Ruby Irene

View From The Bus
by Annette Dean 
Wednesday, February 10, 1971 p.18

Irene was the 4th daughter of Isaac and Lola Bell Yoakum. She was born 24 Feb 1918 in Bucyrus, MO.  - ed. [Home]
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Passengers and Lookers-on, today we are going to repaint the old red bus an outrageous shade of purple (plum or puce?) in order to better identify with a gal who LOVES the color and lives in an amethyst-toned world. I give you a fun, flamboyant, and flair-for-living lady: Irene Cowan, Milliner (whom I will refrain from calling The Mad Hatter, thanks just the same). Irene has so many talents and interests, it's difficult to know where to begin. The Cowans live up, up on Allyn Avenue, in the original house built by Mr. Allyn. The entire house echoes and re-echoes the imaginative, innovative mind of the Lady of the Manor. For example, whereas most people would be content to pot their plants in terra cotta, Irene Cowan has whimsically planted hers in antique John Church plumbing "pots" here and there in her rustic garden. When I stepped out of the car, three deer were nonchalantly taking lunch in the. upper terrace. "They sit under my kit chen window and sun bath, " s laughed, "They don't let my presence bother them at all. "Then she showed me a driftwood mobile above the rail where she lays food for the raccoon family she's adopted. "The little monkies swing on my mobile:" she exclaimed.

The far wall of her living room sports a life-like tree. This highly-textured mural turned out to be The Cowan Family Tree. "Don is the trunk, " she explained, "And I am the plump part near the top. The children are the branches. on these branches, coin cidental with seasonal changes and fluxes of whim, she tapes leaves, grapes, even Xmas cards. The house is a regular museum of off-beat creativity. "I take common objects and then do the uncommon thing with them, " Irene revealed. Right on: For how many of us would think to take a creek-rescued leather boot, spray it gold, and plant succulents in it? Or to put it on our bathroom dressing table, which is in reality the cabinet from an old treadle sewing machine? And just how many people do you know with swinging doors into the commode portion of their bathrooms? And a John Patrick original dance hall dolly, entitled Fancy Goods, above said commode? or who have gilt hand-and-fan prints all over the walls? Add Austrian curtains; and Victorian, jaunty, concretized fun, that's what I call it.

When I waxed rapturous about the blue flagstone floor she herself laid in her kitchen, Irene chuckled, "I'm the butcher, the baker, the whatever-you-name-it around here' I think I've tried a little bit of everything. I'm also a nutty cook. I like to try new things and love to experiment. I use Spanada for half the liquid in that Dream Cake recipe, and it's out of this world. And I make home-baked beans with whiskey poured over them near the last. My kids call them boozey beans." Irene also loves to bake bread, pies and cakes. I, can attest that her lemon cake is terrific: Her son and daughter and many friends so frequently call her for recipes, that she says she has a sort of Recipe Answering Service. What can you expect of a lady who admits to making thirty pounds of fudge for Xmas gifts?

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This multi-faceted gal is also adroit at handling hair, and has had hair-styling experience. She does her own, which looks professional, and is a glossy angel-hair texture and hue that offsets her millinery creations stunningly. From cabinets, cupboards, and
closets she produced hats, modelling thew for me.
The choice of fabrics, luscious colors, and the" dis
tinctiveness of their design, immediately mark them
as labors of love as well as excellence. indeed, she
has received commissions to make her handmade hats
as gifts for people all over the country. "I know lots
of people poke fun because I wear hats all the time,
even to downtown San Anselmo. But I am proud to
be a woman and like to look feminine. Do you know,
I have had gentlemen stop me on the street in San
Francisco to ask me where I bought the hat I was wearing so they could get one for their wives. in fact,
they don't even recognize me in Cloverdale without
a hat'."

Irene Yoakum Cowan
OFFICIAL HOSTESS at the Citrus Fair Irene Cowan visits a big dray horse in his stall.

Which brings up a topic of great enthusiasm in the Cowan domain these days: the impending Cloverdale Citrus Fair (February 12 through 15), at which our own San Anselmo Ascenders will be performing daily. And for which Irene Cowan is a contracted hostess to guide VIP'S, and also a judge for many events: floral and dried flower arrangements, arts and crafts, talents shows, baking events, and even the pageant to select a beauty queen. This is the first year since 1966, when Irene won't also be masterminding The Citrus Chapeaus event, a 'first' in California fair's history, originated by Irene Cowan. Photos of this fun-event are hilarious, showing husbands competing under a ten second time limit to slap together wild and winning headgear. Of course, there were more serious sides to the event, including the judging of millinery entries. "Ivy Baker Priest wore one of my hats home from the 1967 Fair, " Irene recalls, "And she later sent me a gracious letter of thanks along with a copy of her book Green Grows the Ivy. The inscription she showed me was indeed and appreciative. Irene has seen Mrs. Priest at several functions since. "She always comes up and hugs me. It just amazes me she remembers me at all"

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Rev 2b: 3 Dec 1999 : rdk
Copyright 1999, Yoakum Archives

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