[In her own words]
My name is Mary Jo Adams Russell Baker. On my birth certificate it is spelled Mary Joe, but I’ve used the girl version of “Jo” since my days in Junior High School. I was born in Burkburnett, Texas, November 27, 1925, in a house, and the event of my birth is hearsay, mostly from my mother. Apparently I was a very difficult birth (at least from my Mother’s view) and she vowed she’d never bear another child. She didn’t. I was the only “girl child” born into either family at the time and apparently was in the familial limelight for many years. My father is Joe Stewart Adams and my mother is Macie Pauline Hogle. Both had seven brothers and sisters. My parents were married May 10th, 1923, by a Presbyterian parson while my Grandmother (Mother’s mother) was at a Baptist Revival meeting. I imagine that threw things in quite an upheaval considering my mother was only sixteen years old and marrying an oilfield worker eight years her senior.
My first memories are of the house we lived in upon a slight hill overlooking the Gulf gasoline plant where my father worked. It was a typical “Gulf Camp” house, rather weathered, with about four or five other neighboring identical houses in a line. We raised chickens and ducks (hundreds of them) and they were my pets. Animals have always been special to me and especially the fine-feathered ones. I’ve always been an outdoor person and “tom boy.” But that’s ok because I had a good time, learned to play and be by myself. I was able to explore the world and enjoy God’s handiwork everywhere. I played in the dirt, built houses, roads, bridges and things. Since my birthdate was too late for me to start the first grade in September, my mother got all the first grade books from school and taught me the first grade at home. So when I did start school in Breckenridge, I was double-promoted to the second grade. Quite an accomplishment for a young mother who hadn’t finished school to teach her daughter!
Daddy was transferred to Overton in 1934. We didn’t have a place to live there so he built a three bedroom house with an outdoor toilet. About the time it was finished an oil well was drilled right in our back yard. Not only was it extremely noisy but it would shake the ground. We got used to it, I guess. I kind of like east Texas because I liked the pine trees, the wild berries and persimmons. My dad was transferred to Wickett, Texas in 1936 and until the houses being built there were completed, mother and I stayed in Electra, Texas with my maternal grandmother. I had to attend part of the fourth grade where my mother had attended school. She thought that was wonderful, but I really hated it! We were able to move to Wickett in March 1936. Well now, when I saw Wickett, I thought it was the end of the earth. There was sand as far as the eye could see and not a tree or bush in sight. And so Wickett and Monahans, where I graduated in 1942, became my hometown for many years.
I attended Baylor University three years, winters and summers. I was in the Centennial Graduating Class but quit the very last semester. I had wanted to be a nurse and probably would have made a good one but my father was dead set against it. I also (since World War II was going on) wanted to enlist in the Navy (re: nursing) but that was vetoed by my dad as well. I did well, however. I double-majored in English and Spanish, and double-minored in Psychology and History. That did, in fact, prepare me for the life and career I had ahead but I certainly didn’t know it at the time.
I’m a true Sagittarian—the astrological stars really knew their stuff. I’m clumsy (can trip over a crack in the sidewalk), love the outdoors, love to travel, very shy in some ways, but extremely outspoken if given the opportunity. I generally wear the rose-colored glasses and expect everything to turn out all right. I love animals, am very active (or was) and I speak Spanish, not as fluently as before, but I can spit it out at the drop of a hat when I’m angry. I am 5’ 4-3/4” tall, blonde and hazel-eyed. I was married for 24 years, divorced, single for 24 years and remarried my best friend and soulmate J.L. Baker.
Mary Jo taught freshmen English at Monahans High School in the early 1970’s. She then worked days at the Salvation Army in Odessa and attended night school starting the first semester of UTPB’s existence. She received her master’s degree and became a probation officer at the Ector County Youth Center where she retired from in 1991 as the Programs Director. During the 90’s Mary Jo, known as Blondie or Geronimo during high school and high school friend Violet Schoeber, known as Buckwheat or Bucky, expended much time and effort in producing a newsletter for the Monahans High School class of ’42. After meeting at a class reunion and dating for years, Mary Jo and J.L. married in 1999 and resided in Pineville, Louisiana, where J.L. could fish and Mary Jo could enjoy nature as she loved. J.L. was the only person Mary Jo would consider getting up early enough for to go fishing. The couple might have been seen at the Marksville Paragon Casino from time to time. She stayed in Louisiana after J.L.’s passing where she enjoyed the company and was cared for by J.L.’s son’s and daughter’s families. (Leland and Linda Baker; Scotty and Barbara Pearson) Eventually Mary Jo moved back to Odessa where she resided until her death.
Mary Jo is preceded in death by infant son Donald Ray Russell, parents Joe and Macie Adams and her husband J.L. Baker. She is survived by son Richard Russell (wife Zoila and granddaughter Gabriela Mitchell), daughter Janice Gail Barry (granddaughter Amelia Wichert, great granddaughters Macie and Alayla and grandson Douglas Barry) son Jeff Russell, caregiver Rebekah Russell and special friends Braylen Beckworth and Mary Oman.
Funeral service will be held at 2:00 PM July 30, 2021, at Sunset Memorial Funeral Home. Burial will follow at Sunset Memorial Gardens. Reverend Dr. Jimmy Braswell is officiating.