Oral history by: Deborah McDonald
Date submitted: December 10, 2012
Listen to Deborah McDonald’s Interview of Frances Palmtag
Print Version (pdf)
Frances Palmtag was born in Hollister, California on December 5, 1921. Her parents were Carl and Myrtle (O’Conner) Palmtag. She had two sisters, Hazel born (June 2, 1923) and Charlsie born (July 10, 1931). Her maternal grandparents were Benjamin and Mary (Niggle) O’Connor. Benjamin was of Irish descent from Offaly Ireland and Mary was of Swiss-German descent. Her paternal grandparents were Charles and Amelia (Krayer) Palmtag. Charles and Amelia were both born in Germany and came to America separately. Charles was from Emmendigen and Amelia was from Alsace-Lorraine. They were married in San Francisco. They settled in Hollister and had three children, Marie, Carl, and Muriel. They had a butcher shop in Los Banos. Frances believes her grandfather knew Henry Miller. They moved to Quien Sabe Ranch in Tres Pinos where Charles worked as a foreman. He saved his money and bought a ranch in Hollister and grew prunes, apricots and walnuts. He worked at both ranches for a while and when his son Carl came home from WWI he began working at the family ranch with his father. Carl was born on August 12, 1894 and married Myrtle O’Connor in February 1921. Myrtle was a California girl and was born in Hollister on August 4, 1891. Myrtle had a sister Ruby (Nyland) and a brother Benjamin.
Frances Palmtag never married nor had children and she still lives in Hollister, California. Hazel married Ed Medaugh but had no children. She lived in San Mateo, California. Charlsie married Dick Ross and had three children, Ron, Nancy (Joynt) and Andrew. She lived in New Jersey. Frances’ grandfather, Charles Freidrick Palmtag died in 1936 at UCSF hospital in San Francisco. Frances told me her grandfather could see the Golden Gate Bridge being built from his hospital room. Her father, Carl Palmtag died on September 10, 1976. Her mother, Myrtle (O’Connor) Palmtag died when she was about sixty years old (1951).
Frances lived with her family at 972 Monterey Street, not far from her grandparent’s ranch. Her grandmother had a large separate private garden for growing lots of fruits and vegetables for their family to enjoy. Frances remembers being about five years old and picking buckets of prunes for 5 cents. She and her sisters, when they were old enough, all worked on the ranch. Some of her cousins did as well. During the years of the Great Depression many families didn’t have much and Frances’ family struggled too but she remembers always having food on the table in large part due to her grandmother’s garden. They didn’t have many toys but did play jacks, kick-the-can, and hide-n-seek. They also had roller skates and her sister Hazel won a bicycle for selling subscriptions to the Evening Freelance Newspaper in Hollister. Frances didn’t have her own bike but would borrow her fathers and she and Hazel would ride around. Frances fell off the bike one day and broke many of her teeth.
Her best friends were Evelyn Litten and Katherine Frejulia. Frances went to Fremont grammar school in Hollister from first thru fifth grade. She started school when she was less than five years old. There was no kindergarten class so she went right into first grade. Her teacher’s name was Welcome Berry. Miss Berry was her teacher for first and second grade. Frances would walk to and from school every day and her favorite memory about elementary school was saluting the flag. She liked to dream about going somewhere exciting. A few summers, for one week, her mother, sisters, aunt and cousins stayed at a rented beach house in Capitola and got to play and have a wonderful vacation. Her father would drive them over and back while he continued to work at the ranch.
At harvest time her grandfather and father hired many families to work on the ranch. These families came year after year from the Central Valley but were originally from Arkansas and Oklahoma and had lost everything in the Dust Bowl. They would live in tents and in the barn. They enjoyed coming to Hollister because it was cooler than the Central Valley. Frances enjoyed playing with the children of the workers and would join them after work for campfires, playing kick-the-can, hide-and-seek and singing songs. Frances looks back and remembers them all as good people, and she had lots of fun! On days when there was no work to do the workers would go to the beach. This was a very special outing and the ocean was something they never saw in the South. Frances worked most of the summer doing her outside chores on the ranch but her inside chores were doing the dishes and setting the table.
Frances attended Hollister Grammar School from sixth thru eighth grade and remembers playing soccer. Frances then went on to Hollister High from ninth thru twelfth grade and graduated in 1939. She attended Hollister Junior College which is now Gavilan College and went on to graduate in 1943 from San Jose State University with a degree in education. While she was in college she lived at the YWCA with two roommates, Lois Braniard and another girl named Reatha. Two days after her twentieth birthday, Pearl Harbor was bombed and our country was at war during her college years. She remembers it being a somber time. She attended USO dances in Hollister and at Fort Ord. Occasionally, her mother Myrtle played the piano for the USO dance at the Veterans Building in Hollister.
After college Frances began teaching at Santa Rita School and then she left to work at the Navy Base in Hollister which was a supply station for the fighter and bomber units. Pilots would come in to the base for training or to relax during some off time. She worked in the office and met many people there and remembers it as a very busy place. She had two cousins who died in WWII, Robert Nyland and Everett (Jimmy) O’Conner. It was a sad time and she remembers back to her father talking about WWI. He was a proud member of the 2nd Infantry Division, Indianhead. He was a corporal and an acting Sergeant at Fort Lewis, Washington.
After the war ended the base closed down and Frances resumed teaching. She taught second grade on and off for many years in the Salinas, Monterey and Hollister School Districts. She took breaks from teaching and liked to branch out and try other types of jobs. She worked in an office and did accounting work for a few years and really enjoyed it.
Every spring in the 1960’s and 70’s Frances and her father Carl attended the cattle branding at the Melendy Ranch in Paicines. It was a big event and many friends and families from the area came to help.
Frances and her two sisters were all diagnosed with cancer in 1973; only Frances survived. She retired from teaching in 1977.
Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 80’s Frances was attending a night class at Gavilan College in Gilroy to learn Conversational German. The instructor had everyone in the class introduce themselves and when Frances said her name a lady in the class yelled out, “I know who you are! Your sister Hazel, who worked at Bay Meadows Race Track, told me she had a sister in the area.” Mary Kelly was the lady’s name and she owned Monterey Farm, a horse breeding farm in Hollister. She and Frances became friends and one day Mary asked Frances if she would like to work at the ranch. Frances accepted. She was in charge of naming the race horses and registering them and making sure they were not named something that was not authorized. She enjoyed it there and loved the horses. It was there that she began, for the first and only time in her life, using a computer.
Over the years, Frances enjoyed traveling with friends. She visited her grandfathers’ native Emmendigen, Germany a couple of times and had a really wonderful trip to Mexico, which she thought was so beautiful. She said that she would even like to back to Mexico.
The family property was lost to eminent domain in the 1950’s to make way for the addition to Hollister High School on Nash and Monterey. The family does still own about 20 acres.
I learned how the events of the “times” can really shape your life and experiences. Frances seems very resilient and takes life in stride. She is not sad or bitter and continues to enjoy her life. She has always pursued her interest and took chances more or less following her heart. She is so pleasant and inspiring and it has been wonderful getting to know her and to hear about what her life was like growing up in Hollister. I also learned about the role Hollister played during the war and its effect on the community; additionally, that there were many families like hers who were important in the agricultural development of San Benito County and in California.