Mildred Clariana “Boby” VonKanel has lived in the Delta since 1944. During her early childhood and until she was married, she lived in Argentina. In the quiet nook of Marvell, Arkansas, surrounded by fields, not-so-far-away family members, and as many memories as there are tea cups that decorate the familiar walls of her den, Boby recalls the times in her life when she was “just living.”
Boby will celebrate her 90th birthday on Oct. 6 at the Hicks United Church of Christ on Elm Street in Marvell from 2 to 4 p.m. and hopes that all of her friends will stop by for a piece of cake.
“It's hard to believe with all the community projects she's been involved in that she will be officially turning 'old' this month,” commented her daughter Frances Lawson.
Frances is proud to say that even though her mother has passed the threshold into her golden years, she is still young at heart.
“I can remember one year around Christmas, she became ill and had to go to the hospital. When my brother and I arrived at the hospital to see how she was doing, all she could think about was getting out of the hospital because she was in charge of a party at the 'old folks' home. I laughed and said, 'Mom, you are the old folk' – she was in her 80s,” joked Frances.
Boby's father, Bill Bradshaw, was sent to Argentina to work for International Harvester and Boby and her mother Elizabeth went with him and lived there until 1944. She attended Catholic schools in Buenos Aires.
“We made a number of trips via ship back and forth from South America to North America,” said Boby.
She explained that as a child the traveling was a great experience, even though there were some minor language differences.
“Momma decided to put me in a private school to learn the language until I was able to sing the songs they sang,” she recalled.
Boby remembers that in 1941, while she and her mother were back in the states visiting, Pearl Harbor was attacked. She and her mother rushed to the coast to go back to South America during the war.
“There were German submarines scattered throughout the coast,” reported Boby. She added that they traveled during “blackout modes,” the practice of collectively minimizing outdoor light during World War II to prevent crews of enemy aircraft from being able to navigate to their targets by sight.
Boby married Boris Clariana, a native of Argentina, in 1944 and they returned to the U.S. with her parents. Upon returning to the U.S., Boris “joined” the U.S. Army and received his American citizenship. After basic training, he was deployed to Japan, where he spoke Spanish and very little to no English.
Page 2 of 2 - According to Boby, her momma and daddy bought farmland in Phillips County during the depression.
“My parents lived in a very small house. Mom described it as a 'potato' house,” commented Boby.
Boby said she was a stay-at-home mom for many years, raising her daughter Frances and 2 sons, Bill and Roy. Since she is bilingual, she occasionally substituted in Spanish class at Marvell High School.
“After my oldest left home, I worked for Oklahoma Tire and Supply. For years, I was known by the locals as the OTASCO lady,” chuckled Boby.
Boby recalled that through her life's journeys, she experienced struggles and hardships.
“My husband died at a fairly young age and I remained single for many years but later married Max VonKanel, who lived for 3 years after we were married before dying of a blood clot after surgery,” recalled Boby.
Boby learned to play the piano at an early age and played for the church for 68 years, before breaking her wrist this summer. She is a member of Hicks United Church of Christ where she also teaches Sunday School.
Frances describes her mother as active and young at heart. She has been active in a number of organizations including working as a volunteer for the Marvell food pantry, boxing and delivering meals to less fortunate locals.
Boby still lives independently even though she has macular degeneration and Type II diabetes.
“My hips and legs just don't work like they used to, so I get around just fine with my walker,” stated Boby.
She says her health has never stopped her from doing what she wanted to do. She takes pride in her yard and mows it weekly, plus she has a small garden and cans and freezes vegetables grown in it.
“People have asked me if I'm scared of dying. My reply is “of what?' I'm not afraid one little bit,” commented Boby.
Boby says that when she dies, she wants her friends and family to cry, but not dote on their loss.
“I've had a good life. Looking back on all that I have seen and all that I was blessed to be able to do. I was just living. Nobody ever thinks about it like that when they're doing it, they're just living life,” concluded Boby.