Irene (Beeson) Cross

Since I began this project, I’ve been debating how to tackle this story. My grandmother was the center of my universe when I was very young and I’m extremely fortunate that she did the heavy lifting for me. Anything in quotes was written by Irene herself.

In 1999, I asked Irene *once again* to tell me literally everything and this time, in writing. “I started to write about my life about 10 years ago and then lost interest or wasn’t feeling like going on. I think now it was that I didn’t feel anyone would be interested. Now with your encouragement and me wanting to get it out of my system I will complete the task as soon as possible.”

Irene M Beeson (middle initial only) was born to Merritt and Elizabeth (Schaetzel) Beeson on March 11, 1921 in Dodge City. Her only living sibling was her much older half-sister, Betty.

Irene attended Sunnyside School and didn’t have much to say on the subject: “It was boring.” She may not have been interested in school but she was constantly reading books. “We subscribed to the Kansas City Star, Kansas City Times, Dodge City Daily Globe, the Spanish-American War veterans’ paper, and Stars and Stripes. The funnies were very important.” I remember her telling me she particularly enjoyed “Gasoline Alley.”

Betty lived with their grandmother, Ida, while she was in high school so Irene was essentially raised as an only child.

On the back porch of the Big House

Irene’s parents were busy with the Chalk Beeson Theater so she spent quite a bit of time there prior to Merritt leasing it to other managers. One of her favorite actresses to appear in a live production at the theater was May Robson.

“A band of gypsies camped across the street from our home. I had heard that they stole children so I stayed in the house until they left.” One day when we were walking around the Big House, she pointed to a spot on the north side of Beeson Road where the old foundry building currently stands. That was the “Gypsy Camp” and she really had been quite terrified that they were going to kidnap her.

“I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1933.” This seems pretty benign on its surface but like all family stories, becomes more interesting with context. Ida was VERY Presbyterian and everyone attended that church until she died in 1928. Clearly, they were then free to worship as they chose and Irene was very much at home at St. Cornelius’ until the early 1950s. More on that later.

This is one of my favorite photos of Irene. The look on her face is priceless. If we hadn’t been alive at the same time, I would swear I am Irene reincarnated.

March 11, 1938

Although Irene was a natural introvert, she had several close friends and I wrote about some of their favorite haunts here.

Aside from the museum, the only place Irene worked outside the home was the Fox Dodge Theatre. Speaking of which, “Movies were very popular and especially musicals. Betty Fetter and I would go to the Dodge Theatre Sat. eve, stay all night at her house, and see another movie Sunday afternoon.”

There was a place across from the high school on Mulberry where students congregated. I can’t remember which door it was but there was a Red Demon tile mosaic on the floor. “The basement was converted into a dance floor with a juke box and booths.” I actually didn’t know there was a basement but I believe she was talking about Dopey’s, which is referenced in the yearbook blurb below. It’s kind of amazing that Irene was a hall monitor her senior year. A friend must have talked her into it because she really didn’t care about monitoring anything.

Sou’Wester, 1940

And…Pep Club? Is this real life? Can any of you who knew Irene imagine this being a thing?

Sou’Wester, 1940

Irene graduated from high school in 1940 and she really didn’t have much to say about that time in her life either.

Irene (left) with Anita Brady in 1940

Beth coerced Irene into entering this beauty contest in September of 1941 and it really was the last thing she wanted to do. She wasn’t smiling in the photo that ran in the paper so I’ve included this one instead. Apologies for the terrible quality! I believe it went through the flood.

Photographer Unknown

It’s impossible for me to tell Irene’s story in the correct order because she was always very vague about when these things occurred: “I fell in love with a dance band leader from Hays and he kept in touch with me for 14 years.” So vague! Such intrigue!

“I was engaged to a boy from Bakersfield, Calif. (formerly from Dodge). That relationship lasted a couple of years and I visited him in Calif. After I came back to Dodge I had an attack of rheumatic fever and was flat on my back for six mo. [I] broke the engagement.” After she broke the engagement, the “boy” took a train to Dodge City and showed up at the house in an attempt to change her mind. She refused to see him. Despite decades of asking, I was never quite able to understand her reasoning. Irene just had a quiet way of being done with things…and people.

Irene with Vee Ann Miller in 1952

“[I] met Ray Cross in the museum while he was on leave from the Sea Bees.” They were married about five minutes later on August 24, 1952. It’s not much of an exaggeration. Reverend Treder refused to marry them at St. Cornelius’ because it was such a brief courtship so they went to the courthouse in Cimarron and that was pretty much the end of Irene attending church. I’m not going to talk about Ray. Irene was 31 and he was 21. Mistakes were made.

My Uncle Mark was born in August of 1955 and was named after the Mark Cross leather goods company. Uncle Wade was born in March of 1957 and his name was inspired by a mistake on a check made out Ray. My mom came along in December of 1958. “Jan was named as far back as 1934. I was at the Dodge Theatre when the name Jan Sterling appeared on the screen and a strong thought came to me that if I ever have a daughter I will name her Jan.” That’s a cute story but to be clear, Sterling’s first movie credit was in 1947 and she didn’t become a mainstream actress until 1950. Irene told me at one point she considered naming my mom Chris…as in Chris Cross. So many jokes!

Irene with my mom and the Millers’ dog, Prince

Beth and Irene closed the Beeson Museum in 1964. In addition to raising three children, Irene was a full-time caregiver for Beth once she began experiencing a series of strokes. There was a point in all of that when Irene hit her bandwidth limit and she retreated into herself. There was a lot going on that she didn’t want to deal with so she just…didn’t.

I arrived on the scene in 1975 and when my mom went back to work, Irene became my person.

Irene had inherited land from Merritt and the piece where I grew up was sold in February of 1977. Irene received title to several houses on Sunnyside in the deal and she moved into one of them in April of 1978. My parents had a house built on one of the lots exactly a block south of Irene and we moved in the summer of 1978. Living so close to her was the best thing ever.

I wasn’t allowed to have a dog for *reasons* but when my aunt and uncle’s Golden Retriever, Jennifer, had puppies it was GAME ON. I spent the night with them on puppy watch and went out to the garage first thing the next morning to select MY PUPPY. The entire fam bam came to the house later in the day and I was quite clear about her being MY. PUPPY. I was told repeatedly I couldn’t have a dog but I do not negotiate with terrorists. Instead, I presented my case to Irene and we made a deal. I had chosen the runt of the litter and we would give it two weeks. If she wasn’t sold by then, Irene would buy MY PUPPY and keep her at her house…one block away. I don’t know if it really was the puppy I selected but Irene did bring home Abigail, the runt of the litter, and she was the love of my life.

If I remember correctly, the notes said, “Do not disturb.”

“I have lots of fond memories of the days when you would stay with me. Remember the McGuffey’s readers and encyclopedia. You preferred them to watching cartoons on TV. Those were fun days for me. Oh yes, do you remember the time you stuck out your tongue at a woman as we were driving home from town one day? I could see her smile. I didn’t think it was cute then. I do now.”

Irene taught me to read long before I began school. For quite a while, I spent every Saturday night at her house and we read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland aloud to one another. Not the children’s version, either! Although she had given up on attending church, she taught me everything I know about religion. We recited the Psalms regularly and the 23rd was her favorite. She had me cooking and doing laundry when I was in grade school. As the same time, she taught me filing and how to write checks.

I’m not quite sure how to describe Irene’s personality. She was quiet by nature and extremely introverted. She also had a way of silently influencing situations. If there was something Irene didn’t want to do, you could forget about it. But she was never forceful. It was more like she put unpleasant topics out of her mind to the point where they literally ceased to exist.

Irene was incredibly patient with me and answered most of my questions. She made sure I knew as much as she did about all things Beeson. After I moved away, we corresponded in writing and I’m so glad I have her letters to use as a guide for my projects. It wasn’t all serious biographical correspondence, however. In a letter dated September 10, 1999, Irene wrote, “I thought I would die laughing when Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota. I’m just waiting for him to become President. Ha ha” She continued with, “As for myself, I am having a peaceful and satisfactory period in my life.”

I’ll never forget visiting Irene in the nursing home when she was recovering from an injury. Mom and I were in her room visiting with her and she was telling us about the staff. She really wanted to be left alone and they were “just…so…happy” she said, with disgust in her voice. From my perspective, that was totally relatable. When we got in the car, my mom brought it up and was just confounded by that statement. I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m still laughing about it! She didn’t want to be there! She was doing her time, waiting to go home to her quiet place. The last thing she wanted was a bunch of people intruding and trying to infect her with their cheer. It wasn’t going to happen.

“Sometime when you have nothing to do (ha ha) would you find out if there was a Saint Irene? I’m sure I have heard of her. I’ve read that the name Irene means peace. It seems to fit me very well for my life is calm and peaceful and I am enjoying every minute of it. Why not?” I did look it up and Eirene was the Goddess of Peace. There were also a few Irenes who are considered saints.

“Bye now and don’t forget to enjoy life. Love you, Grandma Irene”

I had planned a trip back to Kansas in June of 2016, hoping to see her one more time because I knew she didn’t have much longer. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. Irene died in Concordia on April 17 at the age of 95.

Irene wanted her ashes spread over the Santa Fe Trail ruts west of Dodge and we mostly followed instructions. We went a bit off-script and spread half over the family plot at Maple Grove. If you’re wondering why there was no obituary and no marker, it’s because her instructions specifically prohibited them.

The projects I’ve been working on would never have been possible without Irene’s patience and encouragement. I’ve never related to anyone more and I hope she’s not pissed about me telling her business.


12 thoughts on “Irene (Beeson) Cross

Add yours

  1. I loved Irene and Abigail, my father dan Harper lived across the street from her and Ray “pappy” is what we called him. I threw that blue ball for Abigail for hours. Irene was always so patient and sweet to me thank you for this

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My dad Donald Liberal Roth, and his family was raised at 508 1/2 Sunnyside. Dad raised his family on Sunnyside! Did you or your family know the Roth family, or Burdues?

    Liked by 1 person

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