Celebrating our Local Women's History
Stories from Women Living in the Southeast Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Gilbert Historical Museum
Oral History of Edith Beck

Interview of Edith Beck
Conducted by Mikayla Lewis

Edith Beck Interviewed by Mikayla Lewis On March 22, 2008

Edith Beck was born July 3, 1927 in Germany in the northern part of Bavaria.  Edith's mother, Rosa Knauer, was born in Germany 1901 and her father was born in 1895.  Her father worked as a local mayor and her mother stayed at home to care for Edith and her older sister. Edith remembers often fighting with her sister over doing the dishes. If they would wake up their mother with their fighting, they would be disciplined with wooden spoons. "It kept us on the straight and narrow," Edith explained laughing.

Her childhood home in Germany belonged to the city; no one could own homes at that time, so the family rented part of a home as an apartment. They lived in the lower apartment. Each apartment had a little yard and garden in the back. Edith's mother grew strawberry plants and peach trees, some carrots. During the World War II, Germany experienced heavy bombing; however, the city Edith lived in was mostly a hospital and university town, so it was not bombed as much as other places. It was fairly safe.

Although the war years were hard times, Edith remembers her grandmother brining much joy to her life. Because she was the younger sister, Edith always got the smaller piece of a treat or fruit when dividing with her older sister. "But my grandma always made up for it," she explained. Edith's grandma had a large influenced on her. On Sundays the family went to her house and stuffed themselves with German balls, then relaxed on the couch. Edith's grandma would take her out to a teahouse each Wednesdays for milk and coffee and cake as a treat. Then she'd let Edith count all of the piggy bank money, which was a privilege.

Edith's grandfather was a master tailor in the city, supervising tailors under him. During the war, they made uniforms for the German army.

Edith always wanted to be a nurse. At that time in Germany, only people with money went to college; those without money went to trade schools, like the nursing schools. The student nurses lived on the property where the university hospital was located.

While Edith was in nursing training in Germany, air raids happened often. Edith was training to be a baby nurse, so she was working in the nursery. When the bomb sirens started, the nurses would grab as many babies as they could out of the hospital cribs to hide in big bunkers to wait out the bombing. In those days, there was a lot of diphtheria and scarlet fever, so many of the babies had tracheotomies which made it difficult to move them. "When you think back over all those times, it seems like it was a bad book you closed and forgot about it. Because those were bad times," Edith stated. Edith remembers getting food ration stamps and many other difficulties of war. Edith explained she chooses not to remember those times. Yet she also realizes its blessings: "If it wasn't for the war, I would probably have never met my husband. We had a happy life for 52 years." 

Edith gave up her work as a nurse in training once the occupation troops came into Germany after WWII. She found work as an interpreter for a general and his family, which paid more than nursing. Through the general, Edith met her future husband, Clifford, who was working in the police department as part of the post-war occupation work.  

One day, one of the general's daughters said, "Edith there is a nice young police officer from the American Army out there. Why don't you ask him in for a drink of water!" Edith took her advice and invited Clifford in! From 1946-1951 people couldn't get married, and they weren't allowed to interact with the American soldiers, due to the occupation. However, because Edith worked for the general, she was given an exception to date Clifford. Working for the general allowed Edith more privileges than others. They married in 1951 and were relocated to the United States in 1952.

Clifford was from Alabama. The couple lived there for a short time and then were stationed in Washington for four years. Then they were shipped to Libya in North Africa. Edith couldn't go right away until all of the paperwork was cleared, so she stayed in Alabama for a while. Edith joined her husband in North Africa in 1954-55. They stayed in Libya for two years. Later, Edith and Clifford were stationed at Luke Air Force Base and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. Her husband stayed on the base and visited on the weekends, while Edith stayed in their house in Gilbert on Saguaro Street. She still lives in this home today! 

Edith remembers some anti-Germany sentiment when she came to live in the US. For example, her nursing education was not honored in America, partly she believes because all of her school books and materials had swastikas on them from the German government. As a result,  no one would accept her degree and she had to work as a nurse's aid in the United States instead of as a nurse.

After 20 years of military service, Clifford retired from the Air Force Base, and then he worked for an armored truck service, Armored Motors. Edith worked in nursing at the old South Side Hospital for a year or so. She then worked at the Community Hospital in Chandler on McQueen and Williams Field Road. She worked there for four years. Eventually, her husband became a police officer in Gilbert in 1959-1960. He worked with Gilbert PD for over 10 years. At that time, there were only 3 police officers: a police chief and two other officers. "They called my husband Barney and the chief Andy (from the Andy Griffith Show). Because my husband was always spiffy with creases in his uniform, always neat. And Andy (the police chief) mostly wore his civilian clothes." Clifford was known as Officer #3. Edith has a plague commemorating his service with a #3 on it.

At that time, Gilbert was a nice town, very peaceful. There was very little crime. There were few houses on their street. A neighborhood child would often come to their house to ask Clifford to play outside! "Clifford was very well-liked in town; everyone knew him,"  explained Edith. Everyone recognized Clifford as he walked through town, wearing his big Stetson hat and his tan police uniform.

Edith remembers many stories surrounding Clifford's work as a police officer. Clifford often came home with good stories about funny excuses people gave for speeding or breaking small laws, which gave the couple good laughs over dinner. Other times, the stories were tragic. There was an open canal that ran near their house on Elliot and Gilbert. One day, a small child fell in and drowned. Clifford was called to rescue the child, but it died. This tragedy wore heavily on Clifford.

Edith also remembers what Gilbert was like earlier in the 20th century. At that time, you could go down the street and know everyone you met. "I don't know anyone any more," Edith explained, pointing out the changes growth has brought. Before the development boom, cotton fields surrounded their house on Saguaro Street. At certain times of the year, little wooly worms would crawl across the field to the house and cover the entire house with worms. One day their neighbor, Otto Neely, said if they would dig a long ditch and line it with foil and cans with gasoline, that would stop the wooly worms from coming into the house. The couple tried it, and the plan worked. Later Edith took care of Otto when he was ill and staying at the  Chandler hospital. From then on, he always brought them gifts of honey and watermelon from his farm.

Edith also remembers the time Sonny and Cher made a movie in Gilbert called Chastity. The main street was closed for the filming and caused quite a stir in town. Edith remembers the local coffee shop and barber shop where people gathered to talk and visit.

Due to some health issues, Edith stopped working as a nurse in the Chandler Hospital and then drove a school bus for handicapped children for 10 years for the Gilbert school district. She drove all the way to farms on Pecos Roads to pick up children to take them to a special school. She later retired at 62.

Edith and Clifford never had children of their own. Edith talked about taking care of a little stray dog, which she said kept her going during those difficult times. Today, Edith remembers her marriage and husband fondly with few regrets. When asked if she could change anything about her life, she simply stated:"Bring my husband back down from heaven so I wouldn't be so alone."

Photos courtsey of the family.

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Cliff and Edith Beck 1951

Clifford Beck

Cliff Beck with Chief Andy Powell

Cliff Beck in Uniform

Edith Beck