The Way We Were: Martha “Molly” Holmes King

The Way We Were: Martha “Molly” Holmes King
Molly King, February 2023, photo by Carol Curtis

Martha “Molly” Holmes King arrived in Jacksonville at nine years of age in February 1941 from her birthplace in Birmingham, Alabama. “Now, I’m 91 and three fourths,” she said, and she lives in the same house that she had grown up in on Harvard Avenue in Ortega.

Molly was raised an only child; two siblings had died as babies. Her family was used to household help, so their butler, William Rudolf, moved down to Florida with them. Molly’s mother was Jessica Holmes King, a former North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania school teacher. “Ladies didn’t work after they got married back in her day,” Molly said. Frank King, Molly’s father, was an executive of Cosco Steel.

Cosco made steel reinforcements for the landing strips at the air base, now NAS JAX, then called NAS Yukon prior to consolidation when the city limits of Jacksonville ended at Verona Avenue. The original landing strips had been engineered of concrete and continually cracked under the weight of planes because of shifting sand underground.

William Rudolf and Molly King, June 30, 1941
William Rudolf and Molly King, June 30, 1941

Cosco manufactured ammunition as well, particularly bombs used in WWII. Cosco also had the contract for building three storage units visible from Roosevelt Boulevard. The three are recognizable among the others there now by their flat roofs, intentionally built that way so they could be topped with dirt for planting low bushes to camouflage the units were the area to be raided by air during wartime.

“My daddy had an old Chevrolet,” Molly said. It was a 1934, greyish blue in color. She’s reminded of it when she watches The Waltons. Molly’s father would drive her and her mom all around Jacksonville in that car. Years later, Molly would learn to drive on the unpaved roads around NAS Yukon.

Molly did not have to travel far to grammar school; Ortega Elementary was and still is just across the street. She remains in touch with one of her classmates from there, Mary Aichel. As young girls, they had lived just a block-and-a-half from each other, both attended Riverside Methodist Church, and both their daddies had steel companies. Mary now lives in an assisted living facility up in North Carolina, and she and Molly speak by telephone every so often.

At Robert E. Lee High School, now Riverside High, Molly was president of the Latin Club, secretary of the Spanish Club, and a member of the Dramatic Club, Jubilee and National Honor Society. Always a stellar student, Molly had skipped a couple of grades and graduated with the class of 1948 alongside Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett, a Jacksonville legend.

Cosco Steel Bomb Factory, Monday, August 20, 1945
Cosco Steel Bomb Factory, Monday, August 20, 1945

Molly spent four years away from Jacksonville for higher education at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She came back home with a bachelor’s degree in hand and enjoyed spending time at her family’s beach house until her father asked, “Well, are you about ready to go to work?”

Molly said that her dad didn’t allow her to be a beach bum for very long and suggested she get a job teaching. But she told him that after so many years of being in “little boxes of classrooms,” she’d like to do something different for a time. She landed a position at Atlantic National Bank downtown, which she found quite interesting. That’s where she met the bank client who would become her husband.

In 1956, Molly married John Wesley King, a career military man who had worked locally in real estate and insurance. They just happened to have the same last name. Friends would joke that at least she wouldn’t have to change the initials on her luggage. It was several years into their marriage when Molly discovered that her husband’s cousin had been a college classmate of hers.

Though he grew up in Jacksonville, John was a Georgia native, and that’s where the couple initially wed. The following year, Molly’s dad insisted that they have a church wedding, so they confirmed their vows before a priest at Good Shepherd.

Molly King and dad Frank, Jacksonville Beach, Sunday, May 10, 1942
Molly King and dad Frank, Jacksonville Beach, Sunday, May 10, 1942

Molly and John’s first home together was in the Willowbranch neighborhood of Riverside. Molly left her banking job to raise their three children: John Jr., Martha “Marcy,” and Amanda “Mandy.” All three attended Ortega Elementary, just like their mom. One of Molly’s grandchildren was also a student there, making for a third generation.

Molly and John moved their young family to Apache Avenue in Ortega. Most afternoons when school let out, their children would play kickball with friends. “My front yard was third base, so I continually had a path across my lawn from them playing,” Molly said. 

“Being in Ortega is a memory in itself. One of the nicest customs that we used to have was every Halloween an open house at the public school,” Molly said. It was an annual festival that included a costume contest, a bake sale, and booths of activities to help raise money for the PTA.

Once her youngest daughter was in high school, Molly went to work teaching foreign languages—Spanish, French, and Latin—at Andrew Jackson and Englewood high schools, before retiring in 1993. Ever humble, Molly indicated that speaking four languages “is not very hard.”

Molly King, August 20, 1945
Molly King, August 20, 1945

In 1975 after her mother passed away and her father was alone, Molly and her family moved into her childhood home on Harvard where she still resides today. Her husband passed away two decades ago, and her children are long grown and have grandchildren of their own now. “I had three children and five grandchildren. The next thing I knew, I had 10 great-grandchildren,” she said.

Molly has eight cats to keep her company. She calls them the River Rat Patrol of Ortega. She keeps all of them fixed and their nails clipped because “I don’t want to get in trouble with the city,” she said.

Molly has been a member of the Jacksonville chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution for nearly 50 years and still attends meetings. She is former president of the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society and continues to work on genealogy as a hobby every spare moment she gets. It has been a constant in her life. “You can never run out. It’s like eating potato chips. You never get finished,” she said. Currently, she’s working on a branch of her mother’s family that’s in Ireland.

While she was growing up, Molly’s family often had reunions, so she was familiar with her second and third cousins. Her husband, however, had not been exposed to his extended family. While she was putting together their son’s baby book, which has a family tree in its center pages to be filled in, “I thought maybe I’d better check this out. Maybe we are kin after all,” Molly said. So, she embarked on research to prove to herself and others that she and her husband, both Kings, were not blood relatives. She found out that her husband’s King family had settled in South Carolina in the 1700s but that her father’s King family had settled in Virginia in the 1600s. They are, surely, two different King families.

Longevity is not unusual in Molly’s family. Her great-grandfather was 97 when Molly was born, and she found in an 1850 census report a distant female relative on her mother’s side who had seen 100. At nearly 92, Molly keeps active. She never committed to a formal exercise routine, but she has enjoyed gardening in addition to her research. “I’m always doing something. I never just lie down and take a nap,” she said. “I just go with the flow.”

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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