COVID-19 is one more challenge in a lifetime of difficult events for those in their 80s and 90s.
For those who have lived nearly a century, the coronavirus pandemic is one challenge in a lifetime of difficult events, from the Great Depression to wars to “where were you when JFK died” to the violence of the civil rights era to the shock of 9/11.
Life always seems to move on, albeit with significant disruptions to daily life of late. We recently talked with four Dallas-area seniors — a former baseball player, a career military man, and two educators — on their perspectives of life-changing national events and, most important, their strategies for pushing through the bad times.
Ezell Holley, 90, was born in Naples, Texas, outside of Texarkana. He spent his career as an educator and retired from the Dallas Independent School District in 1994. He was married to Lorene for 64 years until her death in 2017. They had two children. Our subjects all witnessed tumultuous times in our country. But the past several months are unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Great Depression Children
Ezell Holley: “I remember my parents looked to FDR as a savior and talked about the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps. My parents were excited about FDR’s stimulus plan. Our family received five milk cows from the government. We [kids] tried to milk the cows, but my mother didn’t trust us, so she did the milking and we sold the milk.”
Going to War
Holley attended what is now Prairie View A&M University, where he studied agriculture and met Lorene, whom he married after graduation in August 1953. The next month, Holley reported for active duty in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to Frankfurt, West Germany in 1956. In 1958, the Holleys returned to Texas, living in Dallas. “Dallas was where you came if you had grown up in a small town like Naples,” Holley says. In 1961, Holley was called up by the National Guard and Army Reserve to serve again during the Berlin Wall crisis. He did one year at Fort Polk, La. Holley served as commander of Company B in the 49th Armored Division. Holley is proud to have been one of the country’s first African American company commanders after the military’s desegregation in 1948.
EH: When JFK was shot, I was teaching at Booker T. Washington High School in classroom 101. The kids were coming in from lunch and they were crying. I thought they were just kidding around, but then I went out into the hall and confirmed with the other teachers that it was true.
Civil Rights and MLK Jr.
EH: The civil rights movement “sort of passed Dallas by. There were not a lot of protests here as far as my friends and family observed, but, of course, we supported the movement.” Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. came to Dallas a couple of times, but even in the 1960s “when I went to see Malcolm X at the Majestic Theater, the protests were orderly.”
21st Century Terror: 9/11
EH: I was at home waiting for a repairman to fix the garage door. He told me about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. I went inside and turned on the TV and saw the second plane hit. It felt like the world was ending. I remember thinking this must be serious because they announced that the first lady was being placed in a bunker. And all planes were grounded. There was no air traffic — kind of like today.
2020 COVID-19 Pandemic
EH: It’s going to take real effort to get through it, but there’s a role for everyone. We need to be smart and help one another. It’s been hard not seeing my family, but with God’s help, we will get through this. It seems similar to WWII. During WWII, everyone got involved. Today, everyone is helping, too.