Stella Bates Byers Recalls Growing Up In Leonard and Her Parents' Cafe
By Jacqueline White
Stella Byers, a very young 94-years of age, moved to Leonard from Fort Wroth with her parents, Joe and Buelah Bates, at age four. The family had relatives in Greenville, but liked Leonard and decided to live here. Her parents established the Bates' Cafe on the northeast corner of the Leonard Square, owned, and operated it for many years.
Stella remembers three buildings that were together. Her family's cafe, a barber shop, and a grocery store. "The cafe served wonderful food," recalled Stella. "Mother got up at 5:00 AM and built a wood fire in the cook stove. Then she started preparing the food for the day. The cafe served a large breakfast crowd. Dr. John Pendergrass, our family doctor, was one of the 'regulars.' Mother was known for her wonderful food and she was a good business woman," she added.
Her family built their home down the street from the cafe, a two-story house with four upstairs rooms, rented out to "young men." The home, with some modifications, still stands on Collin Street.
Stella attended school in Leonard, but her family moved to Bonham for a few years and during that time Stella was graduated from high school. The financial prospects were not as bright in Bonham as the family had anticipated; so, they moved back to Leonard.
Stella worked for a time at the First National Bank of Leonard. Arthur Grider was the bank president. Other employees were Paul Albright and Mr. Robert Nesbit.
Her family later moved to Greenville and sold their home to Clymer Crabb who lived there for many years. They continued to operate the Bates' Cafe and moved the business to Stonewall Street, behind Woolworth's in Greenville.
During the time the family lived in Leonard, Stella had a Bonham friend here for a visit and they went to Greenville to go swimming. Stella was an excellent swimmer and Harbert Byers noticed her. He told a companion, "That's the girl I'm going to marry." He called a friend (Cleo Hamlett) and asked who she was. Harbert then called her.
He courted Stella and after a few years, they married. During the time they were courting Stella attended the College of Industrial Arts (CIA), the forerunner of Texas Woman's University (TWU) in Denton. Stella said Harbert was "so good to me" and that they had a wonderful life together.
The Byers had one son, Andy Joe, named according to Stella, after his two grandfathers. Andy grew up in Celeste, attending Celeste schools. At the time, they didn't offer all of the high school courses he needed for college; so, he transferred to Greenville. After graduation there, he attended Texas A&M in College Station and then received an appointment to West Point. He was graduated from West Point and his mother recalled many happy times visiting him on the east coast campus.
Andy is now retired from the military and lives in Florida. He and his wife, Doris, have two daughters, Michelle and Annette. They love to travel and, according to his mother, they are getting ready for a trip to Spain.
The family lived in Celeste for many years, owned, and operated the Byers Farm Store in Celeste. A personal friend of the late US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn, Harbert was appointed Celeste Postmaster and held the position for many years. During that period of time, Stella and one employee, Sammy Joe Taylor, ran the farm store.
Stella recalled an occasion when Sam Rayburn was visiting them in Celeste and she and Harbert were sitting at the lunch counter of a local restaurant with Mr. Sam between them. Someone brought Mr. Sam a message and he went outside and called his office on the telephone. He came back into the cafe in a few minutes and said, "Harbert, do you know what that was about?" My husband said, "No, I have no idea." Rayburn went on to tell us both that "they were wanting me to run for President, and I told them I wouldn't have the job. I come home to my District (Texas Fourth Congressional District) to see my people all the time and I like to do that. I don't want to be President." He added, "I like what I do."
"My husband went to visit him the hospital in Bonham just before he died," said Stella. "My Rayburn took Harbert's hand and told him that they'd been friends for a long time. After he came home, Harbert said that Mr. Rayburn knew he was going to die and it was his way of saying good-bye to him. He was very popular with the people," added Stella.
Harbert died in 1991, after he and Stella had celebrated sixty-four years of marriage. He and Stella were charter residents of Colonial Lodge Retirement Inn in Greenville. Today, she continues to make her home here and has many of her lovely furnishings from the home they shared together. She has a large portrait of Harbert on her wall and many other family photos on display, including pictures of her great-grandchildren.
She enjoys her continued good health, her "patio," her comfortable home, and visiting with her friends.
(May 25, 2000, The Leonard Graphic)
Submitted by Sarah Swindell