This year’s affair is titled “Blossoms from Barbara’s Desert,” honoring the 100th anniversary of the publication of Harold Bell Wright’s “The Winning of Barbara Worth.” Former Imperial Valley College instructor Carol Hann will give a biographical sketch of Harold Bell Wright and provide a summary of the novel. She will also talk about the silent film that came out in 1926 starring Ronald Coleman, Vilma Banky and Gary Cooper.
Anna May Johnson, of El Centro, will share some history of the Barbara Worth Brigadettes of Imperial County. It was organized in October 1940 for women who enjoyed riding. Mrs. Johnson is a 50-year-member of the group. Their colors are black and white, and their flower is the desert lily. Their motto is “Ride for health, health is wealth.” The group still meets at the old Rose School house, which was moved to Pioneers Museum several years ago.
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Local pioneer Opal Immel, of Holtville, was the first woman honored for being a member of the Brigadettes for 50 years. She was also a charter member of the club’s Galloping Gossips square dance team. She died in February at the age of 99.
Besides her family, the Brigadettes were a big part of her life. When she joined the club she couldn’t ride. She quickly learned and performed in thousands of rodeos, parades and fairs, including an appearance at the Brawley Cattle Call Arena before former President Ronald Reagan while he was governor of California. She and the former president were the same age.
Born in Austin, Texas, she moved to the Imperial Valley with her family in 1916. She married the late Alvin Immel in 1934. The two owned a farm equipment store in Holtville for 27 years. During that time she worked as the business bookkeeper for both the store and her husband’s farming operation.
Several years ago I did a story about a woman named Barbara Worth who wanted to stay in a motel with the same name. This Barbara Worth is from Miami Springs, Fla. She happened on the local resort, the Barbara Worth Resort & Convention Center, when she googled her name on the Internet.
A survey at that time showed there were 75 Barbara Worths residing in the U.S., with four in Florida.
She and her husband did some research on Harold Bell Wright’s book, “The Winning of Barbara Worth.” They learned the book is about the struggles of the early pioneers in this area. The characters were based upon actual residents, developers and promoters who played a large and important part in the development of the Imperial Valley.
Barbara Worth is a fictional character around which the entire story revolves; a composite of young women who lived in the desert and believed in its future. Jefferson Worth, Barbara’s fictional father, is patterned after Wright’s dear friend, Imperial Valley entrepreneur W.F. Holt, after whom Holtville is named.
Two of Mr. Wright’s seven books were made into films, “The Shepherd of the Hills” and “The Winning of Barbara Worth.” Wright was the first American author to earn more than $1 million from his writings alone. The Cleveland Plain Dealer called “The Winning of Barbara Worth” the “best thing Wright has done so far … a 20th Century epic.”