TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Living just outside Travis’ North Gate, Mary Enos was often there with a friendly ear to relieve the homesickness of lonely young airmen. For that blessing, they started calling her Mother Travis.
Born Mary Rose Marcell in 1895 in Fall River, Mass., she married a young farmer from nearby Somerset named John Enos.
Hard times that hit in 1924, and an invitation from John’s cousin Manuel, convinced the couple to move to California to a tract of farm land between Fairfield and Vacaville, two towns known then for little else other than agriculture.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a government agent convinced John Enos to sell 42 acres of his land to build an airfield on to help defend San Francisco Bay, according to a Daily Republic interview with Enos shortly before her death.
John Enos got $50 per acre and the bulldozers arrived on July 6, 1942, to start clearing the land for buildings and the runway.
During the construction, the Army Corps of Engineers made its headquarters near a grove of eucalyptus trees on the Enos Ranch, which was unofficially named Camp Enos. It now comprises Travis’ command housing area.
With the completion of the base, Mary Enos quickly became a central part of its social life and was named an honorary member of the Officers Wives Club.
She was known to call the men and women serving on base as “my boys” and “my girls.” In return, in the mid-1960s, the service members started calling her Mother Travis.
For a while, the Enos ranch had the only hot water on base “and airmen from the nearby tar paper shacks washed their clothes there and hung them on the fence to dry,” said Frank Mullane, a former provost marshal at Travis in a 1983 interview.
The Enoses also hauled servicemen from their barracks to base movies in the back of their truck.
“We helped each other,” Mary Enos said. “When they wanted to cross our land with the pipelines and power lines, we let them. Being close, they let us connect on so our place had electricity long before the others around here.”
Airmen also helped with farm duties, such as collecting eggs from the Enoses’ chickens and driving the sheep to market. Mullane remembers getting up more than once at night to drive to the North Gate to open it so the sheep could move through.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Mary Enos also served as an inexpensive, well-loved baby sitter for base families until she retired from that in 1964.
When John Enos fell sick and was sent to Intercommunity Hospital in the early 1960s, Mary Enos went with him.
While she stayed at her husband’s side in the hospital before he died, the farm was well taken care of by airmen and base families who milked the cows and tended to the chickens.
Even after airman left the military and the base, they would drop by the ranch whenever they were in the area to visit Mother Travis when she became “that spritely old lady with only my dogs,” Mary Enos said.
Every Christmas and Easter created a flood of letters in a large mail sack, which came from people who knew her as far back as World War II.
When Travis’ first C-141 arrived here in April 1965, Mary Enos was one of the first to be taken up in it and stated afterward that it was the first time she flew.
“They gave me a choice where I wanted to sit, and I said, right behind the pilot,” Mary Enos said in a 1965 news story.
On the morning of June 24, 1982, Enos was found unconscious at her ranch by her caretaker. She was rushed to Intercommunity Hospital, where she slipped into serious condition very quickly due to her history of diabetes and died a week later.
Mother Travis’ funeral service was held at Chapel No. 1. The building was filled to capacity with both active duty and retired Air Force members.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.