Effie May Skelton; Ojai Valley Museum Founder


Effie May Skelton, a retired real estate broker and founder of the Ojai Valley Museum, died Sunday. She was 99.

She was born June 23, 1900, in Arlington, Okla., when the area was still Indian territory, as Oklahoma was not yet a state. She weighed only 1 1/2 pounds at birth and wasn’t expected to live. She frequently recalled that she was kept alive with a solution of blackberry brandy diluted with sugar water and fed through an eye dropper. Her crib was a cigar box kept warm by a wood-fired stove.

Skelton’s father, who was half Cherokee and half Irish, was a cowboy, homesteader and a saloon keeper. She grew up in Okemah, across an alley from Woody Guthrie, who would later become a legendary folk singer.


After high school, Skelton attended a business college until an older brother yanked her out, contending that it wasn’t a proper place for a young woman. She became a bookkeeper, saved enough money to buy a new car and drove to California in 1926.

While working as a timekeeper for the Ventura Citrus Assn., she met her future husband, George C. Skelton, at a party at Rincon Beach. They were married in 1930 and lived for several years in Santa Barbara. In 1942, the couple moved with their three children to a small orange ranch near Meiners Oaks. George Skelton, an oil-field worker, died in 1951.

She was proud of Ojai and equally proud of her roots. Her paternal grandmother, as a young child in 1838, was one of the Cherokees forced to march out of the Smoky Mountains on the infamous Trail of Tears.

Her maternal grandmother and her mother, who was then 11, came to California from Arkansas in a covered wagon in 1881. It took them nearly five months. After only three weeks in Visalia, they returned to Arkansas by train.

Skelton worked as a real estate broker for 30 years. She owned Meiners Oaks Realty Co. until her retirement in the 1970s. As president of the Ojai Valley Realty Board in the 1960s, she pushed to establish the Ojai museum. In the mid-1960s, Skelton began devoting herself to the museum, her cause for 25 years. For many years, she was a member of the museum’s board of directors and a volunteer docent into her 90s.

A woman who never tired of talking up Ojai, Skelton was a familiar figure on downtown streets in her flowery dresses and wide-brimmed hats, often walking five miles from Meiners Oaks to the museum for the volunteer work she loved.


Betty McAllister of Ojai remembers seeing Skelton waiting for the bus to take her to the museum. She was always dressed up, wearing hat and gloves. McAllister, who worked in the gift shop, often heard Skelton remind visitors, “Sign the book, please.”

And, “she never missed a day, except for her granddaughter’s wedding,” McAllister said.

In her later years, Skelton lived alone in her small home, which once doubled as her real estate office. An avid gardener, she enjoyed growing vegetables, fruit and flowers on a deep back lot. In the 1970s she wrote a weekly column, “What’s Doin’ in Meiners Oaks” for the Ojai Valley News.

In 1994, Skelton moved from Meiners Oaks to an assisted living home in Newhall, near one of her sons. Her health gradually declined, and she suffered a stroke Dec. 5 while living at a smaller care home in Sylmar.

She is survived by two sons, George Skelton of Sacramento and Robert “Chuck” Skelton of Saugus; a daughter, Malinda Younce of Camarillo; 13 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled at 11 a.m. Monday at the Clausen Funeral Home in Ojai.