Editor’s note: I spend most of my time these days writing books and keeping up with Indian River Guardian/InsideVero. I still enjoy reminiscing with other “old timers” (I moved here in 1956), some of whom have been the subjects of my books. I particularly enjoy talking with people who lived here long before I arrived, but these days they are few and far between.
That is why I was delighted eight years ago to meet Irene Redstone. At the time, she was living in Indian River Estates and like most of my book subjects, she was retired and wanted to have a record of her life history. I should point out that most of my books are personal biographies, legacy projects for future generations of family.
So I drove out to Indian River Estates to meet her. She wasn’t that well known around town, considering that the Redstones are a pioneer family. But she gave me a window to look through on her life in Vero as it was in the 1920s. You see, when I met her, she was 103 years old.
I went on to write her life history (a copy is in the Main Library Genealogy section). Then Irene passed away the next year and I wrote her obituary for InsideVero. Here it is:
Vero loses a bit of history
When Irene Redstone was 16 years old, she moved from Olean, New York to Florida with her parents and nine of her siblings in a Buick sedan pulling a homemade trailer. The year was 1925 and they were headed to a tiny town called Vero, where her father, Lee Redstone, would join the family business. The journey took six weeks, probably the longest drive to Florida in recorded history!
That trip was one of Irene’s fondest memories in the weeks before her death this past weekend at age 104. But there were many others. The day after she arrived in Vero, Irene went to work in the family business, Redstone Lumber and Supply. The company was started by her grandfather, C.G. Redstone, and two uncles, B.T. and Ray R. back in 1911. C.G. drove to Vero from Eau Gallie in an ox-drawn wagon following old Indian trails because there were no roads.
By the time Irene arrived in 1925, her grandfather was mostly retired and Uncle B.T. ran the business. He was also mayor of Vero, which kept him more than busy. That same year, the first wooden bridge opened connecting mainland Vero to the barrier island. The town was then renamed Vero Beach and a delegation including his kid brother, Harold, who was Vero’s city clerk, went to Tallahassee to create Indian River County.
Irene’s new home would be a 1903 log cabin, built by a homesteader on a patch of dry land west of town so he could grow castor beans. Do you remember castor oil? It was that foul tasting medicine that also served as a lubricant for pre-World War I era biplanes.
The log cabin was too small for Irene’s family of 12, so her father built an addition with the cabin at its core. That would be the Redstone home until the 1960s, when her widowed mother grew too old to care for it. The home was then donated to the fire department for training purposes. It burned to the ground revealing the original log cabin, which remained virtually untouched.
Irene’s brothers and sisters all grew up and went their separate ways except for her brother Ray L., who worked for the post office until his retirement. The others kept coming back to Vero Beach though, including Irene.
Irene was a woman well ahead of her time. She dropped out of high school at age 14 because her German grandmother insisted a woman would not need an education to become a good housewife. Irene’s mother never learned to drive, because in Irene’s words, men didn’t think women were smart enough to handle a car. But Irene knew how to drive by age 16, thanks to her brothers and to the amazement of her father.
She moved to Miami in 1939 after landing an office job with the Miami Herald. She also wrote a column for the paper on women’s issues. Meanwhile, Irene completed her high school education, then went to the University of Miami. She wanted to become a lawyer and was one of the first female graduates of UM’s law school. She specialized in family law and some of her cases can be found on the internet. Irene went on to be elected president of the National Association of Women Lawyers in 1978. She practiced law until the age of 80, then moved back to Vero Beach for her retirement.
Irene married in 1948 while still in college. Her husband had a stroke four years later and remained in Irene’s care until his death in 1961. They never had children, but thanks to her siblings, she had many nieces and nephews. To honor her family’s memory, in 1996 she paid for the Redstone Memorial Room at the Indian River County Historical Society train station.
Although incapacitated physically by age, Irene’s mind was sharp right up until the day she died from pneumonia. She refused antibiotics because the time had come to move on from this life. Irene Redstone took with her a memory of times in this town few of us ever experienced, but are all part of what made Vero Beach the great place to live it is today.