At the age of 93 years, 20 days, Opal Lee Denton Coble was one of the last surviving graduates of Houston High School, Class of 1947. She passed away peacefully at 8:23 a.m. Sept. 19, 2022, at Texas County Memorial Hospital, Houston, Mo., surrounded by family following nearly nine months of being bedridden with a broken hip.
Opal Lee was born Aug. 28, 1929, to James Jackson and Cecil Matilda Atherton Denton at Huggins, Mo. She was saved at Number One Free Will Baptist Church at age 12 and baptized. She remained faithful to her Lord throughout her life. She last attended Souls Harbor Family Worship until a bout with tuberculosis caused attendance to be too difficult. She then watched church on TV.
As young girls, Opal Lee and her sister Laura sang at funerals and revivals. She attended Dunsmore and Long Valley one Room Elementary Schools before beginning high school at Houston. After High School, Opal Attended SMS College in Springfield and worked as a nanny for Betty Lou Miller. It was a long way from the rural Ozark life she had known before. While in Springfield, Opal Lee joined High Street Baptist Church and was a member of the church choir.
Opal Lee earned enough college after two years to teach in a rural elementary School and was hired to teach at Murr Elementary School near Bendavis, Mo. She intended to complete college during the summers, but she met Dale Burl Richards. They married March 24, 1950. Dale preferred that Opal not work away from the home, so she helped him with farm choirs. On April 26, 1951, their daughter Judith Marie was born.
In April 1955, Dale moved his family to Hailey, Idaho, for better employment opportunities. They liked Idaho and planned to stay, but Opal soon learned that another baby was on the way, and she wanted Dr. Burns to deliver him. So Dale loaded his family in the car and headed back to Missouri in November. Terry Lynn was not born until Jan. 12,1956.
Although the Richards were planning to return to Idaho, plans change. Opal Lee was offered a job as postmaster at Huggins, Mo. President Eisenhower commissioned her on April, 1, 1956, and the family bought an 80-acre farm right next to the store and post office and moved to Huggins. Life was hard, but the family was happy.
In March 1958, chickenpox was running rampant in school. Dale had not had the disease. When he caught it he worked in the rain and took pneumonia and passed away at Roby, Mo., on the way to the hospital in Waynesville on March 25. Left alone with two children, Opal pushed herself to learn to drive in order to better care for her children. She continued to work as postmaster and in the store for her Uncle Willie Atherton.
On Nov. 25, 1959, Opal Lee married Walter Nelson Coble. A baby was lost to miscarriage in the spring of 1960. Carol Ann quickly followed on April 16, 1961. Opal was rocking her baby on a summer day in 1961 when two soldiers entered the store and pointed a gun and said it was a holdup. One of them was a neighbor. One of them shot a hole in the wall over Opal’s head and said, “Oh, I hope I didn’t hurt the baby’s ears.” They stole money belonging to Willie and the Coble automobile, a new Ford Falcon, which they wrecked.
The Cobles purchased the Huggins Store about January 1963. Opal was a storekeeper among many other things while she owned the store. One older lady thought only Opal could give her her home permanents; she gave haircuts to both men and women; and at least one family had her to do their income taxes. Opal dearly loved working with the public, but it was also stressful. She also gave birth to Ricky Eugene Coble during this time on Aug. 20, 1964. Opal was in the hospital when her doctor said the stress was too hard on her. It was about 1966, and Walter took it upon himself to close the store to protect Opal’s health.
About 1967, Opal went to work on the evening shift (So she could keep the post office in the daytime) of the H.D. Lee company. At first, she sewed zippers, but soon she became a trainer. She worked at Lee’s for quite a while. Walter was a trucker who stayed away from home for very long stretches of time. Opal filed for divorce, and it was final in May 1969. After working at H.D. Lee, she worked for the post contract at Fort Leonard Wood as a janitor at night for a time.
As a single mother, Opal needed more income than the post office provided, so in September 1969, she was transferred from the post office (then civil service) to the Transportation Motor Pool at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. She was very happy with that job. Her immediate supervisor, Roy Burgess Sr. became her son-in-law May 20, 1977. People complained about their relationship, so about 1985 she was transferred to another office where she was not as happy. At one point she slipped and hurt her knee at work leading to surgery. Because of the injury, she could no longer climb the stairs to her office, so she retired with 30 years of service in October 1986.
After retirement, Opal went to work at a job that she said was her favorite because “I was working with my kids.” She began helping her sons and later her daughter milk and feed calves. She kept the barn and equipment clean, and she fed hundreds of calves along with milking.
Opal enjoyed working. She worked in the garden and did a lot of canning in addition to the dairy. In the last autumn of her life, she peeled apples and taught Terry how to can them. She cooked and washed dishes until she fell.
She enjoyed doing ceramics with her daughter Carol and niece Betty Roderick. She and Carol did various crafts and made each granddaughter, step-granddaughter and step-great-granddaughter a doll. She enjoyed gospel quartets and good preaching.
Opal had surgery for glaucoma at about the same time she lost her daughter. She lost quite a bit of her vision to glaucoma. She lost Carol Ann to liver cancer on July 8, 2003. She didn’t milk much after that.
Opal was adored by her family, and they thought she was a great cook – especially her homemade noodles. She was strict with them, and was the kind of grandmother her own mother had been. She loved her descendants very much all the way down to Ben her great-great grandson. He was her delight as was each other child as it came along. All her children and grandchildren who lived in the area, great-great grandson and niece were with her in the final hours and said good-bye to her in the hospital after she passed.
Opal was preceded in death by her parents, Jim and Cecil; two infant sisters, Anna May and Dorothy and her sister, Laura Eva and husband Lyle Eugene Massey, as well as four of their five children: Betty Louise Roderick, Ina Lee and husband Joe Kalina and Gary Eugene and James Albert “Jimmie”; husband Dale and ex-husband Walter; daughter Carol Ann Coble; son-in-law Delbert Ray Postlewait; grandson Dale Ray Postlewait; great-granddaughter Faith Underwood, mother-in-law Iva Ethel Williams and her husband John Franklin Williams; her fathers-in-law Leland Richards and James Bently Coble and several other Coble in-laws.
Opal is survived by two sons Terry Lynn Richards and Ricky Eugene Coble and one daughter Judith Marie Richards all of Plato, Mo.; five granddaughters (Judy’s four): Amy Lynn Postlewait (Tim) Graham of Purdy, Mo., and children Alissa Michele (Jon) Rehmert of Kansas and Drew Alexander Graham of College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Mo.; Lori Ann Postlewait (Taylor) Lederman of Cabool, Mo., and daughter Ashley Lorraine Toto of Springfield, Mo., and her son Benjamin Ray Lowrie of Cabool; Jill Marie Postlewait (Shane) Garrett of Licking, Mo.; Robyn Eugena Burgess (Adam) Ciardelli and their children Michael Eugene, Alexis Karen and Adriana Daisy all of Hampton Falls, N.H.; and Terry’s one: Karen Janettie Richards (James) Johnson of Mountain Rest, S.C., and sons Troy Michael Underwood of Centerville, Ohio, and Trent Joseph Underwood of Mountain Rest; former son-in-law Roy Elwin Burgess Sr. of Huggins, Mo., and his six children Carrie Mae (Tim) Wallace of Republic, Mo.; Marisa Ann (Bryan) Suntheimer of Hawaii, Roy Elwin Burgess Jr. of Waynesville, Mo.; Roger Eugene, address unknown; Kathrin Marie (Mark) Taylor of Licking, Mo.; and Tory Lamae (Preston) Wade of Houston, Mo., and about 21 step grandchildren and many step great-grandchildren; niece Tammy Massey (Delmar) Richardson of Success, Mo.; four Atherton cousins: Wesley, Philip, Nita and Anna Mae as well as other family and friends.
Opal Lee didn’t want a funeral and had decided on cremation. A memorial tombstone will be erected with her husband at Hickory Ridge Cemetery, Upton, Mo., at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to Hickory Ridge Cemetery or Number One Cemetery in memory of Opal. Online condolences may be left at www.evansfh.com. Arrangements entrusted to Evans Funeral Home, Houston.