On Dec. 24, Woman’s Club Book Section member Wanda Layton will be celebrating her 87th birthday and despite her age she still participates in her community, takes great pleasure in her family and enjoys life.
One might wonder where did she, as well as the other octogenarian women who belong to the Woman’s Book Section (and the Woman’s Club), inherit their stamina, longevity, and their dynamic personalities? As an example, Wanda thrives with a quick wit, radiant smile, peaches-and-cream complexion, beautiful white hair, and her trademark red lipstick.
Her memories go back to her younger years and to her schooling. During the 1930s and early 1940s her father, Monroe Horton, worked as a zanjero for the Imperial Irrigation District. During that time the family lived in the country near the East Highline Canal.
She remembers attending the High Line School up to fifth grade. The school, which no longer exists, was distinctive for being a small, two-room structure. However, since there was only one teacher, and six students – all different ages – only one classroom was used. The teacher, Mrs. Ritter, a widow, seemed to have no problem with the age discrepancy and took it all in stride. Wanda remembers the older children sometimes helping the younger ones when they needed it. It was sad to know that by the time she left, there were only five students remaining.
When she was promoted to sixth grade, her father was appointed assistant superintendent of IID and the family moved into the city of Holtville. It was an exciting time. Wanda was looking forward to being a part of the 20-student class in the “big” school. She doesn’t remember the name of the school but does remember that it stood where Finley Elementary now stands.
Unfortunately, on the first day some of the students misbehaved and the teacher detained the whole class. She was a good student and couldn’t understand this. She says she was “flabbergasted, and very unhappy about the whole thing.”
Fortunately, the rest of her schooling was uneventful until, that is, something occurred that eerily foreshadows events happening today. At the end of that school year, an unhappy former student went to the school office and threatened the principal, Mr. See, with a gun. Wanda never found out what the grievance was, but the police arrived in time and everything was settled amicably; ending the school year on a good note.
She was eager to attend the “beautiful” high school, then a two-storied building with columns in front. But a few months before September 1945 the high school was deemed unsafe due to prior earthquake damage and was demolished.
Wanda remembers passing a sad summer, standing in front of the school, along with other residents of Holtville, watching as the demolition ball did its work. She was amazed at how well constructed the school was. The big steel ball bounced off the school’s walls, again and again, and had to work extra hard to topple them down. But topple them it did, and Wanda was doomed to attend her freshman year in Quonset huts.
After she graduated in 1949, the years sped by, as they do for all who work or raise a family (or both at the same time). She worked for the Chamber of Commerce as a secretary.
In 1950 she married Charles L. Layton, a hometown boy she met in high school. At first, they lived in town and she worked for the First National Bank of Holtville. Eventually, the family grew to include their sons: Richard, Larry, Jimmy, Mike, and daughter Julie. By then they needed more room and decided to build a bigger home on the Layton family land, and so they moved back to the country. She smiles when she tells that the building permit cost $15. Those days were happy days, with their children attending Pine School, and the family worshiping at Friends Church in the country.
Unfortunately, her husband Charles Layton passed away in 2016, but together, they left a mark in the community. They were both, and Wanda still continues to be, life-time members of Friends Church; PTA; Eastern Star; Imperial Valley Historical Society; and the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, where they created the Desert Garden. In 1995, they were honored as Holtville Citizens of the Year. It’s an outstanding legacy that anyone would be proud of.
Once her children were grown or left home, Wanda decided to join the Woman’s Club. Her mother, Lena Horton, was a member, so it seemed like a natural step at the time. She enjoyed attending the meetings and socializing with her friends. Of course, she didn’t realize back then, that she was making a life-time commitment. Although it was probably something to be expected, considering how, when it came to civic matters, she only has one default setting on her track record: life-time. Nor did she know then, that in 2006-07, she would be the club’s president.
When she first joined the Woman’s Club all its meetings were held at the Holtville Civic Center in the park, but shortly after, in May of 1959, the “new” clubhouse at 219 E. Sixth St., held its groundbreaking ceremony. The term “new” of course is relative, the event having been 59 years ago; tangible proof of the durability and commitment of the women of Holtville.
As an aside, the contractor for the project was award-winning Mike Cameron, who passed away this past February. As a further aside, to memorialize the groundbreaking ceremony, tiny shovels were given to all the guests. The club president at the time was Mrs. Jewel Vencill.
Eventually, Wanda joined the Woman’s Club Book Section. She happened to mention that Mrs. Geraldine Hartshorn was Book Section Chair at the time. This struck a chord, a reminder of how club member surnames are usually perpetuated or interconnected in one way or another. One generation hands the torch to the following generation.
For example, current member Bunny Hartshorn is the daughter-in-law of Mrs. Geraldine Hartshorn. Wanda also has family members who can possibly perpetuate her legacy. Her daughter, Julie Velasco, is a faithful member of the club, and her granddaughter, Lauren Layton, although not a member yet, recently won an advanced education scholarship from the club. May the legacy of the club and its members continue for years to come; the example is there. It only needs to be followed.
Marcia Jennings is a member of the Holtville Woman’s Club.