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Alma Fay (Neal) Kness
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Birth: Jan. 5, 1917
Death: Nov. 23, 2002

Abandoned dreams of California brought this hardy pioneer to Western Oklahoma - Steve Belcher

Mrs. Alma Kness is legally blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other eye thanks to macular degeneration, and at age 85 she's entitled to slow down, but one wonders if the term is in her vocabulary.

Alma has embraced truly hard work all of her life. And these days, despite a limited retirement income, she still manages to help scores of people, especially retired veterans, through volunteer efforts and various innovative acts of generosity.

Of course, she makes it with a lot of family support and confesses, "I don't know what I'd do without my kids and grandkids. They're so good to me."

A total of five households in Arapaho trace their roots to her, including son Lloyd Kness, and daughters Verna Waldron, Myrtle Weber, Dorothay Bebout, Shirley Evans and Jeanie DeSpain. All live within a five block area in mostly east Arapaho.

Another son, David Kness, lives in Minnesota while one daughter, Evelyn Palmer, resides in Clinton.

From this sizeable brood Mrs. Kness counts 22 grandchildren, 46 great grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren.

The Arapaho Public Schools can certainly be thankful for the Kness family. A total of 26 offspring have gone through or are in the process of completing studies in Arapaho, and no doubt still counting.

Alma Kness started her life at Waynesville, Mo. where she was born on Jan. 5, 1917 to John and Maud Neal. In fact, she says that part of Fort Leonard Wood in south central Missouri used to be farmland owned by her family.
Waynesville is located just to the north of the sprawling military complex tucked in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Alma's father had an artificial leg — really just the gnarled branch of a cedar tree which he had split to fit his severed knee. Alma remembers fashioning the small cotton pads which fit on that homemade leg, and she kept the cedar leg as a cherished memento for many years before finally losing it.

At the age of 18 — just three weeks after he got married — he lost his leg in a wagon accident.

It was the loss of that leg which eventually figured in Alma coming to Oklahoma.

Her family had initially developed an itch to go to California out of the belief that her father could cope better financially there without his leg than in Missouri.

So, the family of eight brothers and sisters, along with a number of cousins, sold out their holdings in Missouri and headed west in 1922 by covered wagon toward what they hoped would be the land of opportunity.

(Editor's Note: A check with local historian/librarian Dee Ann Ray confirmed that, indeed, many families were still employing wagons to move about in the early 1920's and even later. In those days, not only were cars still not prominent but roadways were still limited, and most people traveled by trails).

Mrs. Kness remembers the trip vividly, as she does most things about her life, even though she was only five years old at the time.

It was an arduous journey of several months — she's not sure how long — since the four big black horses they used could only pull the two loaded wagons 20 miles a day before they had to be stopped and rested. The voyagers faced numerous challenges including not only weather but various river crossings.

Each day the family would stop along the road and camp. She recalls her mom using big iron covered skillets to cook their meals.

It was when the Neals finally made it to the Stigler area in Oklahoma that John Neal ultimately decided to give up on his dream of California. The horses were just too tired to continue the hard trip.

Some of the cousins in the family decided to press on. One died in the desert on the way to the Golden State.

The trials for the Neal family were far from over, however, as they lived for two years in Stigler in a heavy canvas tent with a log framework through snow, cold, rain and all while their father took a variety of odd jobs such as cutting railroad ties.

She will proudly tell you, "My dad worked at everything."

In 1928, the Neals moved to a farm northeast of Butler, and Alma worked in the fields at such jobs as pulling cotton for 15 cents per hundred pounds (she averaged pulling a fairly outstanding 1,000 pounds a day). By 1930 the pay for pulling cotton had risen to 25 cents per 100 pounds.

She also earned $1 a day chopping cotton in the Butler, Cordell and Arapaho areas.

Alma finally made it to California during the years of World War II, but she didn't leave her agricultural roots behind. She worked there checking a variety of vegetables, including such goods as oranges and carrots.

Immediately following the war she met and married Edward Lee Kness. Kness was fresh from the Pacific Theater where he was a machinist's helper in the Army in New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Luzon and the South Philippines. Among his several military medals were Bronze Service Stars.

The family eventually wound up in Sentinel where Edward Lee died on July 30, 1964, and Alma and her children packed up and came to the Arapaho area to live.

Although she had a family of eight children to raise, Alma will proudly tell you that she never collected welfare. It wasn't without sacrifice — sometimes working two and three jobs, mostly washing dishes in local restaurants.

As one of her daughters said during this interview, "Restaurant work gets in your blood."

She also was employed in a variety of capacities at the old Norbest Turkey Plant (now Bar-S) in Clinton from 1964 to 1977.

In 1978 she took a job washing dishes and also doing such things as baking cinnamon rolls with Clyde Mills at Clyde's Restaurant in the old Travelodge where she worked until 1984.

That restaurant went on to be operated by Mrs. Kness's daughter, Evelyn Palmer, and several family members worked there.

Alma also worked for a time washing dishes at the Tradewinds Restaurant. "I worked everywhere," she is fond of saying.

The Kness family also has ties to the Ranchers & Farmers Livestock Auction café which they operated in the 1980's.

Failing eyesight and age may have eventually caught up with Alma Kness but she was far from giving up on serving people.

Proudly displayed on the wall of her modest white frame home in Arapaho are several certificates she has received from various veterans entities over the years, all for her tireless volunteer work.

Since 1986 she has been an officer with the Clinton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4465 Women's Auxiliary. Presently a trustee, she has spent many years in the office of guard for the VFW Auxiliary.

Yet another certificate on the wall names her to a Life Membership in the VFW National Home for Children. She also has a certificate for her work as hospital chairman with the VFW Auxiliary which has led her to help many veterans at the Clinton Veterans Center.

Alma also is active in the Gospel Tabernacle Church at Arapaho.

What exactly can a little old retired lady on a small retirement stipend do to help veterans and many others in need? A lot, it turns out with a big heart and a little innovation.

For instance, one of her big pleasures is shopping garage and yard sales where she often picks up bargain shirts and pants which she gives to Vet Center residents.

"I'll never forget how happy this one veteran was when I gave him the cowboy shirt I bought at a yard sale!" she enthused, noting that she has been able to offer valued help for just a few dollars.

Yet another favorite activity of hers involves collecting used greeting cards which she gives to boys and girls who are patients at St. Jude's Children's Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. to be recycled into stationery and note cards as a fundraiser.

One year she collected well more than 600 of the cards to forward to the children.

And she can be regularly found at the Clinton VFW Post where she recently was among those who sacked candy and treats for Christmas, among many other tasks.

She helps with bingo, bakes cookies for various Veterans Center activities and has contributed over the years to the VFW National Home.

When she isn't busy volunteering she can be found at home taking care of her two overly friendly Chihuahuas and a pair of cheerfully chirping birds.

She still raises a little garden. Three years ago, she was pictured in the Daily News with some of her passel of grandchildren posing at Halloween time with a toy wagon load of pumpkins she had raised.

And she's been known to walk Arapaho streets picking up trash as well as passing out prayer tracts. "She's always been a giver," allows one of her proud daughters.

Of course, family reunions at such times as Easter and Thanksgiving are huge affairs for the family. On Saturday, Jan. 5, the family surprised her for her 85th birthday with a huge get-together.

"It was like another Christmas," Mrs. Kness confessed.

Mrs. Kness may be a giver, but it sounds like she's been richly rewarded in many ways that count, as well.

Funeral services for Mrs. Alma F. Kness, age 85 of Arapaho, will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Custer Avenue Baptist Church at Clinton with Rev. Wendell Folsom officiating. Alma Fay Kness died Saturday morning, Nov. 23, 2002, at the home of her son, Lloyd Kness, in Arapaho. She was born on Jan. 5, 1917 in Waynesville, Mo., the daughter of John A. and Maude Eva (Boaz) Neal. When she was five years old, the family began a move to California by covered wagon. The trip was long and hard, and by the time they reached Stigler in Oklahoma they decided to stop. In 1928, the Neal family packed up and relocated to a farm northwest of Butler. Even though Alma was only 11 years old at the time she worked in the cotton fields. During World War II, she finally made it to California where she met her future husband, Edward Lee Kness. They were married on Dec. 6, 1946 in Bentonville, Ark. and eventually settled in Sentinel. Following her husband�s death in 1964 she moved to Arapaho with her eight children. She worked in restaurants and the Norbest Turkey Plant. Mrs. Kness was active in the Gospel Tabernacle Church in Arapaho as well as the Women�s Auxiliaries of both the VFW and American Legion where she volunteered many hours as well as at the Clinton Veterans Center. She was preceded in death, in addition to her parents and husband, by a sister, Alene Hall; six brothers, Bill, Ernest, Elmer, Alfred, Johnny, Boyd; a granddaughter, Jenniver Lynn DeSpain; and three grandsons, Davy Lee, Doug Weber and Dennis Lee James. Burial will conclude in the Arapaho Cemetery under the direction of the Stanley-Lee Funeral Home of Clinton. Survivors include six daughters, Evelyn Palmer of Clinton, Verna Waldron and her husband, Gale, of Oklahoma City, Mert Weber and her husband, Jim, Dorthay Bebout and her husband, Larry, Shirley Evans and her husband, John, Jeanie DeSpain and her husband, Carl, all of Arapaho; two sons, Lloyd Kness and a companion, Cora, of Arapaho, David Kness and his wife, Janet, of Minnesota; 22 grandchildren; 47 great grandchildren; 10 great-great grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. 
Arapaho Cemetery
Custer County
Oklahoma, USA
Created by: Sgt.
Record added: Jan 29, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 84180507
Alma Fay (Neal) Kness
Added by: Sgt.
Alma Fay (Neal) Kness
Added by: Sgt.
Alma Fay (Neal) Kness
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Joy Gabbert McKillip
Photos may be scaled.
Click on image for full size.

I am definitely proud to say, that this amazing woman was my great grandmother!!
- Sgt.
 Added: Jan. 29, 2012

- Sgt.
 Added: Jan. 29, 2012

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