The Murray Line – Part I

Ivan O. "Hap" Murray
Hap Murray (About 1936)

In this post I am going to begin my genealogical journey with the Murray family. It is the most approachable of all of my lines both because I lived in the family and, perhaps more importantly, because I have two cousins who have already done a very thorough job of developing the Murray family tree.  You can find a PDF version of the Murray Pedigree chart in the Family tab, above.

I am going to begin my Murray story with my father Ivan Otho Murray. Not a common name for sure but not many people knew him by that name anyway. Throughout his whole life he was simply known as Hap. The family claimed he carried the name Hap because he was such a happy little boy. I know he had an easy laugh as an adult and it is not much of a stretch to imagine that he was, indeed, a cheerful little tyke.

From his birth certificate I know that Hap was born, in 1918, in a little town in central Montana known as Coffee Creek. His parents, Fred William Murray and Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Nelson (Murray), had arrived here, with their separate families, from Kansas and Iowa respectively about 8 years earlier seeking the promised prosperity of the newly offered Homesteading lands in Montana. He had two brothers, an older brother Orville and a younger brother Eldin. He also had two older sisters, Opal and Carmen. His father, Fred, was a farmer and a wagon hauler in the early days of Montana’s development. I have Census records of Hap and his family for 1920 in Coffee Creek and 1930, where they were living a short distance away from Coffee Creek in the little town of Arrow Creek. These records verify Hap’s parents and siblings as well.

Excluding a few excursions the family would occasionally make in search of new opportunities or simply to make a living, Hap would spend most of his childhood in the area. His mother, Bessie, told stories of little Hap having to be restrained while the other family members were picking fruit in Washington State. In the early ’30s his family headed permanently west, stopping for short stays in western Montana and Washington state before finally settling in the central Willamette Valley in Philomath, Oregon. The depression was in full tilt when they arrived in Oregon and everyone had to pitch in. When I was growing up I listened to stories of my father as a youngster getting up before daylight to milk the neighbor’s cows and getting milk for his family as pay. It was here that he would finish his High School education (in 1936) and meet his future wife.

After finishing High School, Hap attended Oregon State University for a year, until he realized he didn’t have the funds to continue, at which point he headed to California where the opportunities seemed unlimited and a young man could start a new and exciting life. He soon found work in the Aviation industry, working for North American Aviation as they geared up for supporting the war that was building in Europe. Soon he realized he wanted to share his new life with the High School sweetheart he had left behind in Oregon. He returned to the area and, in 1939, married Audrey Jean “Babe” Tunison. According to the Marriage Certificate they were married in Vancouver, Washington. I am not sure I ever heard why they went to Washington State to get married but I suppose they were doing as many young couples do and exploiting some loophole in the marriage rules across state lines. Then the young couple returned to Los Angeles to start their new family.

As The War approached the young couple set up their life in southwest Los Angeles and Hap devoted his time to his new job in the world of big time aircraft production. In 1941 Babe became pregnant with their first child (me actually) but at about the same time the tragedy at Pearl Harbor happened and changed their lives as it did almost all American’s lives at the time. Hap immediately tried to sign up for military service but was rejected because of a couple of medical issues (which he evidently considered trivial infirmities). Frustrated by his failure to be able to serve his country, he continued working at North American Aviation and took on very responsible job assignments for a young man of his age as his coworkers left to head for the Pacific and European war zones. During the War, Hap supervised aircraft assembly and even traveled to various military sites to train military personnel in aircraft systems and maintenance. A surviving list of residences that Babe had prepared for a job interview shows her, and now me as well, bouncing around several locations in Los Angeles, the old hometown of Philomath, Oregon and even Grand Prairie, Texas. All in a relatively short period of time. It isn’t clear that they were together in all of those locations and she may have been staying with relatives while he was off training pilots and mechanics. I remember her telling me about our stay in sizzling Texas but I don’t remember her mentioning all of the other places.

After the war we returned to the Los Angeles area, settling in Compton, a suburb southeast of Los Angeles.   This is where their daughter (my sister) was born. For several years Hap tried to make a go of an automobile repair shop which he owned in partnership with his brother-in-law, Bob Hughey. According to Compton phone books of the time it appears as if his father, Fred, may have been working there as well. The phone books also reveal that the Hugheys were living at the same address as Hap. Bob’s daughter, who is a little older than I am, remembers living in a small apartment separated from the main house. Bob eventually pulled out of the venture and in short order Hap did too.

In late 1949 they headed back to Oregon hoping for a new start. During that time in Oregon, Hap sold cars. He worked for several dealers but eventually he moved the family to Albany and ran the used car part of a dealership owned by his brother-in-law, Babe’s older brother Bud. He was good at selling cars. In the relatively slow economic climate of the early ’50s he managed to support his family, if not lavishly, at least comfortably. But Hap had bigger dreams and wouldn’t long be happy with selling cars in small town Oregon. He had convinced himself after the war that, without the war to support it, the aircraft industry wouldn’t be able to survive and that is why he had left. But he kept in touch with some of old co-workers and the company had not folded at all. It seemed, in fact, to be prospering. Even though he had lost a lot of seniority by leaving he decided to head back to LA and give it another try. Back in Compton, Hap sold cars for a short while before getting back on with North American albeit at a reduced position. Now working for managers that had been working for him during the war, he went to work utilizing the skills that had been feeding his family since he had left.  He became a part of the marketing and field service arm of North American Aviation. Eventually, he found his niche and made it into upper management selling and supporting commercial versions of Rockwell’s airplanes to industrial clients.

The Murray family were all athletic and loved sports. The game of choice was baseball and the family played together in Montana and continued to play organized ball even as adults when they were together in California. At some point, however, Hap decided he needed to learn how to play golf. I was part of this because at first, until he felt confident enough to play with his peers, he needed to have someone play golf with him and it turned out to be me. As a teenager, I was dragged around a series of golf courses while he honed his skills. Eventually, to my uninterested teenage relief, he gained his confidence and I was let off the hook. Golf for Hap, however, became his defining pleasure and although he didn’t ever have enough time, he spent as much time as he could playing his favorite game.

He was a hard worker and worked long hours and was gone for long periods as he traveled around the country, and the world, selling airplanes. He was proud of his job and had accomplished a fair measure of success but then, when North American was bought out by Rockwell International, Hap’s world was severely shaken. Co-workers and associates that he had been working with for years disappeared into the corporate void or were summarily dismissed. He managed to hang on by virtue of having an irreplaceable skill and a lot of important contacts among those people that would have to be considered the new company’s customer base. But it took it’s toll on Hap. He never managed to quite recover from that shock. He continued to work for the company for several more years but died of a heart attack (an acute myocardial infarction according to his death certificate) when he was only 57, never getting to enjoy the retirement, and all that golf, that he and Babe had been dreaming about and planning for.

I remember Hap as a kind and thoughtful man who often drove himself a little too hard and sometimes expected a little too much from those he loved. Most considered him charming, loyal and responsible. Over the years he had forged a strong and loving marriage with Babe. They were in love, they liked to party and they were ready to dance whenever the opportunity presented itself.  He was also clearly a product of the depression that he grew up in.  He was thrifty and he held onto his “stuff.” He didn’t spend easily but when he bought something he bought the best that he could afford. He loved cars and always had a nice car to drive. He hated debt. He only owned one house that he bought from his brother and only owned it for a few years before going back to renting.

Lately, I have become aware of the culture of the “Homesteaders,” like his parents, who came in and settled Montana in the early 20th Century. Out of necessity they were a frugal lot who fought incredible adversity building their livelihood out of nothing, and Hap was raised in their midst. He was born in the middle of the first great test that the Homesteaders faced as a multi-year drought wiped out all of the tiny gains that they had made over the preceding years. It is possible that his outlook on life came as much from that earlier experience than from the Depression itself.

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