‘It Made Me Feel Good That I Helped a Person’ - The Missourian: Features People

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‘It Made Me Feel Good That I Helped a Person’

Leslie Woman Looks Back on Growing Up in The Depression, Her Sewing Business and Other Jobs

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Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 5:32 pm | Updated: 11:21 am, Wed Dec 4, 2013.

Leslie area resident Juanita Abernathy remembers when she was a little girl

She was born in 1923 in Greenwood County, Kan. As a child her father worked for one of the Phillips brothers who founded Phillips Petroleum Company. Due to that job, her family lived in several places including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

When she was young, Abernathy wandered away from her parents and into the path of a rattlesnake.

“I must have been a little dickens,” she said. “After a conversation with a rattlesnake he (father) tied a rope around my waste,” she said.

In August, Abernathy was thrown a surprise party to mark her 90th birthday.

She experienced the Great Depression as a child. There are few memories she has of the depression.

One night, at about the age of 5, she had already gone to bed, but was hungry. She left her home, walked down the street and into a restaurant, and ate a piece of bread leftover on a diner’s plate.

“I crawled up on the stool and took a piece of bread,” she remembers. “That is my memory of the Depression.”

Her parents separated while she was young, and Abernathy lived with her grandmother from ages 4-12. Abernathy said her grandmother was very influential in her life.

Abernathy noted that her grandmother never knew that she left their home and went to the diner.

She remembers longing for a blue tricycle with a pinstripe and bells that she eyed in a local store. One day before Christmas that bike arrived at her grandmother’s door.

“She was very good to me,” said Abernathy.

As a teen living in Pacific with her mother and stepfather, Abernathy began seeing Paul Steusse, of Beaufort.

Her mother and step-father were going to relocate, which led to Abernathy marrying Steusse in 1939.

“They were going to move away and he (Steusse) wasn’t about to let me move so he married me,” she said.

The couple had two children, Suzanne and Stephen.

The Steusse’s operated a family farm before a drought destroyed the corn crops.

Sewing Machine Business

After the drought, Juanita and Paul Steusse opened a sewing machine business in Union.

“I wanted to buy a sewing machine and he bought the whole inventory,” she said. “That was a big turning point in my life. We met so many fine women.”

The shop was located across Washington Avenue from the United Bank of Union. It was open for nearly 25 years.

Abernathy taught many women how to sew.

“When I had a feeling that she got it, it made me feel good that I helped a person,” she said.

Later, Abernathy began working for a distributor, Taconi, in St. Louis.

“I enjoyed that,” she said. “It was really an education.”

She drove 63 miles to work, until she switched careers and began selling real estate in Gerald.

“I would meet all kinds of people,” Abernathy said.

A rule for real estate sales, she noted, was, “Be sure you don’t win the argument and lose the sale.”

In much of her work, Abernathy worked with others.

“If life had taken a different course, I would have been a teacher,” she said. “I like people.”

Since 1969 Abernathy has been a member of the Eastern Star and served in several offices, including twice as worthy matron.

“It’s not a religious organization, but it is an organization of religious women,” she said.

Abernathy added that she has enjoyed the camaraderie of the organization.

Traveling

After Juanita married Paul Abernathy in 1998, the two spent their retirement years dancing and traveling.

Their travels took them primarily to the West, including Idaho, Colorado and Oregon, where a half brother lives.

One of the more memorable moments of a trip west was driving back to Missouri through Nevada and encountering a cattle drive.

“We were at the mercy of the herd of cattle,” Abernathy said.

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