Celebrating her 100th birthday on January 2, Leona Cordelia Smith Bradley was born in 1918 near the area of Atoka and Stringtown, OK, at the house of a family friend. Leona’s parents, Suzy Breed Smith and Marcus Nathan Smith, were visiting these friends to celebrate the New Year and were stranded by a snow storm.
Leona was the second of six children. Her older sister was Dorothy Pauline, and following Suzy were Georgia Marie, Morris Walton, Mildred Jo, and Lola May. Another child died from whooping cough. Leona’s father, known as Jack, was a sharecropper, and the family moved around a lot. Leona recalls helping her dad pick cotton, and she began school in a rural school house between Vernon, TX, and Olustee, OK.
The family left Oklahoma during the treacherous Dust Bowl era and traveled by covered wagon – with mules named Old Blue and Jake – to settle in Natalia in 1932 where they purchased irrigated farm land. Leona started high school in Devine, but she had to take a year and half off to take care of her mother and Dorothy, who were quarantined because of what was believed to have been scarlet fever. Leona went back to school and finished in 1937. Although she wanted to go on to college, her father did not allow it as he “didn’t think girls should go to college”.
Remaining in the community to work, Leona began the job of snapping green beans at Briggs Cannery in Natalia. Meanwhile, she met and married Harvey Lee Bradley, another transplant from Olustee, OK. His family had moved to Natalia in 1938. Their first child, Jack Norman, was born on June 13, 1941. Donald Morris was born on April 14, 1943.
When WWII broke out, Leona went to work with some of her sisters at Kelly Field as “Kelly Kates” – which Leona says was the San Antonio version of Rosie the Riveter! Her job was to build and repair planes. Harvey went to work at Camp Normoyle as a mechanic.
After the war, Leona and Harvey operated a grocery store in Natalia in a building owned by the Batchelor family. Then, they built their own building, and around 1952, they opened Bradley’s Grocery Store. Leona fondly recalls that some folks of great personage frequented their small store, such as Lyndon Baines Johnson when he was campaigning and a son of Quanah Parker, whose family were friends of the Bradley family in Olustee, Oklahoma.
In 1960, Leona began beautician’s school and opened her own beauty shop in 1961 in the back of the grocery store. She continued to work there until her first great grandchild was born in 1986. Jack had married Cynthia Louise Swenson, and Don married Connie Marie Biediger.
Leona’s and Harvey’s grandchildren are as follows: Jack Jr., 1962; Pamela Jill, 1965; Gina Louise, 1967; Kelly LeAnn, 1969; Donald, Jr., 1970; and Cory Mitchell, 1974. There are ten great grandchildren: Joshua, Kyle, Kayla, Amanda, Jacob, Bradley, Jamie, William, Madison and Emma. And there are four great-great grandchildren: Christian, Maverick, Lorelai and Paislee. One sweet memory Leona shares is that on their grandchildren’s birthdays, she and Harvey would take them to the old Luby’s on Pleasanton Rd. and Military Dr. in San Antonio and then go next door to the Sears and Roebuck Store.
Leona and Harvey moved to the country in 1958 where they had a chicken farm, and twice a week they would take eggs to Nixon to the hatcheries. They also had a large number of cattle and pigs for many years. “Harvey was known in Medina County for the smell of his pig pens,” says Jack Bradley, Jr.
While Harvey was known for his pigs, Leona – Nana to her grandchildren – was known for her baking and her sewing. Her pie and cobbler recipes are still being used today by her granddaughters, and she is said to have made a lot of dresses and shirts for the grandchildren.
Leona is a member of First Baptist Church Natalia where she, her mother, and her sisters Dorothy and Georgia were founding members. The last surviving founding member, Leona served for many years as treasurer. She also served many years on the PTA at Natalia ISD, and Harvey served as Fire Chief of the Natalia VFD as well as Constable of Medina County for many years after the couple closed their store.
In 2005, Harvey – Grandpa – passed away from complications with diabetes. Leona – Nana – who just turned 100, reflects on her long life. She has seen the breakout of the Spanish Flu, the end of WWI, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, WWII, and all the conflicts since then. She has seen lots of firsts: The first man in outer space, a man on the moon, and, an interesting first to mention the forming of the NFL. Too many changes and “firsts” to name, when asked what has changed the most, she simply says, “Everything!”