for me to tell every area she was involved in during her busy life.  I tried to cover a few of the things of interest she did.  I hope if you have any things I missed and would like to mention them please feel free to do so.

     Aunt Hazel, it was a joy to try to put together some of the interesting things in your busy life.  Lots of love and happy 100th birthday to a wonderful lady, Laura Hazel Rhoten.


Hazel Rhoten came to Sequoyah in about 1937 and retired in 1968 with 31 years service.