Gladys Cariani O’Heir

Gladys Cariani O’Heir
Nancie Williams, Pernia Dodgen, Gladys O’Heir, Blair Rapanick

Gladys Cariani was in her earlys 20s when met her future husband, Walter O’Heir, but they didn’t hit it off at first. Even though a friend introduced them, she was reluctant to agree to a date with him.

Fate intervened and one morning Gladys needed a ride to work. Walter picked her up in his used light green Plymouth. Although Walter was seven years older than Gladys the car ride went well and she agreed to a date. They began going to dances every weekend on Virginia Beach.


Walter O’Heir

Walter O’Heir

“It was a special time…girls wore formal gowns and dressed up to go out. I remember I had the prettiest black satin gown with a beaded matching jacket and pink panels in the long skirt…I loved dancing in that gown, O’Heir said. “There were live bands and we liked Guy Lombardi tunes and ballroom dances…we loved to waltz. Walter was working at the Naval Station in Norfolk then.”

They were married in 1939 and were able to celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary in 2000, before Walter died at the age of 90.

O’Heir, 97, remembers when she and her late husband Walter took their only child, five-year-old James “Jimmy,” to start school at Venetia Elementary. It was 1949 and the family had just relocated from Virginia for Walter’s new job at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

“With Jimmy in school, I went back to work. The W.T. Grant Company store was located in Cedar Hills Shopping Center, where the Dollar Store is now. I had worked for the W.T. Grant Company in downtown Norfolk, Virginia since graduating from high school in 1935, until we moved to Jacksonville. I was hired as head of the household department at Cedar Hills W.T. Grant,” O’Heir said. “I enjoyed working. We carried every kind of household item and clothing for the whole family. Ladies wore pretty house dresses back then, that we could run to the store in, with hose. The dresses were feminine, pretty, usually cotton and we sold hundreds of them.”

O’Heir described hose made of heavier material, with thick seams in back. They stopped at the knee, because the dresses were longer, and were held up by uncomfortable garter belts.

“I remember when new silk hosiery arrived. We still needed garter belts to hold them up and there was still a seam in back, but it looked better. The new hose felt wonderful, looked prettier and were lighter weight. Everyone wanted them, but they were much more expensive,” she said.

The store had a pet department and sold many sewing machines and radios. The most exciting day she experienced working at W.T. Grant was when the first black and white televisions were delivered. She believes they were RCA televisions, just square boxes that no one knew how to operate.

“They were heavy, with knobs and rabbit ear-like antenna. They were to be sold in my household department and the company sent employees to demonstrate them for us. They were high-priced, a luxury most people couldn’t afford. We only sold one or two a month and it was strange to try to sell them when none of us even owned one,” she recalled.

After W.T. Grant closed in the late 1970s, Gladys worked for Peterson’s 5 & Dime in 5 Points. She also worked for Mr. Hulsey’s Forest Bakery in Venetia.


Nancie Williams, Pernia Dodgen, Gladys O’Heir, Blair Rapanick

Nancie Williams, Pernia Dodgen, Gladys O’Heir, Blair Rapanick

“I liked working for Peterson’s during the holidays because we stayed so busy. The store had beautiful hardwood floors,” she recalled. “And I liked working at Mr. Hulsey’s bakery, especially on Saturdays when got to take home delicious leftover baked goods,” she said.

The O’Heir home on Ortega Farms Circle was a happy one where Walter operated his ham radio or worked their vegetable garden. He belonged to a ham radio club and they enjoyed club events with friends. Walter, a skilled craftsman, built a 30-foot yacht with cabin and galley perfect for four people to go cruising or fishing.

“We kept the yacht docked at Lakeshore Marina and enjoyed it for many years with family and friends. We ate a lot of fish in those days,” she said. “I never drove the yacht but I taught myself to drive our car!”

Half Italian, O’Heir’s feisty streak shows when she described the day her husband was picked up for work at NAS and she decided it was a waste for their car to just sit, parked all day in the driveway.

“I decided to teach myself to drive. I took the car out every day after Walter left for work. I was great at driving forward, but I couldn’t back up or park…I had to stop and ask for help. People laughed, but were nice about it,” she said.

One morning they needed to go grocery shopping. When Walter walked to the car, Gladys told him she’d drive.

“He said, ‘Oh right, you know how to drive!’…but he gave me the keys, laughing. I drove us straight to the grocery store. His mouth was hanging down to his knees!” she said.

After Walter’s death she sold their Ortega home to Karen and her late husband Robert Clark and moved to a Riverside apartment. Karen was the mother of her neighbor-friends Christy (and Bob) Veletta.

O’Heir enjoys reading mysteries, church, her friends and spending time with son Jimmy, who lives in Georgia with his wife Sharlene, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren; stepdaughter Betty Dorman and her daughter Debbie. She supports the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. She looks forward to celebrating her 98th birthday on June 22.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia

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