Irene Elizabeth Smith Marquart born November 24, 1921
PASO ROBLES — This is a big year for local Irene Marquart. In October, Irene was named Paso Robles Pioneer Day Queen, and on Nov. 24, Irene turned 100 years old.
Irene celebrated her 100th birthday with a luncheon attended by family and the Paso Robles Mayor, Steve Martin, who presented Irene with a certificate of recognition. Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham’s office and the County Board of Supervisors also sent congratulatory certificates.
But the most discussed topic of the day was the number of cards that were sent to Irene with good wishes. The project started with the staff at The Oaks at Paso Robles, who thought it would be good to get the community involved by asking them to send greeting cards. The grand total was 160 cards, with most hailing from Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo County, but there were cards from as far away as Australia and Holland and from other states such as Washington, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
Irene Elizabeth Smith Marquart was born Nov. 24, 1921, in Fulton County, Arkansas. Going into the depression, Irene’s father moved out West to California to find work.
“When you have a family of eight, I guess you’ll do what you have to do to keep them fed,” says Irene.
In 1929, Irene’s mother sold all their belongings to buy a flatbed pickup truck, and seven siblings moved to the Creston area. Irene’s father was a farm laborer at the time, and she remembers her parents working hard to support her and her siblings: Virgil Smith, Grace Stanley, Gladys McMillan, Geraldine Keeling, Evelyn Muir, Doyle Smith, and Doris Anderson.
After a brief stay in the San Juaquin Valley on a ranch near Corcoran, Irene’s family settled in Creston in the early 1930s.
Irene recalls, “It was a happy childhood—we were a family of eight. I think my best memory of my childhood was sitting and listening to my mother play her organ.”
She remembers listening to her mother play hymns on the organ, which now sits on display in the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum.
On top of playing the organ, Irene’s mother was a fantastic seamstress. She sewed all of Irene and her siblings’ clothes. Irene said, “She made some beautiful quilts. Which I’m very fond of, and she always made them from pieces of fabric leftover from the clothing she made for us.”
Irene was only eight years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, creating the Great Depression. Despite the tough times, Irene says her family never suffered during the depression, not food-wise, at least.
She attributes this to her mother’s ability to be self-sufficient by constantly canning and growing their own food.
After attending elementary school houses in Geneseo and Linne, Irene went to Templeton High School, where she graduated in 1939. She spent her high school summers cooking with her sister Gladys McMillan for harvest crews of 16 men in Carrisa Plains.
This, Irene says, is how she learned how to cook. She recalls her sister knowing precisely what the harvesters wanted to eat after a long day farming. While it sounds daunting to some of us to cook for that many people, Irene says. “It wasn’t. It was just cooking.”
Then, at one Saturday night dance at the Templeton Legion Hall, Irene met the handsome and lovable Nick Marquart. At least, that is how Irene remembers it. But, she says if you had asked Nick, he remembered meeting Irene for the first time at her sister’s house.
Regardless of how they met, the two were hit it off and were married in 1939 on Nick’s family ranch, which he was managing. They married on a Saturday evening so Nick’s brothers could attend after work. Rather than a white gown, Irene wore a navy blue dress. Irene says, “He was the kindest, most caring person I had ever known–he was a kind person to everyone. I don’t think he had an enemy.”
Nick Marquart’s family ranch is located in the Josephine area between Paso Robles and Cambria. In the 1870s, Nick’s grandfather, Nicholas A. Marquart, homesteaded the ranch. Throughout the years, Nick and Irene ran dairy cows, farmed hay, raised beef cattle, farmed up to 1,000 laying hens, and even farmed Christmas trees.
While Irene raised their three children, she helped Nick run the ranch. Later she worked various jobs in the area.
Nick and Irene have both been Farm Bureau members since 1939 and held various leadership positions. Both have been Templeton 4-H Club leaders, members of Happy Trails RV club, and charter members of the DO Paso Square Dance Club. Irene was also active in the Paso Robles Women’s club, Paso Robles Republican Women, and a docent at Templeton Historical Museum. Later in life, Irene picked up a new hobby, wood carving, which she says gave her a lot of joy.
Sadly, Nick passed away in 2006 at the ripe age of 90 years. The two had three children together, Nancy Otto, Lucille Milani, and Nick Jr. Today, Irene has six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and recently welcomed her first great-great-grandchild.
“I have a great family who has been great to me—I’ve had a lot of friends who have stood behind me through many things,” says Irene.
While Irene lived through some hard times in American history, those poignant and rather terrible world events didn’t overcome the good things in life.
She says, “I’ve been happy all my life. I can’t remember any time that it has not been a happy life except for when my husband passed away, and I have a son that passed away. I think those were probably the two hardest parts. But I’ve been so fortunate to be in good health and really enjoying life as it goes along.”