For many years, the entire town of Olathe was endeared to their longtime beauty operator, Octa Loper. Her claim to fame was her beauty shop that she ran from her Main Street home for 61 years and three months, starting in 1936. She knew everyone, and she came to know almost everything about them.
“I could start a war if I told all I heard, but I don’t tell. I never have,” said Loper.
She was born in Missouri on Oct. 9, 1905 to C. D. (Whit) and Mollie Whitener.
“My mother’s maiden name was Whitener too. Oh, back in that part of the country, there was a Whitener in every square mile,” said Loper in a 2000 interview.
The Whiteners arrived in Olathe in November 1913, with Whit riding in the stock car with his mules. Six other families, including several of the Coopers, came at the same time. Whit had previously visited his cousin, Claude Picker, noted Olathe farmer, around fair time. Seeing Picker’s beautiful produce and all the ribbons won at the fair convinced Whitener this would be a great place to have a farm.
“This irrigation, oh my!” exclaimed Loper. “Dad just thought that was the most wonderful thing...in Missouri they had to rely on rainfall.”
Loper grew up on the family farm on California Mesa, where her father did all his work with machinery pulled by mules. Around 1919, Loper saw a tractor for the first time. It was owned by Paul Braatan from Delta who went around the county to do contract plowing and boarded with the Whiteners.
Soon after that, she had her first ride in a car.
“I was just thrilled to death. It was a big car of some kind and it didn’t have a top, owned by Judge Bruce,” said Loper. “ The roads were practically impossible — our roads in the hills today are much better than the roads were then. Judge Bruce became very close friends and liked to come down to the ranch. Of course, Dad would always load him up with fruit and potatoes and he liked Mom’s southern cookin.”
Loper attended Fairview Elementary School close to home on California Mesa. Her father was one of the first in their neighborhood to buy a new car — a 1915 Model T Ford. He taught Loper to drive when she was only 12.
“I remember when Dad came home with that car. He paid $450 for it and we’d be broke forever,” laughed Loper.
When Octa started high school, she took four friends with her and drove the car over wagon roads to Olathe, charging the other girls 25 cents each per ride. That car turned out to be more than transportation — it held the key to her meeting Art Loper, a nice young man who worked at the Loper and Shook Garage.
Her Model T had to be cranked, “and in the winter it was kind of hard,” said Loper. “Dad used to say ‘just leave that car settin’ down there by the garage and somebody there will crank it for you.’ I’d stop there for gas, leave it there and walk up the street to the high school.”
How often do you hear of a father and daughter having weddings on the same day? That happened with Loper and her father. When she turned 18, she and Art decided to get married, choosing Oct. 21, 1923 as the date. The ceremony was at 2 p.m. at the Methodist Church parsonage in Olathe.
Ironically, her father and Almeda Evans, the former Olathe telephone operator, were married earlier that same day at 12:30 at Mrs. Ruth Ashenfelter’s boarding house on Main Street in Montrose. Mrs. A.E. Trone, the cook at the boarding house, prepared a “delicious and appetizing elaborate wedding dinner for the ten guests,” according to an article in the Montrose Daily Press. “Both couples plan to reside in Olathe where they are all highly respected.”
Octa and Art settled in their little white house on Olathe’s Main Street, where Octa lived for the next 75 years. They welcomed their son Keith in 1926, delivered at home by Dr. Lockwood. Octa always proclaimed what a joy Keith was to them.
Unfortunately, Art’s leg was crushed in an accident just about the time the Great Depression hit. Octa would have to be the breadwinner for a while. About the same time, the one-and-only beauty shop in town was going to close, so she was encouraged to get her training and take over the shop.
Octa enrolled in a six-month hairdressing course at the Western Slope Beauty School which was over the old J.C. Penney Store in the Hodges building on the corner of Main and Townsend in Montrose. She opened her shop in the sunny west room of their home enabling her to take care of both Art and Keith.
Over the years she gave well over 14,000 permanents, with her first ones costing $3 for moms and only $1 for girls.
After witnessing many changes in her little town, Octa left in 2002 to go live with her son and his wife, Diane, in Reno. At that time, she was the oldest living resident in town. She passed away in Reno on her wedding anniversary, Oct. 21, 2005, at the age of 100. She was returned to Olathe to be interred next to Roy, surrounded by so many of her lifetime clients and friends.
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.