As Lavaca is preparing to celebrate it’s Centennial this coming weekend, a sweet little lady is quietly looking toward her own Centennial celebration. Vauda Odell McMillen Lee will turn 100 years old this coming December! When she was born, women couldn’t vote. Lavaca was just two-months-old. Woodrow Wilson was President. She remembers President Hoover.
Mrs. Lee leads a quiet life in her home in Lavaca. Her daughter Ginger and son-in-law Myrle Smithson attached a one-bedroom apartment onto their house where she can live independently while with her family. I met her recently and found her cozy little home with all of her photos and memories surrounding her. She is bright as the sun and sharp as a tack. When you visit with her, her sweet eyes glisten with life that people half of age don’t possess.
Vauda was born in December of 1919 to Jeff and Zoe Henryetta McMillen. She was one of ten children, an even split of five boys and five girls. Vauda was the last of the litter. She was born into a world that was still recovering from World War I. Her oldest brother, Sam (Uncle Sam!) was in WWI and was returning home by train through the United States. He was attacked on the train and hit in the head and died from his injuries.
She recalled how at the age of only four-years-old, she had to build a fire in the wood-burning cookstove, mix the ingredients for cornbread in a very large bowl. It took Vauda and her sister to lift the heavy bowl and pour it into two hot pans and put it in the oven. She helped with the farm and with the clothes washing. They built a fire beneath a large cast-iron kettle and boiled their white clothing. Most people don’t even let their four-year-olds run a microwave today.
She was a daddy’s girl, shadowing him just about where ever he went. She was also very fond of her brother Arvil who took her with him every time he left in the buggy, even on his dates. They spent time climbing up into the loft of the barn, shelling peanuts and playing cards at night by lantern-light. Her brother Daniel Green “Dee” McMillen went on to play professional baseball for the White Sox as a third baseman and shortstop.
Vauda took a job working for her cousin, Lois Young and Lois’s husband, who owned a general store on Highway 65 north of Conway, Arkansas, and that sold gasoline, work tools and just about everything. She was working one day when a truck driver named James Franklin Lee stopped to purchase a box of matches. The truck driver took one look at Vauda and fell in love at first sight. Soon, he was dropping by every time he was in the area. It wasn’t long before love struck the two of them and they married in November of 1938. (They celebrated 57 years of marriage before her husband passed.)
James and Vauda moved to California where he tried to join the service but his hearing loss made him ineligible. Vauda went to work at the Douglas Aircraft Company where she became an actual Rosie the Riveter, helping to build airplanes during World War II. They moved several times but ended up back in this area or at least surrounding counties.
Sometime after her husband, James had passed, she moved in with her daughter in Lavaca, where she as lived for the past ten years. She spends her time with her family, reading God’s word, praying and loving on her granddog Gidget, the cutest and most spoiled little Yorkie anyone has ever seen.
Vauda is a strong woman in the Lord. She is a devout Pentecostal and an unashamed follower of Christ. She doesn’t take any prescription medication or even goes to the doctor. Instead, she confidently prays and denies any ailment through the promises of the Holy Bible. The only advice she has when asked how she’s made it to this age is no surprise: “Live for the Lord.”
We should all have what she has. It was my honor to meet this sweet and remarkable lady. I look forward to visiting with her again soon and reminiscing some more in the very near future.