In the 1930’s many people of the Great Plains and beyond were being hit by two catastrophes, one being the Great Depression and the other the Dust Bowl. This resulted in people from states such as Oklahoma and Arkansas migrating west to California, known as the land of opportunity to seek a better life. By the year of 1940, two and a half million people had fled the Great Plains, and approximately 200,000 people had reached California. Vicella Hendrick and her husband Ray were a part of this migration as they successfully moved to California. Since then their descendants, three generations, still reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and have never moved out of the area.
In April of 1916, James and Martha Stovall’s third daughter was born in Sims, Arkansas, and they named her Vicella. James, Vicella’s father, a farmer by trade, owned a farm in a little town by the name of Antlers, Oklahoma where he raised livestock and grew cotton, fruit, and vegetables. Martha, Vicella’s mother tended the household and sold butter and eggs on the side. The Stovall’s had six children, which included three other girls and two boys: Della, Clyde, Hazel, Dorsey, and Lila.
Vicella attended a public elementary school in town, which had two classrooms, one class taught 1st through 4th grades and the other taught 5th through 8th grade. She then attended Antlers High School. While In school, Vicella loved all kinds of sports, especially baseball. During her school days Vicella learned many skills. Living on a farm, she and her siblings performed many chores; in addition Vicella’s mother taught her how to sew, embroider, and the art of quilting. Vicella has made many beautiful and expertly crafted quilts. She would later sew beautiful clothing for her daughter and granddaughter. She also knows how to ride a horse as the family owned horses and many other farm animals.
Vicella married Ray Hendrick in 1932 who was born in De Queen, Arkansas. He was a local boy who also lived in Antlers and they eventually moved into their own apartment after living with Ray’s parents for a while. In 1935, Ray found employment with the State of Arkansas as a Forest Ranger in which he remained employed until 1940. Ray was truly fortunate to have a steady job during the time of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl which enabled he and Vicella to save enough money to eventually fulfill their dream of moving to California.
Even with a steady income in an unstable time, the Hendrick’s wanted more out of life and moved forward with their plans to move to California, the land of opportunity. Most of the people who moved to California at that time did so as an act of desperation, but not for Vicella and Ray. In 1940 during World War II with the help of Ray’s father Charles Hendrick, who had already relocated to California a few years before, they finally made the move. While in California, Ray’s father Charles had procured employment at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California, and lived in a small apartment. For Vicella and Ray, who left their families behind and made the long drive from Oklahoma in their 1932 Chevrolet Coupe, the trip was a little more bearable as they had a home and a family member waiting for them when they arrived at their destination.
It did not take long for the Hendrick’s to establish themselves in their own apartment in San Francisco. After moving into their new apartment Ray procured employment the very next day at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. Vicella also found employment with the Sears Roebuck Company two weeks later. During this time, World War II was heating up and in December of 1940, the Kaiser Shipyard began to build war ships. More than 747 ships were built there which was not equaled anywhere else in the world. The demand for workers was very great and the pay was good, so Vicella left her job at Sears Roebuck and she also went to work at the Richmond Shipyard.
During World War II the little town of Richmond, California became famous mainly because of the Kaiser Shipyards. Richmond’s population grew dramatically from 23,000 to over 100,000 in a very short time, with migrants coming from all over the country. Henry J. Kaiser had constructed 25,000 temporary dwellings to house the influx of workers. At the peak of the War, the shipyard employed over 90,000 workers in which 25% were women. The shipyard used the most modern and cutting edge ship building technology existing at the time to set records that still remain today. Instead of building a ship one piece at a time, the workers built many pieces at the same time and then welded them together instead of riveting them together. This saved a lot of time and in fact, they built the S.S, Robert E, Peary a 10,000 pound vessel in only four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes, which was an incredible feat. The motto of the time for women was “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.” As many as 20 million women worked outside the home between the years of 1941 and 1945 and by 1944 they made up 65% of the workforce. The name given to women who left being housewives to help in the war effort was “Rosie the Riveter.”
Vicella was one of these “Rosies” during this time and her job title at the shipyard was “Shipfitter” where she assembled dry racks. These racks that she and her crew assembled were used for dry food storage on board the Liberty Ships they were building. In the construction of these racks, two girls worked out on the fitting dock burning, beveling, and notching the angles of the racks. Each piece was then marked and sent to the hull, where the other girls on their crew fit them together. This practice of completing as much work as possible away from the crowded ship enabled the crews to cut the assembly time by one-fourth. Shipfitter’s wages were 97 cents per hour, which was pretty good money in those days. Vicella and her husband continued to work in the Shipyard until the war was over.
After the war almost everybody in the shipyards were laid off, and they flocked to the unemployment office, including Vicella and Ray. Vicella and Ray both worked at odd jobs for a couple of years after that and their first child Marsha was born in October of 1948. At the time of the birth of their daughter, Ray was working at a local Texaco service station in Richmond. He eventually bought the service station in 1950, and owned and operated it for 17 years. Vicella, on the other hand, worked at a local pharmacy, and continued to work in pharmacies for over 25 years. She also returned to school at that time and earned a certificate as a licensed cosmetologist and sold high end cosmetics and expensive perfumes to ladies who came into the store.
Vicella was a member of the Rheem Avenue Baptist church in Richmond in which she served as the church treasurer for many years.
She has enjoyed many activities and hobbies which includes sewing, quilting, needlework and reading. She and her husband also enjoyed fishing and boating in the nearby lakes and rivers.
Vicella’s husband passed away in the early 70’s. Vicella continued to live in Richmond for several years then moved to Antioch where she retired and purchased a new home. To keep busy she found a part time job at the local Sears store and also volunteered at the Antioch Senior Citizens Center. Vicella also learned to bowl and bowled on a senior league for many years.
Vicella currently has two grandchildren, Lori Galiza and Ray Painter, and has four great grandchildren.
Last August, Vicella came to reside at Diamond Terrace Retirement Community where she currently enjoys a leisurely life and has made many friends.
On April 4, we wish Vicella a Happy 100th Birthday!