By LAURA QUEZADA
News Review Staff Writer
Josephine, ‘Jo” Stevens passed away on June 17, 2022 three days after her 107th birthday. Her favorite song was Frank Sinatra’s I Did It My Way. When asked how she managed during challenging times, she said, “I just trusted God.”
“Jo Stevens was born June 17, 1915 into a very poor family,” says her dear friend Cheryl Bernhardi. “When she was about five years old, they started traveling West. I don’t know if there was a destination, they were just coming West. And when they were out of food they came upon a farm and they traded Jo for a sack of potatoes.” She stayed with that family until she was about 11 years old.
“I think it was mentioned that she was in foster homes, but it wasn’t anything organized like that. She just went from family to family until she was in her 20s.” She ultimately wound up in Las Vegas, Nevada. “By this time she was old enough to be hired as a cocktail waitress.”
Bernhardi is a little uncertain of the dates but at this stage of Jo’s life she was married with children. “They were in a car wreck and her husband and both of their children were killed. Jo’s back was badly injured and she was in the hospital for pretty close to a year before she could walk.
“Jo had a friendship with a lady who was going to marry a man from Ridgecrest. After they were married and moved to Ridgecrest they encouraged Jo to come here.” She moved to Ridgecrest around 1944 and worked at several different memorable restaurants including The Bamboo Club on China Lake Blvd where the Bank of America is now, Pappalardo on Inyokern Road, and The Village.
“When she was working at the Bamboo Club she made the acquaintance of Bud and Louise Miller. They and Hap Warner went in together and built the Hideaway Restaurant and they wanted Jo to come work for them. She did. That was in 1952. She helped them open and get it all squared away.” She married her husband, EC Stevens in 1959.
Cheryl and her husband, Bruce were the last of five owners of The Hideaway. “She was so wonderful to us, because we didn’t have a lot of experience with restaurant work. She, and a bartender who’d been there almost as long as she had, really took care of us and showed us the ropes and answered our questions. We had The Hideaway for five years. We sold it to Bud Eye Chevrolet in 1989 and then it was torn down.
“After that Jo retired. She had a pretty nice social life. She and my mother, Opal Goode, became very good friends and had shopping trips, dinners, lunches and spent time together. They had a wonderful relationship.
“Two years ago, Jo and my mother were on their way to Lugos for breakfast with Bruce and me when a guy ran a red light at the corner of Norma and China Lake Boulevard and my mother died of injuries from the accident. Jo was, of course, terribly upset about it.”
Her husband died about six years ago. After the tragic auto accident, her doctor didn’t want to live on her own again as she had become fragile and been living alone since her husband’s death. Her doctor wanted her to move into High Desert Haven. “She had been in High Desert Haven for almost two years and was doing well. Living accommodations were comfortable for her; she was being treated well. Then age took over and it became very difficult for her to walk.
“During the pandemic, they were shut down. She couldn’t have any visitors. I talked to her on the phone frequently. When the shutdown was opened up, we went to see her. She was always happy to have company. The last time I talked to her was on her birthday, which was the 17th of June. She sounded very weak. They shut down because of COVID again, so we couldn’t see her but that was the last time I talked to her. She seemed very frail. People told me that she was not eating very much and was not going to the dining room anymore.
“Mother, Jo and I used to travel out of town to for dress shopping. We went to Pasadena, Glendale, and always had a lot of a lot of fun. We shared all of our holidays together over the years,” Bernhardi remembers. “She was a good, good friend, and we’re going to miss her a lot.”