New resident brings a bit of ‘glitz’ to the Westerly
Alene Oneale LaFever has loved clothes since her girlhood.
“I grew up right after the depression and during World War II, and my parents were not wealthy,” said the newest resident of the Westerly. “In fact, my grandmother and mother made me dresses out of feed sacks.”
The patterned fabric was a popular, thrifty choice for fabric in those days. Alene was used to having one coat that she wore until she had thoroughly outgrown it — sometimes not for four or five years.
“As I grew older, I wanted beautiful clothes of my own,” she said. “I’d save my money and buy myself something pretty.”
She earned money babysitting when she was young and got her first job at Woolworth’s when she was 14. Alene’s father was upset when she spent all the money she earned the summer before college on clothes from a nice dress shop in Junction City. But she was glad to have nice things to wear when she arrived in Wichita to study music education at Wichita State. There she performed in student productions, including as the lead in a few university operas.
She met her first husband at WSU and they married in 1955. He served in the Air Force, then went into the insurance business. Alene taught elementary school music in the Wichita school district and also substituted for Goddard and East High Schools.
An only child herself, Alene had three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She has been widowed twice.
Her life changed at the age of 40, when she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and savior.
Through everything, Alene indulged her love of fashion. In addition to teaching and raising children, she had a career modeling for businesses such as Ann’s Fashions.
Alene also performed in a couple of different vocal groups that played shows around town. Once, she and her group Two Plus Three performed for an audience that included former Senator Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth.
“I’m not artistic — I got all my talent in my throat,” Alene said. “Fashion is a form of expression for me, of incorporating brilliance and color into my life. I like to feel put together, I guess.”
As she aged and underwent many surgeries, including on her back and shoulder, she came to rely on a cane for mobility.
“They became a necessity for me,” she said. “I said, ‘If I have to carry these stupid things, I’m going to at least match my outfit.’”
True to form, Alene now has a collection of spectacular canes with which to accessorize. One is encrusted with crystals.
“My late husband used to call me his glitz girl,” she said.
Alene moved into the Westerly in July and set about organizing her closets first thing. Although she purged quite a few items before her move, Alene jokes that she still needed a two-bedroom apartment to accommodate her collection.
Now that she’s settled in, she looks forward to contributing to the community.
“I hope that in my new home here, I can be someone who gives courage,” said Alene, who turns 87 this month. “As we age, we all need affirmation and friendship.”