Over the Hill

Looking back on the life of a centenarian-to-be in Paso Robles

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

A few green Hermes portable typewriters may still exist in San Luis Obispo County, sitting on closet floors or shelves. If you have one, you may also have met Dorothy Baxter of Paso Robles, who will be 100 years old on July 3.

She and her husband, Curtis, owned the Paso Robles Office Supplies store at 608 12th St. for 28 years. During much of that time, they held the county franchise for Hermes products. And for 20 of those years, they had an office display at the Mid-State Fair. You may have seen them there.

No one should be surprised that Mrs. Baxter has lived to 100. Her brother, Louis Slate, was 91 when he died. Her father, Frank Slate, died at almost 99. Both men were prominent leaders in the almond industry back when it was a major factor in the Paso Robles economy.

A lot can happen to people who live to 100. For Mrs. Baxter it started with the 1918-19 worldwide influenza pandemic.

She, her brother, Louis, her sister, Alice, and their parents were living in a small rental in Aberdeen, Wash. They all caught the flu. Mrs. Baxter said their mother wore herself out caring for the rest of them and died with an enlarged heart in 1920.

For the next several years, the family lived in various places in Oregon and Southern California, sometimes together, sometimes apart and sometimes with relatives. Their father remarried. They finally settled in Paso Robles in 1930, and their father raised almonds and started the Slate Almond Co. So Mrs. Baxter was able to do all four years of high school at Paso Robles High.

Not long after graduating, she and a friend went to a dance at the Templeton Legion Hall. Local dances with local bands were common then.

That night she noticed a young man who also noticed her, but they didn’t dance. He did, however, dance with her friend. Later, the friend said the young man only had eyes for the future Mrs. Baxter.

The young man was Curtis Baxter of Atascadero. A few weeks later, at Atascadero Lake, she did dance with him, and he told her he’d been going to all the area dances looking for her. But it wasn’t until Jan. 1, 1938, that they felt they could afford to marry.

Those were the Depression years. Steady jobs were scarce. Curtis had even joined the Civilian Conservation Corps for awhile. The CCC was a New Deal program to put young men to work on conservation and natural-resources projects.

He also sought odd jobs in the North County, but his would-be employers were short of money. Instead of money, one person gave him an old horse. Another gave him a nine-passenger car, which Curtis couldn’t afford to run.

Curtis and Dorothy also worked in her father’s almond processing plant, at 40 cents per hour for him and 25 cents for her. Next week I’ll tell you where they married and how they found success.