It’s not often you get to sit down with someone who not only remembers before you were born, but can remember before most anyone was born. Lola Bowen Stancil celebrated her 103rd birthday in late January. So far, there have been five celebrations and there are more to come. Because celebrating is one of Lola’s favorite things to do.
Were you sick as a child?
“I had the flu when I was three or four,” says Lola. “I woke up and I said I wanted to get out of bed, and my mother said ‘you couldn’t walk even if you could get up.’ So, I hopped out of bed and fell flat on my face.”
This would have been 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
In 1918 three-year-old Lola and her mother traveled to Fort Lewis during WWI.
“We went to see uncle Floyd,” recalls Lola. “He was in the service to go to Europe. It was pouring down rain and we came from Tenino in a horse and buggy. I went in and the soldiers were eating, but I didn’t.”
When Lola was a child her Uncle Morgan Davies was a game warden out in Skookumchuck Valley where he kept many animals including rescues. Lola remembers that his cattle troughs were dugout Indian canoes.
“He had pheasants,” she says “All kinds of birds and animals, fawns and coyotes and little cougars.”
What did your Father do?
“He was a rancher. When the War (WWI) was on he plowed everybody’s field from Stoney Point to Bucoda. I was small. I didn’t know what he was doing, but he told me.”
Many men didn’t have the time to plow their own fields because they were busy with the War effort.
What did your mother do?
“She didn’t do anything, she only had 7 kids,” laughs Lola.
What did you do for fun when you were little?
“Who had fun? Heck no, I carried the water up the hill from the river.”
Both ways, I bet?
“Yes! I have muscles on my muscles.”
“The funnest thing was to either go to the school (Stony Point School) and have a party up there or go to the Skookumchuck Grange Hall,” Lola continues. “There wasn’t much else you could do. Our house was right next to the second bridge out in Skookumchuck Valley. Right on the river practically. We were given strict instructions to never go to the river. So, I never did learn to swim even though I lived on the river.”
The family got their first car in 1925 when Lola was 10 years old. The family went regularly to the movies in Tenino in the family car.
“Every Tuesday night,” she recalls. “The whole family could go for 50 cents.”
Did you do homework?
“If you brought your book home, mother would burn it up,” explains Lola. “You went to school to learn that stuff. You didn’t bring it home.”
When Lola was a sophomore she had the measles. Since she couldn’t bring books home, she never did catch up. That was the end of her school career. It was 1931 and kids were dropping out of school.
“Because they didn’t have anything to wear or to eat,” she explains. “We did. We had a ranch, we had lots of milk and eggs and deer meat. Daddy never once killed a deer out of season.”
How did you meet Daddy (Reece Bowen)?
“He came home with my brother and lived nearby,” she responds. “He had been on his own for a quite a while too. His mother died when he was born. And he lived with his aunt and uncle on a ranch in Toledo until he was about 13. He went everywhere.”
Lola was about eleven when Reece Bowen came to stay.
Was he handsome?
“Why I couldn’t live without him when I looked at him,” says Lola. “When I was 14 he met me on the road and he told me, ‘I’ll wait for you.’ I wasn’t allowed to talk to him. He never stopped, but kept right on going.”
Despite her family’s efforts to steer Lola away from Reece, they were married in 1931 when he was 23 and she was 15.
Reece was a logger in Lewis and Thurston Counties in the 1920s and 30s. Lola and Reece saved up enough money to build a house and purchase a mill. Reece wanted to enlist during WWII, but his mill was considered an essential function and he was required to stay. During a lumber boom they moved to Humboldt County in California where they raised their family. Eventually the lumber market turned upside down. With their three daughters grown, Reece and Lola moved back to Washington State where they became involved with the Youth Development Conservation Corp (YDCC). They lived in State Parks and became Mom and Pop to hundreds of wayward boys from the ages of 16-21. When boys arrived, a pillowcase was passed around, “That’s where their knives went,” says Lola. “No weapons of any kind and no fighting.”
Reece passed away in 1971. “Your dad was the love of my life. He was so fun, even in bad times we would laugh.”
In 1975 the Bicentennial Wagon Train passed through Tenino and Lola thought it looked like fun. For 6 months of 1975 and 6 months of 1976 she joined the wagon train pilgrimage which ended July 4 in Washington DC. She had a book that she had people sign along the way. President Ford signed it in the Oval Office.
Lola’s love of the wagons can also be tied to her heritage. She is the fifth generation to have lived in the area. Her great-great grandparents are Sid and Nancy Ford of Ford’s Prairie. Her great grandparents were Joel and Lizzie Ticknor of Ticknor Prairie and School. The Davis family and her father’s family, the Ritters, are also longtime Tenino families. In addition to that, Lola loves to dress up and is always looking for an opportunity to wear a costume.
In 1985 she married Clarence Stancil, who loved horses while Lola loved wagons. Many Tenino locals rode in one of their wagons at one time or another. In 1989, Lola and Clarence were the Wagon Masters for the wagon train from Fort Vancouver to Tumwater for Washington’s Centennial. One of their teams is still working to give hay rides at Nelson Ranch.
Lola has published two cook books and currently there are 6 generations of her family living.
What is the secret to your longevity?
“I’m not through living yet!” exclaims Lola.
But Lola has also been known to say, “You stay happy and you keep going.”