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Mary Lou Johnson Bennett Profile

I’m a third generation Arizonan. My paternal grandmother, Adelaide Williscraft, came to the Arizona territory some time in the 1880’s from Smiths Falls, Canada, to join her brothers.

George Williscraft founded the Phoenix Iron Works. William H. Williscraft was an early Arizona Territory photographer whose work can be seen online at http:/www.SharlotHall.org/. Together with their brother, John B. Williscraft, a cattle rancher and merchant, they owned a ranch which, around 1885,  they rented  to a man named Dennis W. Dilda.  Of course, they had no way of knowing that Dilda would become the first documented serial killer in Arizona history.

My paternal grandfather, William Henry Johnson, came from Coahoma, Mississippi as a railroad worker/miner of gold ore. He married Adelaide in Prescott May 26, 1890. The family relocated to Lone Pine, California to continue their search for gold in the late 1890’s. Adelaide passed away in 1901 and the family moved to Phoenix.

My dad, William Alexander Johnson, was born in Big Bug, Arizona in 1893. He grew up in Phoenix with his dad, one brother and three sisters. He witnessed the Adams Hotel fire in 1910. Dad joined the Company A of the First Arizona Guard. He served under General “Black Jack” Pershing near Naco, Arizona tracking Pancho Villa. The entire unit was called for duty in France during World War I to relieve British soldiers. Dad was eventually promoted to sergeant. After the war ended, he worked as an electrician for the City of Phoenix until retiring. He spent many years working at Sky Harbor Airport.

My mother, Semina Carrie Smith, was born in Koshkonong, Missouri February 1, 1900. She was one of ten children. The Smiths came to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1913, where the Monroe School put her in 6th grade. She attended Lamson Business College and worked as a secretary for many years. She was a member of the Queen Esther #22 Order of the Eastern Star and was named Worthy Matron in 1953.

My parents purchased their two-room country home near the corner of 10th Street and Monte Vista in 1922. After I was born, they added a living room and bedroom. My dad lived there until he died in 1968 and my mom until 1989 when she moved to a care home.

I was born at the Arizona Deaconess Hospital (later named Good Samaritan). I am an only child. When I was four years old, my parents homesteaded 320 acres in the Harquahala Valley 80 miles west of Phoenix. Four families built houses on it where the mothers and children stayed for four months every year to “hold down the claim”. The fathers visited on the weekends. I remember my dad bringing me taffy kisses and supplies for the week.

I attended Emerson School and graduated from North Phoenix High School. I attended Phoenix College for one year before joining the U.S. Navy (WAVES) during World War II. For boot camp, I was sent to Hunter College in the Bronx, New York. I was then assigned to Roosevelt Base on San Pedro Island, California, where I was the Civil Readjustment officer’s private secretary. We issued discharges to naval personnel as the war ended.

I met my future husband, Robert James Bennett, at North High. Bob joined the Navy immediately after graduating and served on several different ships. While stationed in the Pacific, he weathered a severe, three-day typhoon where the ship sustained a 57˝ degree list. No ship has ever recovered from a 60 degree list.

Bob and I married after the War and moved into an apartment in Phoenix. We both enrolled in Phoenix College that September. We had three children: Robert Hamilton Bennett, Alexandra Leigh Bennett, and Cynthia Ann Bennett Hughes. All three graduated from Arizona State University. I taught elementary school in Scottsdale until 1989 when I retired. Bob was a sales engineer in high voltage wire until retiring in 1982.

Bob and I joined The First Families of Arizona in 1985. We have been active and involved since that time. Bob was the first male to be elected president, serving from 1996 to 1998. I served as president from 1998 to 2001.  As past presidents, we continued our service on the TFFA Board, serving on the membership committee, calling committee, trivia committee and table decorations committee. Bob passed away in 2013 on our 67th wedding anniversary. I plan to continue my support and commitment to The First Families of Arizona as long as I am able.

© Copyright 2014, The First Families of Arizona.  Last revised 16 September 2014.