by Elizabeth Kane – originally in the Seal Beach Sun
Remembering back to last year’s centennial celebration activities is not so hard, but imagine if what you were to remember was the real centennial, I mean, remembering the last 100 years in Seal Beach? There are few left who can tell these stories and this week’s Neighbor To Know, Virginia Haley, is one of those few.
Virginia was only 5 years old in 1922 when she and her family loaded into a brand new Ford Model T in Kinsley, Kansas for a long journey to California. They did not stay in hotels along the way; they simply pulled up for the night, lowered the shades on the car and slept. Her father was a builder-plasterer whose brother was already in Long Beach and he knew there was lots of work here. Shortly after their arrival in California, her father chose to settle in Seal Beach, building their first home himself between 15th and 16th streets in a house that is still there today. Since that time, with the exception of only a few years, Virginia has never left.
She attended Seal Beach Grammar School, which was long before Zoeter was ever built *, where Mr. McGaugh was a teacher at the time. The school was a K-8th-grade model, with combined classes. She still has her class pictures from those years where all the girls had bob haircuts, the trend of the day in the roaring 20’s. “There was not an endless amount of things for a child to do back then” Virginia recalled, “and yet with school activities, our church and family life, we were busy and tired at the end of the day.” She played “Kick the Can” down the middle of Main Street. Her eyes light up when we talk about what it was like to ride the roller coaster at the Joy Zone. “It was wonderful and such a thrill, even if it was not as big as the Pike in Long Beach.”
Her memories of Old Town are vivid, from the gambling halls and seedier places, to those like the early silent movie hall which stood where Hennessey’s is today, before the Bay Theatre and the “talkies” were ever dreamed of. It was not, as she tells it, the part of town they were supposed to hang out as kids. Instead, she was involved at her church. The family joined what was at that time called “First Church” in town, located on 6th Street. The church moved to 10th and became the First Methodist Episcopal Church and today is simply the First Methodist Church. She has been a member there since the ’20s and it was a cornerstone of her life where she taught Sunday School for many years, served as treasurer for 17 years and as a teller for 35 years in addition to many other committees.
She remembers being thrilled to start high school in Huntington Beach because she got to ride a bus there and back each day. She remembers what it was like riding the Red Car and the Trolleys to Long Beach where one went to shop at the Kress Store or to the YWCA to swim. She loves dancing. Her brother was an accomplished dancer who taught her as much as he could. The family would go together to dance halls in Long Beach, which were all the rage and hosted many of the big bands of the era. It was at one of these that she met the man who would become her husband, Francis “Jack” Haley. Jack was a career Navy man, and shortly after meeting him in 1934 at age 17, she left school to marry him. She followed Jack around the country to various stations during his career but they always returned to Seal Beach.
Jack was stationed in Pearl Harbor on the U.S.S. Nevada the day it was bombed. She did not have word if he had survived until almost three weeks after when she saw the Jan. 5, 1942 Life Magazine expose and there in one of the pictures was Jack, leading his team in recovery efforts. We take our instantaneous information and connectivity so much for granted it is hard to imagine how agonizing that must have been. She still has that magazine copy and shared it with me. Jack served over 24 years, and returned to become the Assistant Post Master in Seal Beach. At that time, the Post Office was up the street in the 300 block, not where it stands today.
She is quick to tell you she was “just a housewife,” even though she was anything but. She and Jack had four children, two boys and two girls. She found the Women’s Club of the day, but it was not very accommodating to the younger generation so she banded the younger women together and started the Seal Beach Junior Women’s Club. The original charter stated that the maximum age was supposed to be 25 to be in the group, but the women loved it so much they kept moving the age limit up so that they could remain together. She served many years as a leader in the local PTA, and her dedicated involvement with the Girl Scouts led to the founding of the Santiago Girl Scout Council as well as spearheading the building of the Anaheim Landing Historical Monument in 1956.
With St. Patrick’s Day just past as we spoke, she told me of the riots on Main Street in 1973, protest riots where a SWAT team was called in. She told me it was one of the most disturbing things she has ever seen in all her years here. She has seen many, many changes, some wonderful such as the rebuilt pier and the preservation of the greenbelt, and some not so much. But ask her what her favorite memory is and she quickly tells you “all of it.” She would not trade a day, not one of her days here, for anyplace else in the world. It is almost impossible to tell her many memories and stories in this space, but Virginia Haley is an amazing woman. She is planning her 100th Birthday next March, and I for one have asked for a front row ticket to that event! If you see her out and about, please get her to share. She has so much to offer us in her memories, her charm and wonderful spirit I hope she continues to get that chance. Thank you, Virginia and Happy Belated Birthday.
- Seal Beach School and Zoeter School are one and the same, with the former being renamed in the early 1950s to honor longtime school board member Mary Zoeter. Perhaps she is confused by the rebuilding of Seal Beach School after the 1933 Earthquake.
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