Let’s Talk Clovis: Clovis Pioneer Bessie Odom Lester, 1878-1972, and family

112 Bullard Ave was Bessie Lester’s home from 1907-1972. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY CLOVIS MUSEUM

Bessie Odom Lester was born on June 4, 1878 and died on September 1, 1972. Her father Reverend Alexander Odom served as pastor of the Clovis Memorial Methodist Church from 1905-1908.  The Methodists were the first to build a church in Clovis in 1893. They located on the SW corner of Fifth & Woodworth. The Methodists enlarged and rebuilt the church three times. In 1920 they built the church that remains on that corner.

On April of 2008, Charles Winton Baley donated pictures, letters and post cards that Bessie had saved during her lifetime. They are available to review at the Clovis Museum. We are quoting information that Charles provided with the donation.

“These post cards were given to me in 1978 by John Odom Lester, my first cousin once removed. They belonged to his mother Bessie Odom Lester. Bessie Lester was a daughter of Reverend Alexander Odom who was the pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Clovis from 1905-1908.

Bessie married Leroy Lester on March 15,1907 at the Clovis Methodist Church. They lived at 112 Bullard, Clovis in an unpainted frame house. They had a huge oak tree in their front yard. The house is long gone but the big oak tree still stands. (Note: The tree remains on the south side of Bullard just east of Minnewawa. The US Post Office is on that corner.)

Leroy Lester was a long-time employee of the City of Clovis. He died on January 27, 1930. (Note:  A undated news article stated he had died from a heart attack at age 50. He was survived by five sisters: Mrs.  W.D. Hunter, Mrs. H.K. Lathy and Mrs. Fred Dawson of Clovis; Mrs. C. Stoute of Fresno, Mrs. Grace Bishop of Oakland and one brother Calvin of Orange.)

Lester and Bessie had only one child, John Odom Lester (born January 30, 1908). He died in Clovis in 1980. (Note: John, age 22, married Nondus R. Arewyler, age 18, on July 28, 1930, both from Clovis).

Bessie kept every post card and letter that she received starting from her marriage in 1907 to her death in 1972. John Lester and his wife, Elsie, had no children to inherit the letters and post cards. He knew that I was interested in family history and this is the reason he gave them to me. He and his mother both would be pleased to know that I donated them to the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society.

Reverend Odom lost a daughter while serving his church in Clovis. His youngest daughter, Ethel, married Henry Ambrosia on November 6, 1906. They lived all their married life in a big white house on Willow avenue between Shepard and Copper Avenue. Reverend Odom had lost another daughter during a previous tenure on the Fresno Circuit in 1886-1887. Filora Odom, my paternal grandmother, married John Baley in 1888. They too, lived all their lives in Fresno County.”

We share additional information published in “100 Years in Ministry Memorial United Methodist Church”, 1993 by Diane Slocom  Zastovnik: “Alexander Odom served as pastor from 1904 to 1908. He had previously served at Academy, and in 1875 was the founding pastor of St. Paul’s the first Methodist Church in the City of Fresno.

The Odom family lived in the parsonage constructed just west of the Clovis church. At that time, Fifth Street did not extend west of Woodworth.”

During 1953-1954. Clovis historian Arthur W. Chedister published “The Story of Clovis” in the Clovis Independent. He wrote: “In the Senior class play of 1916, which was titled “Emeralda” occurred a breathtaking incident. Loraine Lester and Arthur Chedister kissed each other at the climax of a tender love scene in the third set.

This so astonished the Clovis crowd in the auditorium that for many seconds, you could have heard a penny drop. I know, for I was listening.  This was actually the first time in amateur theatricals, in the town of Clovis, that anyone had had the courage to act out the parts of a play as they were actually written, believe it or not.”

It is interesting to review the post cards. Most of the birthday cards were addressed but not stamped or mailed. A birthday card addressed to John Lester, Clovis, Cal, Leroy Lester, one cent postage stamp with no date stamped read: “Dear John, Aunt Ella can’t hardly wait for you to come down, so we can take a ride in the auto. You can sit in the front seat with Uncle Kent, if you don’t touch the engine.”

Another birthday card to Mr. Johnnie Lester, Clovis Cal, Box 280. “Dear John, I do not know when your birthday is but I will send you a card. M.O.”

There is an intriguing Easter post card, not stamped with Charlie Preuss’ name from Miss Alice. Preuss was a successful Clovis farmer who served on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

The written word via a letter kept families connected. Early Clovis was a small town and a 1911 letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Lester  Clovis, Calif. would be delivered in a timely manner. It was still true for a 1936 letter addressed to Mrs. Bessie Lester, Clovis, Fresno Co. Calif. Her nephew named Oscar (73 years old) lived in Roseville. He mentioned that he had not heard from Henry and Ethel Ambrosia.

The Lester and Odom families are a part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.