The Way We Were: Hazel Montgomery

The Way We Were: Hazel Montgomery
FRONT ROW: (left to right) Jackson Bartz (great-grandson), Cynthia Bartz (granddaughter-in-law), Alison H. Sausaman (granddaughter), Hazel Sausaman (great-granddaughter), Hazel Montgomery, Millie Hofheimer (great-granddaughter), Kirsten Hofheimer (granddaughter-in-law), James Hofheimer (great-grandson) BACK ROW: (left to right) John Bartz (grandson), Kent Sausaman (grandson-in-law), Andrew Hofheimer (grandson)
Hazel Jackson age 2, 1938
Hazel Jackson age 2, 1938

Hazel Montgomery has been a permanent Jacksonville resident for nearly eight decades. She was married for 62 years to an Ortega native. “She is sharp, proud of her Ortega heritage, a delightful storyteller, and an all-around fabulous person,” said Marianne Hofheimer, one of her five children.

Hazel Jackson Montgomery was born in Albany, Georgia at a hospital nearly 30 miles from her family’s home in Camilla, Georgia. She was the daughter of a road builder who was general manager for a company with its home office in Jacksonville, Florida. Her family lived here for a few months at a time in 1936 and in 1941.

When that company went from building highways and small bridges to building airfields, including the one at the beach and the one in Ortega that back then was referred to as Mainside Naval Base, the Jacksons settled in Jacksonville permanently. This was the first place Montgomery had ever lived for over a year. They started out on Geraldine Drive in the Riverside/Avondale area near Fishweir Creek. It was 1943, Montgomery was 7 years old, and she attended Fishweir Elementary.

On Saturdays, after having saved her money throughout the week, the big deal was to walk over the Fishweir Creek Bridge and pay nine cents to enter the Fairfax Theatre and watch the matinee, which was often a cowboy picture and always a serial. Montgomery remembers one in particular: The Green Hornet with its theme song “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” “This was in the days before television, so that was a big deal,” Montgomery said. On the walk home, there was Mundy’s Drug Store where a two-dip ice cream cost only five cents. The store is no longer there, but the building still stands.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful time to grow up in this area. We thought nothing of walking up to Avondale and Boone Park, which is still there,” Montgomery said. When she grew old enough to ride her bicycle to farther locales, Montgomery enjoyed the Willowbranch Library on Park Street near Herschel. By the time Montgomery had gotten to the sixth grade, the economy had improved, and she would get a dollar per week allowance for doing chores at home, tasks like making her bed and drying the dishes. “And for a dollar, you got a lot!” Montgomery said. Now at 10 or 11 years old, she’d be permitted to take the five-cent bus ride downtown with her friends to enjoy lunch at Woolworth’s counter. “A hot dog with all the trimmings cost 10 cents,” Montgomery recalled. It was another 10 cents to see a movie downtown at the Florida Theatre, which is still there. That was a bigger deal than the St. Johns Theatre, as Montgomery remembers it. Another nickel, and she’d be on the bus ride back home.

It was always with friends in groups of two or three that she traveled. One of them was Dorothy (Dotty) Laurmer Risley, now the wife of Steve Risley who opened Sunrise Nissan of Orange Park. In fact, the two continue to talk daily. Another was Anis Ira Daley from Challen Avenue whose father was a Jacksonville physician and whose mother was the Sunday school teacher at Riverside Park Methodist Church where the three girls originally met.

After Fishweir, Montgomery spent seventh, eighth, and ninth grades at Lake Shore Junior High. She’d ride the city bus for another nickel to get there. She spent only one year at Lee High School before attending three years of boarding school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, her mother’s home town. While away at boarding school, Montgomery’s only sibling, a brother 10 years her junior, was entering the first grade. “We were in two different worlds. We had lived in the same house, but he was so much younger than I,” she said.

As a freshman at Florida State University in 1954, Montgomery met up again with Diane Steagall Schwalbe whom she hadn’t seen since her days at Lee. They became college roommates for two years.

March 2, 1957
March 2, 1957

In June 1956, Montgomery’s Pi Beta Phi sorority sister, Mary Stewart Bolton married Charlie Perry. In attendance at the celebration was a friend of the bride’s family, William Thomas Shircliff Montgomery, Jr., commonly known as Bill, who was a Bolles boy. The wedding reception was held at the San Jose Country Club. It was there that Hazel Jackson met Bill Montgomery. Three months later, they engaged. And on March 2, 1957, with the bride wearing a gown made by her mother, they married at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Jacksonville.

The Montgomerys’ first home together was on Verona Avenue in Ortega. In the six years they lived there, they had five children. Their first two girls, Ginny and Patten, were born 14 months apart. A year-and-a-half later, they had twin girls, Marianne and Alison. Two years afterward, in December 1962,  came their youngest, a boy named Cliff. “Then I quit having children,” Montgomery said. All five were baptized at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where Montgomery remained an active parishioner for many years.

Hazel with her 5 children, 1963 (FRONT ROW) (left to right) Patten M. Moore, WTS Montgomery III (Cliff), Hazel Montgomery, Ginny M. Vorsanger
Hazel with her 5 children, 1963 (FRONT ROW) (left to right) Patten M. Moore, WTS Montgomery III (Cliff), Hazel Montgomery, Ginny M. Vorsanger

To support their large family, her husband worked in the air conveyance business with his father, WTS Montgomery, Sr., at a company he had founded in 1925. It was originally called Jacksonville Blow Pipe Company and later became Montgomery Industries International. They designed and manufactured large industrial machinery that they sold all over the world. Hazel Montgomery was a stay-at-home mom who, of course, drove a station wagon. It was a blue Chevrolet.

Having outgrown three bedrooms, the Montgomerys bought the house at 1830 Shadowlawn Street off of St. Johns Avenue in Avondale. “One of the most interesting things is that my two older girls got to go to Fishweir School for two years, which was where I had gone to school. And my favorite teacher as a student at Fishweir was then my girls’ principal, and she remembered me!” Montgomery said. Her name was Mrs. Lucille Ross, and she used to teach fourth grade.

In 1966, after nearly five years on Shadowlawn, the family built a house on McGirts Boulevard along the Ortega River, down the street from Ortega Elementary School, next door to where Bill Montgomery’s parents had built their family home when he was 3 years old. Back then, the senior Montgomery had purchased two lots on the river but built on only one of them. The empty lot was later gifted to Bill Montgomery by his father as an anniversary present so that he and his wife, Hazel, could build their own family home there. In fact, the Montgomery family is now into its sixth generation in Ortega.

“I always loved to sew, and I made almost all of my children’s clothing. I made so many things by hand. I made my four daughters’ debutante dresses that they wore at their formal presentations,” Montgomery said. She spoke of a time when heirloom sewing had made a comeback in the South and about how many heirloom stores had opened.

After her own children were grown and married, Montgomery’s passion became her career. It was at a sorority reunion that a sorority sister, Barbara Jones of Winter Park, convinced Montgomery to do as she had—start a local hand-sewing and smocking business. She did. It was a small store, and she taught hand-sewing classes there. To remain sustainable, in 1990, Montgomery purchased Hobbie Horse, a children’s boutique clothing store in Avondale, selling upscale lines. She held that business for 15 years and sold it in 2005 when she turned 70.

Today, Montgomery still lives in Ortega, now in a small condo community. She remains in touch with many dear friends whom she has known for decades. Diane Schwable and Carol Fewell are two. “Unfortunately, I’ve lost a lot of friends in the past couple of years,” Montgomery said. In November 2019, Kay Atkins passed away, and the following month, Anis Daley. These losses came on the heels of the death of Montgomery’s husband of 62 years who died in June 2019.

Montgomery is grandmother to 11. “My prayer had always been that I would be on earth long enough to see at least one great-grandchild, and I am expecting my sixth one in April,” she said. Many have worn the family baptismal gown that Montgomery remade using scraps of lace trim from those debutante gowns she had made for her four daughters many years earlier.

“I have had a blessed life,” she said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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