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From a fl our-sack-clothed young lady to aloe-vera executive: The story of Edna Hennessee


By Anna Politano T


here are three types of people in the world: 1) Those who buy an apple, eat it and throw the core in the garbage can; maybe the landfi ll will nurture the core and make it grow. 2) The second kind eats the apple, plants the core in his backyard for his family to enjoy the fruits. 3) Then, there are those who eat the apple and plant the core in a park, so everyone can share and enjoy the fruits. Edna Hennessee—an Oklahoma business pioneer known for her hard


work, unwavering spirit and compassion for others—was the third kind. (Adapted from Edna’s son, Odus Miller Hennessee)


Humble Beginnings


Top: Edna in the 1940s.


Center: Edna and her two children Marilyn a nd Odus.


Bottom: Lloyd and Edna Hennessee.


14 OKLAHOMA LIVING


Born in Ryan, Okla. to Henry and Elsie Miller on March 24, 1919, Edna Miller (lat er Hennessee) was the eldest of four children. The Millers were share- croppers in a farm in south- west Okla homa. Though the family had no luxuries and lived without elec- tricity, they depend- ed on one another while working and playing together. Edna was 10 years old when the Great De- pression hit, and she


learned then the importance of being self- reliant. At that time, when a loaf of bread cost one penny at the store, many did not have a penny to spare; but the Millers had a garden, and no one in their household missed the daily bread. Edna attended Union Valley High School, where she graduated as the class valedictorian in 1937. Immediately after


graduation, the University of Oklahoma offered Edna a scholarship to study nurs- ing. But as her younger sister, Sue McNair, recalls, there was no money for Edna’s school books and transportation. Instead, she accepted a position to be- come a reading clerk for the Oklahoma House of Representatives and went to work wearing fl our-sack clothing. Before she received her fi rst paycheck, however, Edna ran out of food. She moved to Law- ton, Okla., in 1939 when she got a job as a practical nurse for Dr. Donald Angus’s offi ce; she made $2 a day.


In 1939, Edna married Lloyd Roy Hen- nessee, a fi reman who later became a jour- neyman electrician. Together, they had two children, Marilyn and Odus. Edna worked several odd jobs and by 1944 she’d saved enough money to buy a “ringer” washing machine. She took in laundry from her neighbors each evening and gradually in- creased her savings to $300.


The Cosmetic Calling


As a teenager, Edna felt humiliated by acne and took on a mission to help other young women with the same struggles. She was already business savvy, so all she


Courtesy photos of the Hennessee family


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