True beauty is ageless.
The city’s very first Miss Roswell, Kathleen “Kitty” Johnson Zukowski, is alive and alert as she lives comfortably at BeeHive Homes, an assisted-living facility on North Washington Avenue.
At age 17, she was crowned Miss Roswell and then went on to win the Miss New Mexico title. Unfortunately, it was the Great Depression and there was not enough money to send her to Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant.
Kitty, or Miss Kitty, was born Jan. 1, 1921, in Crosbyton, Texas, about 40 miles northeast of Lubbock.
She moved to Roswell while in high school and married H.D. Johnson Jr. at age 17. Kitty then moved with her husband to Kansas City, where he attended dental school. H.D. was rushed through dental school and went right into World War II, where he served as a dentist and medic for two years. After the war, he returned to Roswell where he practiced as a dentist and orthodontist.
Kitty and H.D. had two children, which begat seven grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
After H.D. passed away at age 60, Kitty married Frank Zukowski, who died in 1979.
According to her daughter, Karen Johnson, Kitty has outlived several other family members who became nonagenarians.
“She has lived longer than anyone in her family. Her father died at 96, her brother at 93 and her sister at 95,” said Johnson, who lives in Alto.
Johnson later married Bill Armstrong Jr., whose family owned Armstrong Construction.
Kitty said she had four brothers and one sister, and that her family was among the founding families of Crosbyton, which had a population of 1,741 at the 2010 census.
Kitty’s father, Newt Mabe, owned a mercantile store in the small Texas town. He was an astute businessman, but also had a kind soul.
When the Dust Bowl hit in 1935, people fell on hard times and he let town residents buy dry goods on credit.
Ultimately, Mabe went bankrupt, but there was a silver lining.
A traveling salesman knew of Mabe’s reputation as a top-notch bookkeeper and passed word along to the owner of Kessell’s mercantile store in Roswell.
Mabe was hired and the family relocated to Roswell.
Kitty finished out her junior year in Crosbyton, living with relatives, before she moved to Roswell.
“We came on a mail truck,” she recalled. “It took all day because the truck had to stop to deliver mail.”
She got her first glimpse of Roswell when the truck crossed over Six Mile Hill.
“I remember how green it was,” she said. “In Crosbyton there was dry farming and farmers had to depend on the rain.”
Growing up in the 1950s, Kitty’s daughter said cotton was a big crop before the pecan orchards came along. Then area farmers started to grow alfalfa as dairy farms began to spring up, Johnson said.
Kitty said she gets lots of visitors at BeeHive, where she is wheelchair-bound but still is alert with a good memory.
She enjoys football, and it’s not too hard to guess who her favorite team is.
“I love football,” she said. “I have a Cowboys blanket and miss it when the season is over. You can’t be born in West Texas if you don’t love football.”
She also loves music and was an avid reader before her vision deteriorated.
Kitty likes to exercise, and was enlisted by Roswell Racquet Club to lead its adult fitness class in the swimming pool after the instructor moved away to California. She led the class until she turned 90.
Asked if her beauty as a young lady attracted male suitors, Kitty replied, “Oh yes.”
She worked as a ticket taker at one of the local movie theaters, and said while they were courting, H.D. would stand in front of the theater to make sure none of the young men got too fresh.
Kitty is the oldest living member of First United Methodist Church.
Though she doesn’t attend services, two men from the church faithfully come over every Sunday to serve her communion.
“I tell them they remind me of my ‘third husband,’” Kitty said jokingly. “When I tell them that, it scares them to death.”
With such a positive attitude on life, it won’t be surprising if this beautiful lady outlives us all.
Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or firstname.lastname@example.org.