Lydia Antoinette Wagner Smith
Birth Date: October 28, 1923Death Date: January 6, 2019
Lydia Antoinette Wagner Smith, formerly a resident of San Juan, Texas, died peacefully on January 6, 2019 at her home in Austin, with her family by her side. She was 95 years old.
Lydia (known by many as “Babs” because she was the baby of three children) was born on October 28, 1923 in Galveston, Texas, to Mary Dubilova Wagner and Anton John Wagner, who had immigrated to the United States (separately) from then-Czechoslovakia in the first decade of the 20th century. Anton worked in the shipyards at the Port of Galveston, and Mary was a housekeeper at the home where Anton boarded. They married in 1915.
Lydia, her brother John and her sister Mary first learned English in grade school, then taught their parents at home, as did the children of many immigrants.
Her early years were spent in the tiny town of New Ulm, Texas, where her parents operated a small hotel for railroad and shipyard workers and salesmen passing through the area. From an early age, she helped with the cooking, a skill she learned from her talented mother. She loved the “free range” life in New Ulm, she recalled, where “the sand was deep and hot, the grass burs unforgettable, the clover green and fragrant. There were snakes in the henhouse and tons of scorpions, but we could go anywhere without a worry in the world.”
After four years in Yorktown, Texas, Lydia and her family moved to Dallas, and she graduated 6th in her class from Adamson High School in 1941. In her informal memoir, “My Story,” Lydia recalled working at an ice cream shop and grocery store during high school, and bragged that she could estimate and cut a pound of cheese perfectly! During the early years of World War II, she worked at the USO canteen in Dallas, and at a theatre that showed only newsreels, The Telenews. On weekends, she went to dances at the Sokol Hall or the USO canteen. “We would dance to the music of accordions and big bands. Even though times were very hard on the other side of the world, we were caught up in the excitement of it all, and life was full.”
One day in 1945, Lydia and a girlfriend were spending the afternoon in a Dallas park when she caught the eye of Mouldon B. “M.B.” Smith, a dental student, who was also in the park with a pal. M.B. told his friend, “I’m going to marry that pretty brunette girl.” After dating for only a couple of months, the couple married on September 16, 1945 and honeymooned in Monterrey, Mexico, visiting beautiful Horsetail Falls.
Lydia and M.B. lived in Wichita Falls, Texas, while he completed his orthodontic apprenticeship, then moved to the Rio Grande Valley, where he opened his office in McAllen, Texas, and practiced for 40 years. They were members of the San Juan People’s Church, and they raised five children in a sprawling house on an acre filled with citrus and avocado trees. They moved to Canyon Lake in 1991.
In retirement, Lydia and M.B. loved taking long trips across the United States in an Airstream trailer with the Wally Byam Caravan Club, and they made many friends during those years. They also enjoyed many family trips to Padre Island, and going across the border to Reynosa, Mexico for lunch or dinner.
Lydia was a member of PEO, the women’s international philanthropic organization that provides educational opportunities to female students worldwide. She also was a Realtor in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1970s, and her strong sales instinct was enhanced by her generous heart and ability to find just the right house for a buyer, as well as her fluency in Spanish. The McAllen Real Estate Association presented her with the top sales award for two years in a row.
In addition to being a wonderful mom, Lydia cooked incredible meals and loved to accommodate multiple houseguests at a moment’s notice. Asked once where she planned to put a big group, she said, “When we run out of beds, we’ll just hang them by their collars on hooks on the wall!” Her sense of humor was legend, and her laugh was impossible to resist. Family gatherings invariably included gales of tears-in-the-eyes laughter.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 73 years, Dr. Mouldon B. Smith, who died on December 27, 2018; and by her brother, John Anton Wagner, and sister, Mary Delores Wagner Stiff.
She is survived by her daughters Lisa Wallace of Tyler, Janie Peterson (Steve) of Denver, and Rosanne Spangler (Sonny) of Llano, and her sons Brian of Blanco and Steve (Inese) of Austin. She also is survived by nine grandchildren: Rich Wallace (Beth), Dallas; Brian Wallace (Robyn), Quito, Ecuador; Jenny Wallace, Dallas; Meggan Peterson Winegar (Taylor), Parker, Colorado; Jordan Smith, Ft. Worth; Kendyl Smith Howard (Adam), Houston; and Nicholas, Kevin and Victoria Smith, Austin; and by 8 great-grandchildren.
Funeral service for Lydia will be at 3:00pm on Saturday, January 12, 2019 at Restland Wildwood Chapel. The family will receive friends at a visitation held at the chapel one hour prior to the service.