By Bryant Million: PNT Staff Writer
One of the main events of Roosevelt County’s Heritage Days celebration is the announcement of the Pioneer of the Year Award during Friday’s reception dinner in the Memorial Building at 5 p.m.
The nominees for the award are selected for being 75 years or older, living in the county for more than 50 years and contributing to their communities.
One of this year’s nominees is Lila Bryant, 86, of Portales. Nominated by the Working 9-5 Club, of which she is a member, Bryant said she was surprised and honored by the nomination.
Jackie Clark, a fellow club member of Bryant’s, said they nominated her for the award because she is a true pioneer.
“Lila is a model citizen and is always willing to help,” said Clark. “Plus she has been involved with many organizations that provide services to the community.”
According to a Chamber of Commerce press release, Bryant has often been an active County Council member.
Bryant said she was chairman of the council in 2002, and served as its vice president and secretary three times.
“As long as I’m able, I’m happy to help the community any way I can,” said Bryant in the press release.
Clark said Bryant was also the first district vice president of public relations in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Bryant attended the district and state meetings almost every year in the past 20 years and many times served as the county voting delegate.
Bryant has also been a supporter of the County Fair, where she has held booths and sold cookbooks, according to the press release. She also enjoys teaching crafts to neighborhood children and her grandchildren.
The press release said Bryant was also a member of the Portales VFW Women’s Auxiliary, a member of the Purple Women and the Red Hat Society.
“She was born in the county and has never left,” said Clark. “She is just a great person.”
Bryant was born March 7, 1920, to Jack and Leatia Grimes of Portales.
Her father operated a feed mill where she kept his office and helped with bookkeeping duties at the age of 14. She began driving trucks to haul grain from farmers to the feed mill for her father when she was 16.
She attended 12 years of school in Portales and graduated in 1938. As a graduation present, her parents bought her a bus ticket to visit her grandparents in Texas. Bryant had never left the state before then.
She married J.H. Bryant of Portales in 1938. They bought a house three blocks from where she was born and grew up, and continues to live there today.
Bryant and her husband drove trucks for her father and eventually bought a truck of their own to begin hauling cottonseed for Harold Herbert. They also worked for Earl Busby Trucking, Welch Trucking, Furr Good and Safeway.
She was one of the first women to drive trucks nationwide from 1940 until 1972, according to the press release.
She said she mostly drove around the Southwest but sometimes made it up to states such as Virginia and into the deep South.
She and her husband had started a family and would take turns staying home to watch the children. They would sometimes be away for weeks at a time.
“I was one of the first women to drive a big diesel truck,” said Bryant. “It was a job, but I didn’t like to be away from my family.”
Bryant said what she enjoyed most about driving trucks was seeing the country and meeting all sorts of new people on the road.
Her truck-driving career ended in 1972 when she was hit by a car while crossing the street and suffered severe damage to a foot and ankle. She began to babysit her grandchildren and managed a self-service gas station.
She started work at Wal-Mart in Clovis in 1993 and continues to commute to work there today.
“I love my job at Wal-Mart,” said Bryant in the press release. “I greet so many people at the front door and I may not know their names but I see them as friends.”
Bryant’s husband, J.H., passed away in 1983. They had four children: Jackie Wilhoit of Odessa, Texas, Joe Mike Bryant and Wilma Faye Wilhoit, both of Portales. A son, Jerry Bryant, served with the U.S. Marines and was killed in Vietnam in 1967.
Bryant has seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.