Barbara Schaefer is a treasure trove of information about Houston in the mid-20th century. Coming here in the early 1950s, she recalls a time when most of what we know as West Houston (west of Loop 610) was either small truck farms, stables, or cattle-grazing ranchland with even a herd of buffalo in the heart of Memorial! Barryknoll, now the southern boundary of Memorial City Mall, was a dirt road, and they had to fill in a stock pond to build Sears! Even Gessner was a dirt road south from Westheimer.
You could call Barbara a Connecticut Yankee if you wanted to—she was, after all, born in Beacon Falls, a small town not too far from New Haven—but the fact is she has been in Houston long enough to become about as Texanized as you can get. Maybe we should start at the beginning, back in Beacon Falls.
Barbara was born Barbara Brennan to loving parents Blanche and William Langton Brennan. She recalls an almost idyllic childhood of security and fun in a happy home.
Her big brother Franklyn was killed in the invasion of Sicily in World War II, a loss that indelibly marked her teen years with tragedy, but she threw herself into her schoolwork almost to the point of becoming an overachiever—editor-in-chief of her Naugatuck yearbook, cheerleader, and top honor student.
Right after high school Barbara took a summer job with U. S. Rubber, now Uniroyal. By summer’s end she was named Miss U. S. Rubber 1944.*
She knew early on that she wanted to be a teacher, and so she matriculated at New Haven State Teachers College, a little more than an hour’s commute by bus each way from home. Her college career was distinguished by the faculty’s selection for her to become an exchange student to Carleton College in Ottawa, Canada.
After graduation she came back to Connecticut to teach. Her sister Margery had meanwhile established a career for herself in New York City. As a writer and drama critic, Margery provided access to many great shows and performers. Barbara herself starred in a number of summer stock roles and even once turned down a chance to appear with Gregory Peck at the Plymouth Playhouse on Cape Cod.
More importantly, she had met a young Naval officer named Leonard Schaefer, a graduate of Brown University who was assigned temporarily to a Naval training unit at Yale. He was an electrical engineer and after finishing his commitment to the Navy in World War II he joined General Electric as a sales engineer. Barbara and Leonard were married in the late 1940s.
In 1952 Houston undertook to build the Eighth Wonder of the World, namely the Astrodome, and Leonard sold them all the cable and wiring for this huge project. General Electric transferred him to Houston to follow through, so Leonard moved his young family, then quite small, to Texas. From there his career blossomed, their family expanded to six children, and once they were all in school Barbara returned to a satisfying teaching career in HISD, Alief, and parochial schools for 23 years.
Leonard passed away at age 56 and Barbara was grateful for not only her big family but for the multiple interests that helped fill the huge void left by the loss of her beloved husband. She moved to a spacious and pleasant apartment at Treemont in 2013 and takes great pleasure in her two sons, one a lawyer and the other an investment banker, and four daughters, all educators, and eleven grandchildren (including one doctor and one lawyer) plus two great grandchildren. All are very special.
Barbara enjoys reading, game-playing and puzzles. She loves all animals, especially dogs, cats, and horses, of which she has owned many.
Margery’s death just weeks ago left Barbara as the last survivor of the William-Blanche Brennan siblings, but she feels blessed by a full and still satisfying life filled with love and purpose.
If you enjoyed meeting your Houston assisted living neighbor, then click here to meet more residents of this dynamic independent living in Houston community. There is much documentation on the value of social interaction and friendships in keeping seniors happy and content. Active Activities Programs are key to resident happiness in senior living in Houston communities. Seniors want to live with interesting and engaging residents. At Treemont, from concert pianist Ann Wang, to Nelda Sims of the Sims Trio, residents enjoy in-house entertainment, and meeting new neighbors with whom to engage and share their new community. Please make sure you ask about the residents and the activities for seniors programs when you tour senior living Houston TX communities.