Ruby Irene - Pg. 2
For both the Calistoga and Napa County Fairs and their parades, Irene Cowan has been engaged to wear her fantastic hats, with appropriate costuming, to represent various colorful, and even shady  Page 1
Ruby Irene - Pg. 2
Ruby Irene - Pg. 3
Ruby Irene - Pg. 4

ladies of the past: Lola Montez, Lilly Langtry, Lillian Russell, and even Martha Washington. Decked out in her flowing dresses and Dolly Vardens, she is a reminiscent figure from the past. Indeed,, many oldsters have come up to her dewey-eyed to tell her how nostalgic those costumes are for them. These particular hats echo of Gainesborough, and the Reconstruction Era, of the Old South. But, aside from-these feathered and floral beauties, there are subtler turbans, some with trailing scarves to be draped around the neck, that summon up images of misty figures in a seraglio. Then too, Irene Cowan has recently produced some very mod, deep-pile fabric cloches. And a nearly edible, intensely grape-colored gaucho riding hat, that she modelled jauntily atop her halo of white hair.

"Don, my husband, tells me I have hats everywhere'. Under the bed, in the closet. stuffed in every drawer. Someday. just for fun, I'm going to tell him I'm going out to buy a hat. He'll probably have a heart attack:"

Then she whipped out a gorgeous gold and purple turban. "I was wearing this in the City one day near Union Square, when a Shriner came up and asked me to appear in their Convention parade, just like that" she laughed.

She unfolded a piece of crochet and held it up, in filet stitch, her Mother had reproduced, without a pattern, DaVinci's Last Supper. Irene plans to mat this on purple velvet and frame it in antique baroque gold. And she'll no doubt hand it on one of her matching lilac walls. Purple, purple everywhere, and nary a grape to drink! Even a purple feather duster dangling from the antique single-tree hanging above her marble-topped work table in the kitchen. "Purple has too long been associated with funerals, Lent, and old ladies, " she quipped, "I'm going to grow older, but I'm never going to be an old lady!"

Then growing more serious, she continued, "You know, I don't believe in ages - it's what you are in
side that counts. There's a lovely old saying: Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. I guess I learned this attitude and many other basic things from my Indian-Irish Father and my Castilian Spanish Mother.

"Our last name was Yoakum, " she confided, "And of course, after L'il Abner came out, everyone began calling my parents Mammy and Pappy Yokum. For fun, I since sent them a letter with sketches of the cartoon characters instead of their written name on the envelope. It was delivered, and someone sent it to Ripley's Believe it Or Not column. Do you know, he printed it!"

Page 1
Ruby Irene - Pg. 2
Ruby Irene - Pg. 3
Ruby Irene - Pg. 4


By way of personal history, Irene relates, "When I was born, I weighed under four pounds. We had a country doctor, who gave me up for dead. Even my poor Mother had accepted the idea I wouldn't live. But my sixteen year old sister put me in a box padded with cotton, and stayed up two days and nights keeping the fire blazing and holding me hear it for warmth. I guess- that's why I have always felt especially close to her, and kind of have a sixth sense about her well-being.

"Actually, there were eight children in our family. Seven are still living.- I have two brothers in Sacramento, my sister in Corpus Christi, and the rest live in St. Louis. Our Dad was a contractor, and built several lovely homes in St. Louis. Besides learning farm work, I also learned a lot of carpentry from Dad as a child. I guess I was more boy than girl in those days, " she laughed.

Irene was born and mainly raised in the little burrough of Bucyrus outside of Huston, Mo., near Cape Girardo (great fishing there!). Later, as a young woman, she lived in Minnesota. Where, she says proudly. she learned to be quite self-sufficient in nature's realm. "I learned how to fish through the ice, and then smoke the fish to preserve them. I even got in some bear hunting.

It was in northern Minnesota that Irene Cowan first came into serious contact with the art of millinery. Although she does recall that a girlhood teacher, Miss Wilson, used to encourage her in her admiration for hats. She had a friend in Minnesota who owned a hat shop. observing and practicing the tricks of the trade, Irene soon mastered the intricacies of special stitching and difficult methods of shaping and stretching the various fabrics.

Then, during World War II, she moved to Washington. She met her husband, Don Cowan, in Klamath Falls, while he was an M. P. on duty at Tule Lake. They married there, but didn't move to Calidfornia till the end of the war. in fact, their eldest son was born during that hectic week when armistice was declared, and she didn't see her husband for three days while he remained on around -the- clock duty.

The Cowans now have four children. Bill. their eldest, is married and works for Goodyear in Ohio. Dorene, the only girl, is now Mrs. Keith Heiden (he manages Clark's Furniture at the Hub) and has presented the Cowans with their first darling granddaughter. Six foot two Mike is only sixteen, a Junior at Drake, plus an enthusiastic member of The Ascenders. That leaves twenty-three year old Jim, who was just made a full instructor at San Francisco State. still working toward his masters, Jim Cowan and Richard Dahl (of San Rafael) co-authored a manual on Pre-School Technology. This text deals with training and developing skills in handicapped and underprivileged children, and has already been sent for use in Florida and several Eastern states. "I do love all my children dearly, " Irene declares, "And I am proud of each and every one of them. Each has something distinctly their own to do in life, and whatever that is, is terrific with me.

* Back *

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

Standing on the shoulders of giants' ...the yoakum pages.