Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden

Irene Hilbers was born in Prescott, Arizona, on July 9, 1911, to Edward and Inocente Contreras. Her roots in Arizona are deep: her grandfather, Lucas Contreras, emigrated from Spain and migrated to Casa Grande from California in the 1870s.

Irene's first memory is of a train trip from California to Kingman when she was about three years old. Her family then caught the stage from Kingman to Signal, Arizona, where they visited her grandmother, Gertrude Isham. Her father, Edward, ranched in Yavapai County in partnership with others until 1914, when he applied for a homestead on what became the Contreras Ranch, 14 miles west of Prescott off Iron Springs Road. Later he acquired a second ranch at Burro Creek.

Irene was one of a family of eight. Memories of her childhood on the ranch are of moving there in a wagon with a team of horses, shelled corn stacked in a crib, and, always, the rodeo in Prescott on the Fourth of July. Her great uncle, Jan Leivas, won a trophy that is in the Sharlot Hall museum collections.

She began her education in 1922 at age 11, when a school was established at Tonto Flat. Her brothers, Mickey, Edward and Ray, all younger than she, were also in the first grade! They spoke only Spanish at home but soon learned English in school. She advanced a couple of grades every year, and soon was ahead of her brothers.

Irene went to high school at St. Joseph’s Academy and attended Prescott Business School, where she learned accounting, typing and shorthand. She built up her shorthand speed by sitting in on trials at the courthouse.

Her father died in 1933, and Irene got a federal job at the courthouse “interviewing everybody else that was hard up, too.” She was paid partly in script. In this way she was able to help her mother, who was pregnant when her father died, and who continued to ranch with the help of her boys.

Irene married Frank Olea, a Mohave County rancher in 1932, and they moved back to Prescott in 1936. She opened a little restaurant on “the island” on Miller Valley Road, where she made and sold barbecue and Mexican food. This business enabled her husband to buy a ten-wheeler and go into the trucking business. The couple had two children, Frank Olea, Jr. and Betty. Irene’s first marriage ended in divorce.

On April 14, 1947, Irene married Morton “Mickey” Hilbers in Ely, Nevada. They were remarried in the same church on their 35th anniversary. She worked as a bookkeeper for wholesale grocers during their stay in Phoenix, and for Thriftee Wholesale Grocery in Prescott for 27 years.

Initially, she did everything by hand; it was a red-letter day when her boss sent her to Phoenix to choose a new NCR bookkeeping machine. When the business closed, Irene was “only 67,” and she didn’t want to retire. So she worked part-time for the Forest Service for three more years.

Irene still lives in the home owned by her mother on Campbell Street in Prescott. She and Mickey enjoyed their travels together, and he was a skilled rodeo competitor. They were married 56 years before his death on September 21, 2003. She enjoyed festive parties hosted by her daughter for her 80th and 90th birthdays. Irene affirms, “I’ve had a good life!”

Irene’s mother, Inocentie Leivas Contreras, is also commemorated in the Rose Garden.

Donor: Mona Lange McCroskey
October 2003

Additional documentation and photographs may be available in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library.