Mary Bell Wood O’Connell
Mary Bell Wood O’Connell was born in Kansas and came to Rio Vista in 1929 with her family when she was eight. Her father Mr. Wood had visited Rio Vista in 1915 and had worked briefly for a farmer called Mr. Peter Cook. When the Depression hit Kansas, he wrote to Mr. Cook, who replied saying “Bring your family and come work here.”
In the early grades Mrs. VanDeMaele was one of her memorable teachers. Mary Bell was scared of her, as she was very firm, though that was a good
thing. This teacher was a good friend of her mother Mrs. Bell Wood. Mary Bell would bring her own lunch, and in primary school she used to play jacks at recess. In high school she and the other students with packed lunches sat and ate on the school front steps in the sunshine. Girls mostly sat on the left side and boys on the right, near where the Ag. Room was. There were forty students in her graduating class at Rio Vista High School in 1940. It used to be a beautiful building and she was sad when they demolished it.
The family enjoyed the time they spent gathered around the radio. Mary Bell’s favorite song in the Thirties was Beautiful Lady in Blue. Mary Bell took years of piano lessons from Mrs. Coxon at the Coxon home. Mr. Coxon was a teacher at the high school. When in town Mary Bell went to the movies at the old movie theatre, where the Century 21 Realty building is now. Working for Mr. Peter Cook Sr. was her first job. She was a bookkeeper for him. She later worked at the Bank of Rio Vista. She graduated from San Jose State and her sister from University of the Pacific. Her wedding reception was held at the Cook home, the large brick house, still very handsome and lived in, on the corner of 5th and Main.
Mary Bell has two sisters and one brother, all still living. Her brother has a ranch in Dixon. The Wood family farmed out in the delta about 5 miles out of town. The family home still stands there, and the land is now owned by the Page Baldwins. It’s inhabitable but Mary Bell regrets that no one is living there now. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a farmer. Local kids loved her parents and had fun riding to the ranch on the horse-drawn wagon in the 1930s for Easter egg hunts. Dr. Simmer would come out to the ranch and make house calls when anyone in the family was sick.
Her chores comprised regular farm chores. She liked gathering eggs. The chore man did the milking, and the children helped their dad herd sheep. The sheep dogs were black and while collies. One year she helped her dad take the sheep by truck towards Dixon. He was taking them up to the hills to feed. During her childhood Mary Bell had three eye surgeries and for those she went on the train to San Francisco with her mother and they stayed overnight. In the forties she liked to go to the “big city” (San Francisco) with her friends to see a show. They went by bus, and the driver’s name was “Beanie.”
The Depression hit hard locally. Fortunately her family had enough to eat on the farm. They ate a lot of lamb and fresh vegetables. Her mother was known throughout Rio Vista for her angel food cake. She was always making a cake for somebody, first on the wood stove, and then in 1940 the farm got electricity. Mary Bell misses the small town feel of Rio Vista and wishes that things were back the way they were, but she understands that the world is much smaller now.