Bob, George, Jeff, Gil, Dorothy, Claude & Arthur
Photo and article courtesy of Mike Cox
Dorothy Mangum Gest was born Juneteenth in her home in the country in Matagorda County near what would later become Bay City, Texas. At the time, there was no town.
She was one of 16 children born on a farm. Her birth date: June 19, 1989 .
Her father, William Arther Mangum [Arthur William Mangum], had seven children by his first wife, including Dorothy, and nine children by his second wife, Lola Rozanna [Roxanne] Lee.
She’s not quite sure whether Benjamin Harrison or Grover Cleveland was president on the day she was born, but she is certain about the first president she remembers: Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1901-1909).
“When he went into the White House I remember a line they had – ‘He was elected more than I expected,’ ” Gest recalls, adding, “I’m a Democrat.”
She also remembers her mother’s description of the day she came into the world.
“Daddy had a farm, and on the day I was born the woman who had cared for my mother was called about 11 a.m. We lived about halfway between Matagorda and Wharton. She was having her dinner and it really broke up her Juneteenth celebration. She said, ‘Wait ‘til I’m through, then I’ll come over.”
The alert 100-year-old smiled.
“You know, Juneteenth was really something big in those days.”
At the ripe old age of 17, she married Otto Gest, all of 21, who “was from this part of the country.”
“He inherited a farm in the little community of Piney Creek. The farm is where the big lake is now. That’s Lake Bastrop.”
Her husband was an engineer and moved around a bit, but she settled in Bastrop County with little trouble.
“I went to school in Matagorda County and at that time, graduated in the 10th grade,” she recalls. “There were 47 students, no grades, and the teachers let us older ones take care of the younger ones. There were four in my graduating class, one boy and three girls. I felt like I got a good education.”
“I had meningitis when I was 8 years old. That was a deadly disease then and nobody expected me to live. Not very many people got over it. Me and my neighbor, a little girl friend that later became my sister-in-law, both had it.”
“I’ll never forget that old four-poster bed with the mosquito bar. Oh, it was so hot. I think I was unconscious for a week. I didn’t know anything until I came to and saw my little brother walking around the house. But I had to stay in that bed for over a month.”
Not long after that, she had another exciting experience.
“When I was about eight or nine, I always had to act smart. I heard my Daddy’s boat (which he used to bring supplies like flour, sugar and coffee from Wharton) was filling up with water. I took off down there and starting dipping water. It was about to sink.”
“I heard a noise behind me and I thought it was my brothers so I didn’t even turn around. Then the noise got louder. I looked around and saw an alligator with a mouth this big,” Gest recalls, indicating an alarming distance with her hands.
“He was trying to get in the boat, so I took a paddle to it. He finally fell out of it and I went to the house. I never told anybody about it until I was 15 years old. You saw a lot of alligators in those days.”
After her marriage, she and her husband commuted between Bastrop and Matagorda County, where her husband and brother were in the rice business together – her husband having designed one of the first irrigation systems for rice fields there.
But as she recalls, it was 1916 when she and her husband moved here.
“Camp Swift took the land first. Then Lake Bastrop took it. Our place is in the lake right now,” she says.
Gest worked for six years for Albert Elzner (now Elzner’s Corner) in his store.
Her eyes gleam with remembrance recalling the store:
“It had everything from groceries to dry goods to furniture. There were big barrels of pickles and barrels of molasses. In those days everyone came into town on Saturday and spent the day. They shopped, ate, walked up and down the street, and visited with friends and neighbors. We had a bench in Elzner’s so people could come in and sit down.”
After Elzner died, she worked for Dave Cohen for a while on Main Street. During the Drought of 1925, when business slowed in Bastrop, Cohen’s son Max asked her to go to Bay City and run the store the Cohens owned there. She said she was pleased to do so, as her husband “was already down there running a rice mill.”
The store soon closed and the two were back in Bastrop for good. They had no children, but in the tradition of those times, they took in a relative’s child – Fred Herms – who still lives with Gest at her Cedar Street home.
Otto Gest died in 1964 and her only other living relative is an 89-year-old brother, Harvey Mangum, who came from Matagorda County to her 100th birthday party at the First Methodist Church.
After the drought, came the Great Depression, which according to Gest was “no big thing.”
“We raised everything we ate. We had a garden winter and summer. We had chickens and eggs. We had hogs and a smokehouse filled with bacon and sausage. The neighbors came and helped anytime we needed help and we went and helped the neighbors anytime they needed help. I remember a lot of good times.”
She’s also contributed to a lot of good times for many people through the years.
Recently, she received her 50-year pin from the Home Demonstration Club, an accomplishment of which she is very proud.
Gest also remembers her days with the Piney Creek Methodist Church. When it was no longer, she joined the First Methodist Church in Bastrop.
She also belongs to the Bastrop County Historical Society.
“I was always interested in being involved in the community and I still would if I could,” she says.
Gest remembers her first automobile ride clearly – her brother had a car.
However, she’s never flown.
“I didn’t want no plane ride,” she says with conviction.
She has traveled to Idaho in1942 to visit nephew Fred in Boise when he was in the Air Force and she’s gone to Dallas and Fort Worth.
Asked what was the best thing about being 100 is, she replies, “having friends who call. I’d love to hear from them Otherwise, I’d be lonely.”
She pauses before remarking on the saddest thing, then answers, “Losing so many of my friends. So many of my friends have gone on.”
Gest says she never thought about living to 100.
“The main thing is to be a Christian, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your family and take care of your friends.”
The Bastrop Advertiser and County News, June 29, 1989
(note: Dorothy died on February 13, 1991, just 4 months shy of her 102nd birthday.)
Copyright 2011 -
Present by Mike Cox
Jun. 4, 2011
Jun. 4, 2011