Lena Hernandez was born on February 18, 1926, in Clovis, New Mexico, the only girl out of six children. She grew up in what she described as “hard times,” a time where not many jobs were available, especially for women, and kids did not attend school regularly. In Lena’s family, only her father worked regularly and, beginning at the age of 12, she and her three oldest brothers would sometimes be taken out of school to go work on cotton fields in Texas. She would sometimes even take her younger brother along to baby-sit him while they picked cotton.
Just like other members from the Greatest Generation, for Lena there are some events in history that stand out more than others, like the Great Depression. For Lena, there are both good things and bad things that stand out. She and her siblings didn’t have to attend school, but they missed out on a lot, and they didn’t have what a lot of other people had. They ended up getting though it just fine though.
During World War II, Lena was more fortunate; she was back in school and had three bothers in the service who all came back unharmed. For Lena, the 40’s was a decade highlighted with the music of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, who performed at USO parties and Air Force bases. It was also when she started her job at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, in 1947. A year later, she gave birth to her daughter. Then, three years after that, her son was born. In 1953, she moved to Fairfield to begin working at the Western Union office on Travis Air Force Base.
President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is another example of a day in history that stands out for Lena, a day that she will always remember. At the time, she was managing the Western Union Office. Right after it happened, a friend of Lena’s ran to her, very upset, and told Lena and the other workers that President Kennedy had been shot. Afterward, they all went to go watch the coverage on the television. Lena recalled it as “a terrible, terrible day.”
In that same decade, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was another sad day Lena spent glued to the television.
During Vietnam, Lena was still working at the Western Union Office, but she did her part by taking some families with children into her own home. When she left Western Union in 1971, she began attending cosmetology school. Soon after, she began working for the Solano Community Health Department until she retired in 1989.
Retirement didn’t stop her, though. She recently just went back to work again, at the age of 80. The only thing Lena misses from ‘back in the day’ is her two kids. Her son died in 2002 from lung cancer, and her daughter died just three months later from a brain aneurysm.
Her advice to today’s young generation is to “Follow your dream, always be honest and you’ll never get in trouble.”