Kathryn Massey holds great-granddaughter Avery Murray Miller during her birthday party Feb. 7. Avery’s mother and Kathryn’s granddaughter, Laura Massey-Miller, stands behind the two.
Born in Kansas on Feb. 7, 1908, Massey’s father left the family when she was three-months-old. Her mother, a schoolteacher, re-married, she said.
“I still remember her wedding,” Massey said.
The family relocated to Arkansas to be near her mother’s parents. Tragically, Massey’s mother died when she was only seven-years-old, leaving her an orphan, she said.
“I was never put in an orphan’s home, but may have been better off. I did not have a happy childhood,” said Massey.
Massey was shuffled from relative to relative. Her family members were all farmers and were poor, she said.
“They were poor farmers who did not need another mouth to feed,” said Massey.
At the age of 16, Massey took a job as a waitress for the Fred Harvey Company. She told her employers she was 18 because in 1924, it was illegal for a minor to travel out of state unaccompanied to work, she said.
“The Harvey Line had restaurants along the railroad every 100 miles. The Harvey Houses served the best food of all the restaurants,” said Massey.
Massey’s ultimate goal was to work at the El Tovar Restaurant at the Grand Canyon. At that time, the El Tovar required waitresses have a minimum of five years experience. She had only four years of experience. In 1928, she arrived in Williams to work at the Harvey House to gain one more year of experience so she could work at the El Tovar, she said.
Dressed in crisp, clean black and white attire, the Harvey Girls were mostly “green girls” from the mid west. The company hired innocent and good girls with no experience so they could train them to fit the Fred Harvey image, Massey said.
“At that time, waitresses were looked down on. But we were good girls. Many had been raised on farms.
Times were different. We had to memorize everything at the restaurant and were not allowed to write anything down,” she said.
When Massey arrived in Williams in 1928, the town was much different than it is now. “Houses of ill-repute” dominated the downtown district. Fred Harvey managers warned the Harvey Girls to not be seen in the downtown vicinity or they would be released from their duties, she said.
“If you dated the wrong man and if he wasn’t up to standards, you were told,” said Massey.
Massey only worked as a Harvey Girl in Williams for six months. She married local boy Don Massey in December of 1928. When she married, Massey’s days as a Harvey Girl ended, she said.
The couple had one son, Ralph Wayne Massey. After a tumultuous marriage, the couple divorced. For the next 30 years, the Masseys remained in contact with one another. Kathryn relocated to the Grand Canyon to work. Don became chief of police in Williams and held that position for 21 years, she said.
One day in 1979, Kathryn came to Williams to go to the bank. She saw Don and he asked her to marry him again.
“I laughed all the way back to the canyon,” she said.
Employed at the Red Feather Lodge at the time, Massey was considering retirement. She was planning to buy a trailer she could pull behind her vehicle and travel to California to live near an aunt. When she finally stopped laughing, Kathryn began to seriously consider Don’s proposal, she said.
“I figured, what do I have to lose,” Massey said. “Don had changed from darkness to daylight. He called me and begged me to marry him.”
On her next day off, a Sunday, Don arrived at the Grand Canyon. He immediately began loading Kathryn’s belongings into his vehicle. At that time, a doctor’s check-up was required prior to marriage. Don persuaded Kathryn to schedule a doctor’s visit for the next day. The couple remarried a week later, she said.
“You’ll never want for anything again, he told me. He promised me the moon and he gave it to me. No man could have treated a woman better. We had a wonderful life,” she said.
When they remarried, Massey gained two stepsons, Brad Massey of Williams and Steve Massey of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.
The Masseys enjoyed 17 years of marriage. Don died of cancer on Feb. 11, 1996, she said.
Throughout her 95 years, Massey has enjoyed good health. Several years ago, she broke her hip. Her doctor told her that of patients over the age of 90 that have broken their hips, only three in 100 recovered well enough to walk again, said Massey.
“I decided to be one of the three. I did not want to spend the rest of my life sitting around. That’s not me,” she said.
Massey beat the odds and walks well now. Her son, Ralph, who resides in Tucson, has tried unsuccessfully to move his mother closer to his home. After spending three months in Tucson last winter, she longed to return to Williams, Massey said.
An avid gardener, Massey nurtures her plants with well water. An active well is located on Massey’s property and never goes dry, she said.
“The well is full now. The water is pure,” said Massey.
With the assistance of her son, Massey said she plans to make improvements to the well so that she can water her plants with the touch of a button.
“I can’t live without flowers,” concluded Massey.