By Will McClure
Editor's Note: This is the first part in a two-part feature story about Sandra Rhea. This week will show Rhea's life through school, marriage, and her many jobs including working with early childhood before her initial retirement in 2007.
When one wants to see the history of Stamford on display, they need look no further than the Cowboy Country Museum located on Stamford's square. Along with the many items filling the museum from top to bottom works one individual who, since 2007, has been working tirelessly to keep the museum organized as well as dig into Stamford's history along with adding in some stories of her own. This individual is none other than Sandra Rhea who has been working to preserve Stamford's history through the museum, as well as relate some history of her own through her weekly "Museum Memories" article for the Stamford American and the Stamford Star.
When anyone comes into the museum, they can expect to be greeted by the friendly smile of Rhea as she walks them through the rooms, relating stories of the history of the exhibits and the people that are associated with them. In what seems like very little spare time, she continues to dig through old editions of newspapers, ledgers, personal accounts, and many other methods to help bring Stamford's history to light and educate the current residents of the town's past existence. Among all of this work, Rhea herself has led quite an interesting life well before her days as museum curator and was able to sit down for some time to talk about her life from the beginning all of the way to the present.
Sandra Rhea was born in the Stamford Hospital in 1942, whereupon her family moved to Tuxedo where she attended school until the beginning of her freshman year. At that time, Rhea then attended Stamford High School for the first half of the year before her family decided to move to Kress, Texas, where they stayed for three years. It was at that time that the family was going to move back to Tuxedo, but Rhea was not overly happy about the prospect of moving.
"I loved Kress...[but] my daddy decided that we were moving back to Jones County to Tuxedo mid-term of my senior year and I rebelled to put it mildly. Our senior class at Kress had worked every one of our bake sales and everything was all saved for a senior trip in California for two weeks, Disneyland, everything. And I didn't get to go because my daddy moved us," Rhea said. The trip was not the only reason Rhea was not happy to move back, however, as she would have been unable to graduate from Stamford High School on time, as at the time graduation required 20 credits whereas Rhea had only 18 from Kress. To help avoid another year of high school, Rhea was able to finish her schooling at Hamlin High School, but said that, although she was officially a Hamlin graduate, she did not take senior pictures nor get an annual as she still considered Kress High School her true alma mater, continuing to wear her Kress class ring to this day.
After graduation, Rhea continued to live in Tuxedo, but began work as a telephone operator for Stamford, working the switchboard to service customers in Lueders, Avoca, Stamford, Hamlin and Anson to name a few, all under the supervision of Ora Dell Rector. Rhea would work nights at the telephone company from 10 pm to 6 am in the morning and it was during that time at the company that she and friend Sarah Taylor moved into an apartment together on McHarg until Stamford did away with telephone operators. Rhea moved back to Tuxedo and began working at the Safeway store in Stamford, but it was not long after that her life would change again, marrying Gordon Rhea in 1966.
After marrying, Rhea and her husband moved to Fort Worth soon after with Gordon working with pipeline welding, which he soon gave up as Sandra did not want to move constantly with the pipeline. Sandra went back to work as a telephone operator until giving it up in 1968 after the birth of her daughter, Sharon. The Rheas would stay in Fort Worth until 1972 when they would move back to Stamford where Sandra would go back to Safeway to work as a cashier in their new building, which is now home to Trinity Church. Rhea worked there for a while before she and another individual were approached about a plan for an early childhood center, which would be located in a building south of Kinney Funeral Home. They would stay in the building until around 1975 before moving to Alice's Wonderland on Reynolds Street where they would be licensed for 54 children while Rhea served as an assistant director. The center soon closed down, only to be reopened as Margaret's Place where Rhea would instead be the director, staying full time for 10-12 years before moving again to the south end of the hospital. It was during that time where Rhea would see a great injustice.
"The biggest shock in day care was the Courtney Clayton disappearance, which is still unsolved here in Stamford. I hope before I die that those responsible are found and justly punished," Rhea said. Rhea went on to say that she still remembered the day that Courtney Clayton disappeared, remembering how her friends would interact and say "Courtney would love this."
Through her 27 year career in day care, Rhea, along with Alice Daniel, Bethyne Wade, Deborah Kendrick and about 50 others helped raise over 5,000 children. Rhea said that she still has the timeout chair in the museum today that she used in day care, with some of the kids she raised seeing it as adults and remembering their time on it. Rhea said that she really enjoyed the things that two, three, and four year olds would say about things from home, saying that the parents would be horrified, but Rhea would tell them that if they did not want things repeated, then do not say them in front of the kids.
After 27 years in day care, Sandra Rhea decided to retire at 65 in 2007, thoroughly enjoying her time, but ready to retire after being worn out and tired. However, her retirement would not last long as three weeks later she would receive the call to run the Cowboy Country Museum.
Editor's Note: Come back next week for the second and final part of Sandra Rhea's story and her time at the museum helping to preserve Stamford's history.