myrtle

When Great-Aunt Myrtle lost her husband, Clarence, in 1950, she picked up the fractured pieces of her life and returned to work. For the next 36 years, she was the no-nonsense proprietor of McAllen Upholstery Shop in McAllen, Texas, a woman ahead of her time.

flag
Born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1898, a young
Great-Aunt Myrtle holds the corners of a
U.S. flag with 48 stars, made sometime
after Arizona joined the union in 1912.
After high school, Great-Aunt Myrtle was a telephone
operator in Jefferson, Ark., where she lived with 19
other girls in a boarding house. She’s the studious
young woman wearing glasses and holding a purse.
Great-Aunt Myrtle married Clarence Hembrock
on June 24, 1924, in Tulsa, Okla. He was a railroad
car seat upholsterer like her dad and older brother.
When Great-Aunt Myrtle’s brother, Richard, opened R. H.
Stolley Auto Shop in Sand Springs, Okla., the business
sold Model T tops, trim, upholstery and seat covers.

Texas-Bound

When Richard developed tuberculosis in the late 1920s, he moved his family to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to receive treatment. He recovered and the family decided to stay

Great-Aunt Myrtle and Clarence moved to South Texas
to join Richard and his family in 1930, a year after
the U.S. stock market crashed. The couple marveled
at the sight of palm trees everywhere they turned.
Clarence started working for his brother-in-law and
all was well until a hurricane wiped out the Stolley
business. Richard had no money to rebuild in the midst
of the Great Depression, so he started farming.
truck
What were Clarence and Great-Aunt Myrtle to do?
They decided to move 35 miles away to McAllen,
Texas, and open their own upholstery business.

Opportunity in McAllen, Texas

The Hembrocks took Great-Aunt Myrtle’s father, Hans, and mother, Catherine, with them to live above the shop. According to the 1940 U.S. census, Great-Aunt Myrtle was a housewife. She and Clarence had no children.

C.H. Hembrock’s McAllen Upholstery Shop
offered a wide range of personal services:
drapes, upholstery, slipcovers and antiques.

A Family Affair Business

Great-Grandma Stolley hand-braided rugs to sell in the shop and Great-Aunt Myrtle offered sage advice and skillfully sewed drapes that clients greatly admired.

Avid baseball fans, Great-Aunt Myrtle and Clarence were
 both active in the community. Clarence was captain of No. 3
Company of the McAllen Volunteer Fire Department. He also
was a member of the Community Chest and had a 14-year
perfect attendance record with the local Kiwanis Club.
When Clarence died of a heart attack driving home
from a baseball game at the age of 48, Great-
Aunt Myrtle received an outpouring of sympathy.
Condolances included a handwritten letter on official
State of Texas letterhead from the wife of
Texas Governor Allan Shivers. Texas First Lady Marialice Shivers hailed from the Rio Grande Valley.
With the moral support of her widowed mother
and Richard and his family, Myrtle decided to
run the Hembrock’s business herself. She had the help
of Joe, a long-time employee, and an
talented upholsterer.
In the 1950s, women couldn’t join Kiwanis
or other service organizations like Rotary.
But that didn’t stop Great-Aunt Myrtle from
seizing other opportunities to grow her
business and contribute to the community.

She Went Out With ‘The Girls’

Great-Aunt Myrtle was active in the Firefly Garden Club, McAllen Business Women’s Club and a service group called the Zonta Club of West Hidalgo County. She continued Clarence’s commitment to offering top-quality products and service, plus she kept abreast of changing styles, trends and materials. All the while, Great-Aunt Myrtle honed her business skills.

Great-Aunt Myrtle’s nephew, Richard Jr., his wife, Grace, and their four children, who also lived in McAllen, always treated her with great kindness and respect.

Great-Aunt Myrtle operated McAllen
Upholstery until she was 86 years old.
While many other local businesses came
and went, this dynamic lady hung
 in there.

She Never Forgot Her Sweetheart

Behind Great-Aunt Myrtle’s favorite chair was a collection of miniature china shoes displayed on the shelves of the rack. She told me that every month when Clarence went downtown on a Saturday morning to get a haircut, he would stop by the drugstore. There, he’d buy his sweetheart a token of his affection. Although her last home was small, Great-Aunt Myrtle always found room for the shoes given to her by the love of her life.

Great-Aunt Myrtle gave me part of her miniature shoe
collection and I display them, too. They remind
me of a spunky little lady who figured out how to
operate a successful small Texas business long before
it was commonplace for a woman on her own to
do so. Thank you, Great-Aunt Myrtle!

*  *  *

Here are more inspiring (and surprising) women’s stories I hope you’ll enjoy:

The Tale of Mikie Kieran’s Trophy
Lessons Learned at a Texas Country School
Please Don’t Feed Mother’s Grizzly Bears
Elaine Thomas
Follow Me
Latest posts by Elaine Thomas (see all)