Julia Roene Andersen Slaughter is one of the few people whose childhood memories predate the establishment of a community. Roads, for instance, hadn't yet been paved in Weslaco when a 4-year-old Julia slept inside a tent with her family, and what are now city institutions were mere ideas when she played where iconic buildings would later stand. "At that time, the main street was all down Sixth Street, and my father's store, Andersen Hardware, and Implements was where the bank is now," Julia said of 1920s Weslaco. Julia Roene Andersen Slaughter, who turned 100 years old on Sept. 5 when this article was written in 2015, recalled her family's pioneering contributions to the city during its early days. She said grocery and drug stores, as well as the post office, made up much of the business in the city's original downtown district, Sixth Street, but because they had suffered irreparable damage caused by "a bad fire," future businesses were constructed on Texas Boulevard. Among the original establishments in the city was her father's store, Andersen Hardware and Implements, which was built a few years after her parents, Walter F. and Alma Andersen, moved the family down from Nebraska in 1919. "My father, who was a contractor, talked it over with my mother, and they thought it was just too cold in Nebraska," Julia said. "So they came down for the WE. Stewart Land Company land drive, put in land for a home and to open a business, and went back and sold everything in my house in an auction. I remember being really upset as a little girl because I was just 4 years old and had lost my tricycle." The W.E. Stewart Land Company, Weslaco's namesake, provided an opportunity for the Andersens to start over, moving permanently to the Rio Grande Valley in 1920 and living at first inside the Donna Hotel, which is where H-E-B is now located. The family eventually moved into a large Army tent in Weslaco after daily commutes from Donna had become a nuisance due to poor road conditions. "My father was trying to build a store here in Weslaco, but there were no paved roads and it had become so terrible and slippery that driving back and forth was too much," Julia said. So he bought a big tent - like in the TV show M.A.S.H. - and put the whole in the tent. I remember my mother cooked on a coal iron stove, but we didn't live in it too long because we built a three-car garage with an extra big room and a bath in it. So, we moved into that while he was building the business, hardware and implement store." That store became Andersen's, which served the Mid-Valley hardware needs — selling such products as farming tools, paint, wallpaper, appliances, and furniture — for the next 70 years. Her siblings, sister Erma and brothers Odell and Keith, attended school locally, as did Julia. But among her fondest recollections as a youngster growing up in early Weslaco was the time she won a cake at the old Voight's Bakery. "Way back when I was little, they had a bakery called Voight's Bakery, where every week they gave away a big, beautifully decorated cake," Julia said, adding that she was 5 years old at the time and couldn't start school until she was 6. "When I went for the drawing, my family said I wasn't going to win it anyway, and I won it. My father thought I was joking." Another charming aspect of the city then was an annual birthday party held for Weslaco. Julia said everyone in town looked forward to the celebration for its parade and dance. "It was a big event, but they don't seem to do it that way anymore," she said. "When they got the street paved on Texas, on Saturday night, from Fourth Street to Fifth Street, they would have a dance. So many people would come to town and walk around or dance, or some would just watch other people dance. It used to be a huge thing, and that same bakery would make a huge cake and put it on a truck that would be in the parade. After the parade, everyone could get a slice of the big cake." As Julia grew, so did the city. More businesses emerged, and her father's hardware store had quickly become a staple in the community, helping build many of the city's establishments, including the high school, she said. "He was really busy, because he did it for the farmers and, of course, he had tractors and furniture," Julia said. "One time, he told me, Til pay you to dust the furniture in the store.' I dusted and dusted and dusted, and I only got down to two or three rows and went back and said, 'I don't want to work for a living.'" "One day," she added, "a farmer said he was in debt to my father, in debt to everything. The farmer said he had a feeling that if he plants tomatoes early, he'll make it. So, my father backed him, and the farmer's tomatoes were the first ones to come in, and he paid off everything and bought himself a new truck." In addition to owning the town's only hardware store, Julia said her father also served as Weslaco's first fire chief during a time when the department didn't have a fire truck and affixed a hose to the back of a car. "During one of the city's birthday celebrations, they honored my mom and dad by getting them a new fire truck," she recalled. "They had it go down the street during the parade." By the time Julia graduated from Weslaco High in 1933, her father had declared bankruptcy due to his business suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. It wasn't until after he re-established the business that he sent her to college. While attending Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Julia met the man she would later marry: George P. Slaughter. George was working on an apprenticeship for Southern Pacific at the time, serving as a welder and boilermaker for the train engines. They married on Nov. 14, 1936, and although Julia left school early to get hitched, she returned about 15 years later to earn a teaching degree and embarked on a 26-year career in education that included tenures at elementary schools in Brownsville, Weslaco, Kingsville, and Aransas Pass. But the couple also endured several hardships, including their home being destroyed by Hurricane Celia in 1970. Their daughter, Jan Clements, said they lived in a HUD train for a year while their home was being rebuilt. It was in 1988 that the couple moved to John Knox Village after having lived in Aransas Pass for more than 30 years. George died on July 1996. Today, Julia looks back at her youth fondly, having grown an appreciation for Weslaco and its people. "They weren't so busy with other things then," Julia said of early Weslaco residents. "If you had a problem, they were there for you right away. They'd bring you soup and take care of you if you were sick. It was a very friendly group of people. Today, people are worried about themselves and not worrying about their neighbors like people used to. They're too busy watching TV and worried about missing their next show. It used to be that family life was centered around church activities, because there was so much to do at churches, and now it's not. Sunday nights were just wonderful with church parties if a church door was open, everybody went." In fact, the Andersens were among the first families of First Methodist Church in Weslaco, and Julia has remained active in the church's Woman's Society. She played the piano for church services in personal care at John Knox and loved playing "chicken scratch" dominoes with her friends on Saturday afternoons. "I don't know how I got here," Julia said of her upcoming 100th birthday. "I keep saying, 'God, how did I get here?' ... I've really been blessed, I've had all kinds of sicknesses and operations, and God's gotten me through every one of them. I used to not be able to have any children because I was so sickly, and I had to stay in bed for nine months to have my girl, and I'm so glad I did because now I have a daughter and two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren — all by the grace of God." Mrs. Julia Roene Anderson Slaughter, 104, passed away on Saturday, September 14th, 2019.
Julia is survived by her daughter, Julia (Jan) Slaughter Clements (husband Bill); 2 granddaughters, Julia Dell Otterness (husband, Bill) and Roena Anne Morgan (husband, Keith); and three great-grandchildren, Hannah Morgan, 21, Silas Morgan, 17 and Maggie Morgan, 9.