Willa B. Honeycutt celebrates her 100th birthday

SUBMITTED BY WILLA’S DAUGHTER
NANCY L. BAKALAR M.D.

A native of southern Colorado, Willa B. Honeycutt, born Willabelle Sophia Crease, celebrated her 100th birthday on December 30th.  She was born on her maternal grandparent’s ranch just outside of Trinidad.  Her grandfather had died just before she was born which left her grandmother with the responsibility and challenges of running the ranch.  Willa was born prematurely at about seven months and weighed only two pounds.  Because her mother, Bertha Van Pelt, will sickly and unable to care for her, Willa’s grandmother did so, carrying the tiny baby on a pillow with a hot water bottle to keep her warm during the cold winter and feeding her pasteurized goat’s milk.  There were no NICU’s nor incubators in those days in rural America.  Willa’s grandmother told her that her wrists were so tiny, that the grandmother’s wedding band fit on her wrist.  All this attests to Willa’s strong desire to live and thrive.

Willa has many happy memories on the ranch.  As a little girl, her grandmother gave her biscuits and jam with weak coffee milk which she remembers fondly consuming while she sat in the sun on a big, flat stone outside the farmhouse.  As a toddler, her grandmother told her she could eat strawberries from the patch, but “only the red ones.”  As an older girl, she loved curling up behind the coal burning stove to read or nap.  Her grandmother, Minnie Boehner, played the piano with great enthusiasm and all the extended family who lived on the ranch enjoyed singing around the piano at night by kerosene lamps.

The stock market crashed in 1929 when Willa was seven, and so her formative years were challenging economically.  Despite living on the ranch, some foods were scant.  Willa came to love pinto beans, homemade tortillas, and made them throughout her life.  An orange at Christmas time was a treat.  Willa, like many children during the 1930’s, had to wear “hand-me-down” clothes which was upsetting to her.  At one point a cousin’s family had a house fire and Willa’s grandmother insisted that she give her favorite red winter coat to her cousin.  

Willa was a good student in high school, especially in the arts.  She took music appreciation which left her with a lifelong love of all sorts of music, classical, Broadway shows, contemporary 1940s and gospel.  Once married and established, she was able to buy her first HiFi (high fidelity) record player in 1956 or so.  Her first two long play albums were Liberace playing Chopin and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.  In the months and years that followed, she accumulated several hundred albums of music which filled the house with joy and beauty.  Willa also loved literature, poetry, American and world history, humor and religion.  She read widely.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, she took painting lessons for five or six years at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School and loved her teacher there, Mrs. Niblo.  

Willa met her husband, William Robert (Bob) Honeycutt, in high school; he was a year junior to her and a football player who like to “play hooky.” So, Willa’s talent for reading and writing helped Bob pass his classes.  They dated for several years in high school and then married in 1942, a day before Bob left for basic training as a Marine.  Willa was able to travel with her husband during his specialty training as an airplane mechanic; they had brief stints in Norman, OK and Chicago, but during the war, she lived with her grandmother.  Her mother had died unexpectedly when she was 17 and her father had left the family when she was two.  She never saw her father again, but her family researched Lawrence Crease and found that he had moved to Utah, remarried and had two more daughters, Joan and Helen Crease and a son, Paul Lawrence Crease, siblings my mother never met, but who would have brought her companionship.  

The post war years were challenging.  Willa’s husband returned from WWII uninjured physically but with probable effects from exposure to the Pacific Theater and battles.  Her husband trained in sheet metal work in Trinidad after the war, they had two daughters in 1947 and 1949, and eventually moved to Pueblo in 1952 and eventually to Denver in 1954.  Bob stayed in the sheet metal working trade for forty or more years and advanced to journeyman and eventually management.

During the Denver years when their children were growing up, Willa proved to be an excellent housekeeper and all-around supportive mother and wife.  She cleaned, washed, ironed, grocery shopped and cooked on a regular, reliable schedule—three lunches packed daily for her family, every day!  Homemade cinnamon rolls and a sheet cake every Friday for the weekend!  Like many women of her generation, she decorated Christmas trees, prepared Easter baskets, baked birthday cakes and wrapped mountains of presents.

Willa was and is deeply religious, the origins of which began at her grandmother’s knees.  In the morning hours, while getting the kids off to school, the kitchen radio, shoe-boxy in style, art deco in design and chartreuse in color, played religious programing, like Sweet Hour of Prayer, and others.  Her religion gave her strength during the challenges in her life.  She felt “God had her back!”

When she wasn’t doing usual chores, reading or listening to music, she washed the car, dug weeds, swept the carport or paid the bills.  She was especially talented at growing rose bushes, seven sisters, tropicana’s, or large yellow ones with pale pink edges.  She also grew sweet peas, a flower she came to love because her grandmother did.  During the summer, frequently, after the house was cleaned, a plump rose, stem cut short, would be placed in a bowl in the living room or a bouquet of sweet peas would sit on the desk and fragrantly fill the room.  After growing up in the dreary depression, getting through the challenging war years, Willa enjoyed dressing up and wearing bright colors, her style still evident today. But she was also frugal.  She could really stretch a dollar for the household; she fed a family of four on $30 per week in the 60’s.

Willa was a volunteer and a good friend as well.  She last attended Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on south Federal, no longer there.  During the 1960’s she taught Summer Bible School, attended ladies’ “circles,” ladies who not only met monthly for lunches and prayer, but cleaned the church and prepared for Sunday services and Communion.  For many years Willa worked in the Church office to prepare the service bulletins.  She had a friend who had significant mental health needs, and Willa became a faithful companion and drove her to her appointments.  She befriended her neighbors and enjoyed her friends.

Willa enjoyed sons-in-law and grandchildren, especially their visits to her home at the holidays or to theirs.  She enjoyed seeing various parts of the United States as her daughters moved from hither to yon, Washington DC, Maryland, northern California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and one Caribbean Cruise!  She was proud of her children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments, all of whom attended college and three of whom achieved doctorate level degrees.  

Especially in younger years, Willa was clever, had a sense of humor and didn’t mind saying what she thought, especially when she disagreed with someone.  She could be a force to be reckoned with.  It was better not to get on her bad side.  Even these days she can be funny. When a dog was visiting her room at Someren Glen not too long ago, and her daughter was paying too much attention to it, she deadpanned, “I’m not a dog person!”  

While life was not easy for Willa, from the very beginning when born a “preemie” a century ago, her innate will to live and thrive, to enjoy life, to trust in God and Christ, to be able to laugh, to be feisty, sometimes down-right harsh, and also to be able to “let it go” when she couldn’t change something, contributed to a life long-lived and well-lived, enjoyable to her in many ways, and, considering all the odds she overcame, one to be appreciated and even admired.