Article by Susan Olson Wagner

Jacob “Dale” Willis was born on May 6, 1927 in Mc McAlester, Oklahoma. As stated on his birth certificate, he was the first-born “Baby” Willis in the family.  He has never gone by his passed down given name, but has used his middle name since he can remember. His mother was half Chickasaw Indian and his father was one quarter Cherokee, making Dale 3/8 Native American.  He was born at home, as happened in those days, on a farm of 160 acres of hard, dry land.  His grandfather had deeded the land equally between his mother and her brother and they each had a home on 80 acres.  There was no electricity on the farm.  The family grew and raised everything they needed to survive on their land.  For livestock, they had chickens, New Guinea hens and hogs with their own smokehouse for the meats. 

While living in this rural playground, Dale became a big brother to two sisters. When they needed to go to town, which was rare, they used a horse and wagon to travel the fourteen miles over rough road.  They did not have money, per se, and bartered their produce or meats if they needed something that they themselves could not generate.  Crops were dependant on the weather, as Oklahoma is dry, and a bountiful harvest needs precipitation.  So when Dale was six years old, the family loaded everything they could into the back of a truck and moved to California, settling in Salida (near Modesto) where there were a few aunts.  Dale entered the first grade, with his dad finding employment as a farm laborer, and his mother being a “stay at home mom.”  The whole family worked in the fields on weekends.  This family of five made a home using a 12 x 12 tent top over four wooden walls and a dirt floor.  They had a kerosene stove inside and an outhouse and water pump outdoors.  This was their residence for eighteen months until they moved into an old milk house.  Everything, including the floor, roof, walls, and shelves were made from cement.  Dale said this was a better home (it is still standing today), but it was cold and dank.  There he suffered a bad bout of pneumonia and he vividly recalls the required mustard plasters.  His youngest sister was born here, completing the family.

After about a year, his family moved again.  This time it was to an even better domicile, a two-room house in town with a screen porch, which became Dale’s bedroom.  The family would have a bath on Saturday nights bringing water in from a well with a pump. The girls would bathe first and then Dale would get a turn, all using the same water. Dale went to school by day, worked in the fields with his dad in the afternoons and on Saturdays picking grapes or onions, whichever crop was being harvested. On Saturday nights after baths, there would be free outdoor movies shown in town.  For fun, Dale and his friends would swim in the canals on Sundays.  Dale was quite a good singer and an accomplished guitar player, so when he was 12 he went on a KTRB radio show in Modesto.  There was a cowboy band called “Maddox Brothers and Rose” that held an amateur hour. Dale crooned cowboy songs with two of his sisters singing harmony.  They won and went on to the championships in Stockton.  There, Dale finished second.

This was a trying time for Dale, the only boy in a family of girls.  When his father would get drunk “he turned mean.”   His father would beat his mother, so Dale would step in to protect her. For his mother, the final straw came when Dale fended off his father with a granite dish pan, “knocking him clean out.”  So, when Dale was 14, his mom left his dad and she moved her four children to Foster Park. There, they lived in a cabin, sharing a bath house with other families, but they had their first dwelling with electricity.  Dale’s mom soon remarried a “wonderful” man, an equipment operator by trade, and they moved just off the Avenue in Ventura.  They moved again to Live Oak Acres where he had the “best house” of his childhood with a bedroom and a bathroom!  The family had moved three times in two years.

When Dale was in high school he went to work at a service station.  He would sleep in the station nights and weekends for $1/day.  Because of World War II, there were no new tires available, so Dale got to keep any money that he made repairing tires.  He did this for six months until he quit school in the tenth grade. His mother falsified papers that claimed he was seventeen and he joined the United States Navy at sixteen years of age.  He was a radar man and fought in the battles of the South Pacific. The Invasions of Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines, as well as the campaign to take Okinawa were successfully completed by his ship.  He was in the Philippines when General Douglas Macarthur stepped out of a boat and walked into the water onto shore at Leyte.  Dale’s tour lasted two years, four months and six days, until the end of the war.  He went from Okinawa to Guam and then hopped a merchant marine ship through the Panama Canal to New York. From there he took a train to California.

Dale finished his time of service working security two hours a day for four months at Port Hueneme Construction Battalion Center (CBC).  On March 20, 1946 after work, while still in his uniform, he went by the junior college on Main Street in Ventura.  There he met up with a group of fifteen people, fourteen he knew.  The lone unfamiliar, but beautiful face was on a young redhead.  He asked her to go for a walk and while talking made a date with her to go roller skating.  She was his first and only girlfriend! She quit high school at 16 and they were married on May 15, nearly two months after meeting. 

Dale took Pat and they moved to Oregon to live with his mother and stepfather, where his family had moved yet again.  There he worked as a lumberjack for eighteen months. Dale played in a band at night and on weekends to supplement the family income.  They moved to Oakland for a short time and then back to Oregon when their first child, Roger, was born in 1947.  They had government housing in Oregon for about a year before moving back to Ventura.  Dale took a job with Southern California Gas Company and Larry was born in 1949.  They lived in the downstairs portion of a house in Ventura, with relatives living in the upstairs, sharing a bathroom whose sewer pipe ran right through the living room.  It was quite a conversation piece!  They moved to a different two bedroom house in Ventura in the Veteran’s Project where their third son, Michael, was born in 1952. The single thickness walls made the house cold and damp and the children were often ill.  By then, Dale was a Civil Servant on CBC working as a laborer (from 1950-1962).  A new neighborhood near strawberry fields, lemon and avocado orchards was being developed in Oxnard.  Dale bought a home there in 1954. He worked everyday after work buffing wooden floors, painting and stocking the new house. In January of 1955, Dale moved his wife and three sons into their first and last non-rental home. Besides a kitchen and living room, the house had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a study. The three boys shared a room with one single bed and a set of bunk beds.

 It was in 1962 that Dale decided to try his hand at a new career.  He went to work selling chemicals. He tripled the company’s sales in the county in just three months, but quit that job to go back to civil service. It was also at this time that he and his wife decided to go to night school to get their GEDs, because “we felt that if we wanted to teach the boys the importance of a good education, then we should each have one!”  In 1963, Dale went to work at Ventura County’s other military base, Point Mugu Naval Air Station.  He started out as a laborer, became a warehouseman, then a stockman, to an electrician technician and finally, the boss of the Surplus Supply Depot back at CBC in the mid 70’s. He worked there until 1981 when he retired at 55 years of age and has not worked a day for money since.

All the time that Dale was working days, he also had a job at night and on weekends in the Dale Willis Band. He did this so that his wife could stay at home and raise their sons.  She sold Avon in our neighborhood for six years, but when her youngest was in high school she got a job as a school cook (which she retired from in 1987). Dale sang professionally in bars, dance halls and even bowling alleys!  In 1966, he and his band were on television for five Sundays as “The Mavericks.”  In 1971, Dale quit music and has not played again. He “did not find enjoyment in it anymore and did not want to be away” from his home or his wife.  Family was and still is of great importance to Dale.  Every year they took their sons on a road trip to Oregon to visit relatives.  Their home was always filled with friends and usually a friendly card or board game was going on.  This is still true today, as I have participated in many a game there.

Dale is a grandfather to nine grandchildren and a great grandfather of three.  Roger, a pastor, and his wife, Kathy, live within thirty minutes of the homestead and have six children ranging from ten to twenty-nine years of age. They miss their oldest granddaughter, as she is in China as a missionary, teaching English for the past few years.  Larry and his wife, Beth, live in Idaho near two of their three children, the eldest with three children of her own.  Michael and his wife, Kathy, are both deceased.  Dale remembers thirty years ago “when a computer took up a whole room.”  He loves how far technology has come and spends a lot of time on the internet keeping in touch with his family and many friends. “It helps to keep everyone connected.”

Dale also fills his spare time gardening.  He grows the best beans this side of the Pacific.  He and Pat also like to travel the West Coast to visit their many friends and family.  Dale is still in touch with childhood and work pals, having breakfast with them once a week and he remains in contact with his old band mates. He loves movies, country music, especially Toby Keith music videos.  He has helped many friends, myself included, giving generously of his time and talents. He believes that a day not helping someone is “a wasted day.” 

Dale has only been seriously ill once, when he underwent emergency surgery for a paralyzed colon and stayed in the hospital eight days where Pat was at his side. Aside from hospitalizations, they have never slept apart and “have never gone to bed angry.”  The best thing that has ever happened to him is his wife of nearly sixty years. Sternberg’s Theory on Love proves true here (Santrock, p. 485). This couple has the passion, intimacy and commitment seen in consummate love.  The worst thing that has happened to both he and his wife was, first, losing their daughter-in-law to ovarian cancer; “She was a daughter” to them.  Then, within six months, they lost their grieving and despondent son..  Yet, Dale claims he has been blessed with a great life.

Dale is in fairly good health.  He has great insurance and is financially secure.  He does suffer form emphysema, bronchitis and asthma from years of cigarette smoking.  Earlier this year, Dale quit smoking..  Despite his limited lung capacity, he is an active man with a quick gait.  The Activity Theory may hold true for this man; an active and involved person in the lives of family and friends, as well as the neighborhood.  That theory states that when active at an older age, a person is more fulfilled (Santrock, p.627). Dale would agree with that theory. 

Dale is quite a character.  He is intelligent, funny and cranky a lot of the time, but I think his orneriness is an act. He has been a good friend, a better neighbor and a great grandfather to my children.  He is a staunch Republican who never ceases to speak his mind; he is right most of the time anyway! His wife sums him up as a “fine wine, mellowed with age.”  If that is the case, I only wish I could have known him before!

INDUSTRY vs. INFERIORITYHard working, confidant, productive, competent; musician in contests
IDENTITY vs.  IDENTITY CONFUSIONHad to protect mother and become the man of  the house, went into Navy
INTIMACY vs. ISOLATIONMarried Pat at 19 and started a family
GENERATIVITY vs. STAGNATIONWorked hard, played hard and retired, but not slowed down!
INTEGRITY vs. DESPAIRFeeling blessed, satisfaction

From Santrock, p.46


Santrock, J.W. (2004). Life-Span Development. McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y.