VIDEO: Rick Poppitz, kcvideo.com
Special to The Gardner News
With the exception of the time spent in the US Navy in WW2, Ramon Ayala has spent most of his 94 years in southwest Johnson County.
His father had worked for the railroad during the time of WW1 (1914-1918). The railroad hired Mexican workers, who would come in the spring, work through summer and fall, then return to their families in Mexico in the winter. In 1919, Ramon’s father was offered a year round job with the railroad and the family moved to the USA for good. Ramon was born near the US-Mexico border on November 11, 1919, as his family was making the move to the United States.
They ended up in Clare, Kansas – 3 miles east of Gardner. The railroad had built homes, a store, stockyards, and a school for it’s employees and their families in Clare. Ramon attended school in the one room schoolhouse through 8th grade and then attended Gardner High School for four years.
His family lived through the great depression, droughts, dustbowls and tough times.
Tragedy struck when Ramon’s older brother was killed on the train tracks at fourteen years old.
In Clare, Ramon’s mother tended a garden to feed the family. Ramon worked for local farmers when he could and they would pay him 50 cents a day.
When not working or in school, Ramon spent his time fishing and hunting for wildlife. Ramon put a hook on a string tied to a stick, used a bottle cork for a bobber and caught fish from nearby ponds or creeks. He also showed creativity and inventiveness early in life, when he figured out how to catch rabbits in a homemade trap. He took the fresh meat home for his mother to cook for the family dinner.
He was drafted by the military in WW2 and served in the US Navy. He served in the Pacific, in Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. He was honorably discharged in December 1945.
After returning from military service, he was offered a entry level job in the printing industry with the Cramer Company. At this job he became a pressman and learned foil stamping and embossing. He also worked for Intercollegiate Press in the later years of his career, until retirement.
After retiring from the printing business, Ramon needed to keep himself busy and he began mowing grass. He mowed lawns all around Johnson County, deep into his 80′s. Ramon says the key to longevity is to keep busy. That’s what he did!
Now at 94, Ramon no longer mows grass, but he still gets around pretty well and has a sharp mind full of memories. He enjoys getting out and watching his great-grandchildren participate in track meets and school events.
Special thanks to The Gardner Museum for allowing us to conduct our interview at the museum.