Ranchos great-grandparents raise two young boys, say ‘it’s a tonic’
Whoever said that the American family unit is falling apart hasn’t met Harold and Barbara Jacobs.
While some people look forward to the golden years as a time to relax and enjoy a slower-paced life, these unsung heroes chase after two active boys. Harold, 80, and Barbara, 75, are raising their great-grandchildren, 7-year-old Anthony and Marcus, 4.
The family unit has always been important to the Jacobs. Born and raised in Hudson, Mass., Harold comes from a family of 18 brothers and sisters, including two siblings from his father’s first marriage. The family unit had to rank supreme.
“My father did whatever he had to do to raise a family that size,” said Harold. “He owned a diner and shoe shop, and we owned a stable. We showed horses all over the East Coast, including Madison Square Garden.”
An only child, Barbara, a native of Marlborough, Mass., lost her father when she was young. She and her mother developed a close family unit.
“I had serious bronchial problems, and a doctor told my mother if she wanted to keep her child alive, we had to move to California,” said Barbara. “My mother was a photography instructor at Eastman Kodak – Ansel Adams was one of her students – but we moved to Redondo Beach when I was only 6. There wasn’t a doubt that she would do everything necessary for my health.”
Although they were born within four miles of each other, Harold and Barbara didn’t meet until they were in California right after World War II. Harold and his nine brothers served in the military during WWII. He had just finished up his second tour of duty in the Pacific as a Marine.
“I was visiting friends in Redondo Beach and staying in an apartment complex,” said Harold.
“I lived in the same complex, and I was in the garage and dropped a box on my foot,” said Barbara. “Harold heard me shouting. Sir Gallahad came to my rescue, and we haven’t been apart since.”
“We eloped,” said Harold.
“Much to my mother’s disappointment,” said Barbara. “A justice of the peace in Elko married us, and we continued to Jerome, Idaho, where Harold got a job in a Ford dealership as a mechanic and then a service writer.”
They spent three years in Idaho, but after the death of a baby girl, Harold sent Barbara to visit her mother. While in California, Barbara stopped in at Bud McKenzie Ford in Anaheim.
“I was a cheeky little thing and asked the owner if he would be interested in hiring a talented mechanic,” said Barbara.
“She always says that she got me that job,” said Harold. “But I still had to go through the motions when we got there.”
The Jacobs left Idaho in a flourish. During one of the biggest blizzards of the 1948-1949 season, they packed up their 1939 Mercury four-door sedan and plowed through the snow.
“That car was built high off the ground and we were busting through drifts,” said Harold. “There was a string of cars following behind us all the way to Las Vegas.”
The stint at the dealership led Harold to a shop of his own. He and Barbara opened a truck and auto center in Anaheim with $300 in their pockets.
“I packed wheel bearings and as the business grew, I drove the smaller of the two tow trucks,” said Barbara. “The big tow truck was Harold’s.”
While the business was growing, so was their family. Son, Loren was born in 1948 in Idaho. Phillip followed two years later. The business continued to prosper, as did the family. Then, on one of the few family vacations, Harold decided to close the shop.
“I had no time for my family, so I called the bookkeeper, had her pay off the 18 mechanics and all of the bills,” said Harold. “I never went back into that type of business again.”
Instead they moved to Thermopolis, Wyo., where Harold drove trucks for North American Van Lines. In 1971 they bought their first truck. Equipped with a TV and a cooler, Barbara decided to join Harold on the road as his second driver.
“The kids were gone. What else did I have to do?” said Barbara.
In the 1970s truck stops didn’t cater to women drivers. Barbara remembers one overnight stop when Loren was traveling with them.
“He guarded the door while I showered,” said Barbara. “But I still wore my sunglasses as a disguise in case someone came in.”
In 1972 the Jacobs bought a house in Grass Valley, Calif., and in 1975 they switched companies and began driving for United Van Lines.
“It was a wonderful time,” said Barbara. “When couples work together, they know each other better. We have some great memories.”
While living in Grass Valley, their son, Phillip, and his wife had a baby girl. She was just an infant when Phillip had to go into the hospital and his wife was forced to return to work.
“Phillip called us and asked if we would take care of the baby, Shauna,” said Barbara. “We flew back and brought her to Grass Valley. They were supposed to come get her after awhile, but they never did. So we raised our granddaughter.”
The home in Grass Valley wasn’t the place to raise a young child. They sold the house and moved to Glenshire, Calif., just east of Truckee.
“I called the house in Grass Valley ‘mortuary row’ because the place was all retirees,” said Barbara. “We wanted Shauna to have other children to play with.”
It wasn’t easy raising a granddaughter. Shauna faced social and peer pressures that Barbara and Harold never had to deal with when they were young. According to Harold, she met some wrong people.
“It was a tough time for Shauna,” said Harold. “She made some bad choices.”
Anthony, Shauna’s son was just a newborn when he came home to Harold and Barbara.
“He came to us right from the hospital,” said Barbara. “Now he is 7 years old and in the 1st grade. He’s a wonderful boy and we are very proud of him.”
Harold retired from United Van Lines in 1993, when the company said that he was too old to drive. As retirees, Nevada seemed to be the best state to live. Their first home was in Sheridan Acres. They now live in the Gardnerville Ranchos.
Marcus, Anthony’s little brother, was a month old when he moved in with his great-grandparents.
“Shauna just wasn’t ready to assume responsibility,” said Barbara. “We became the very proud parents of our second great-grandson. Marcus is 4 and looking forward to going to school.”
In their home, Barbara’s green thumb has cultivated a forest of plants. Marcus eyes the playset on the lawn as he waits for Anthony to come home from school and play. Classical music plays softly from the stereo 24-hours a day.
“It helps soothe the occasional frazzled nerve, and has a calming effect on the boys,” said Barbara. “Soon enough, they’ll want to listen to heavy metal.”
Like all families, the Jacobs have developed a routine, including religious education instruction for Anthony and Kinderchurch for Marcus. Soon they will be adding Cub Scouts to the schedule.
Although they have love, Harold said that they have to be very careful with pennies.
“Social Security isn’t enough to raise a family,” said Harold who works weekday afternoons and every Saturday at Prospector and Treasurer Hunters Headquarters in Gardnerville.
“Luckily, I enjoy working,” said Harold. “I meet wonderful people, I’m active. I have no complaints.”
Although Harold is now 80 and Barbara is 75, they appear and act much younger.
“Harold has had two heart surgeries, a five-way bypass 15 years ago and a three-way bypass and a valve replacement three years ago, but he is the picture of health now,” said Barbara, who is a breast cancer survivor.
“I asked the man upstairs to take care of me,” said Harold. “I have two children to raise. I have to be around.”
Barbara said that raising the children has been a tonic for them.
“A lot of old people will stay at home feeling sorry for themselves about getting old and not have a reason to get up in the morning,” said Barbara. “Harold and I don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have two adorable little boys and a strong basis of love and respect. Anthony and Marcus are the best remedies for ailments. We don’t have time for anything but our two little men.”