Lester Shannon was born to William D. and Annie (Holland) Shannon on Sept. 24, 1891, in Eastland, Texas. His father worked as a mechanic at the local brickyard, and his mother tended to the home.
William died in 1900, and Annie moved the family in with her parents. Lester wasn’t happy at home, and at 17 years old, having just graduated from high school, he decided to strike out on his own. He caught a freight train to Arizona and stopped in Clifton, where he found work at the Morenci mine in 1908. He temporarily relocated to Safford, where he worked in construction. His next stop was Douglas, where he got a job in 1909 at the Phelps Dodge Copper Queen smelter.
On Nov. 11, 1912, Shannon married Lyle Rollins, who was from a prominent Mormon family in town. They had three sons: Jay in 1913, Thomas in 1916, and Henry Eugene, called “Gene,” in 1921. All three were born in Douglas.
Shannon worked at the smelter for about 21 years in total, working his way up to superintendent. Around 1931, the family moved to Tucson, likely because of financial hardships due to the Great Depression. The drive from Douglas in their Model T took about 12 hours.
In the Old Pueblo, Gene attended Laguna Elementary School, which was on Road No. 40 (now Shannon Road). His siblings went to Tucson High School.
In 1937, Shannon bought 40 acres of land just south of the Rillito River, which then had water running year-round. Just west of Road No. 40, tall cottonwood trees formed a canopy over the road. The land was in an area called Jaynes Station, named for a Southern Pacific Railroad train station. The purchase also included a two-bedroom, white clapboard farmhouse, a cottage to the west of the house and a barn.
Shannon first ran a dairy farm with about 20 cows, but he lacked the equipment to pasteurize raw milk, so he sold the farm to the Sunset Dairy. His three sons woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to milk and feed the cows, then milked the cows again after school at 4 p.m. They also grew hay and alfalfa for the cattle and raised pork, beef, chicken and eggs for the family’s consumption.
During World War II, all three of the sons served in the military, Jay in the Army, Thomas in the Army Air Corps (Air Force), and Gene in the Navy.
In the early 1940s, Shannon worked at Consolidated Aircraft Co. for a couple of years. In 1943, he bought another 40 acres just west of the original land, stretching his land holdings from Road No. 40 to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Around that time he realized it would be more profitable to be a cotton farmer than a dairyman so, from 1943 to when he sold the land in 1957, he grew cotton.
During the 1950s, Lester’s grandson, Mark Shannon, who spent time on the farm as a kid, remembers that when the Rillito River flooded, he and his granddad would go out to the road and set up sawhorses with smudge pots sitting on top, to prevent automobiles from trying to cross. He also recalled that locals commonly referred to Road No. 40 as Shannon Farm House Road.
Shannon also worked for what is now called the Pima County Department of Transportation from about 1945 to 1958. When he retired as district road supervisor, he was given a certificate saying the road would be renamed in his honor.
The couple moved to 1060 W. Schaffer Drive, in a new housing subdivision, around 1957. Lester died in 1960.
Note: Shannon Park Apartments, 3737 N. Country Club Road, are named in honor of Dr. Jay Shannon, son of Lester Shannon. The apartments got their name when Jay, who owned the land, made a deal with a developer to build the apartments there. The developer named the apartments in his honor. Dr. Shannon had his veterinary practice, Country Club Animal Hospital, just south of the apartments at 3709 N. Country Club Road.
Special thanks to Dan Cowgill of the Fidelity National Title Agency for research assistance.
Interview with Mark Shannon, Colleen Shannon, Don T. Shannon, Jayne (Shannon) Cookman on Feb. 1, 2014 (grandchildren of Lester Shannon)
Email from Bill Shannon
Birth Certificate of Lester Shannon
Marriage certificate of Lester Shannon and Lyle Rollins (Cochise County, Ariz.)
1937 land deed from L.E. Stelle to Lester and Lyle Shannon (deed recorded April 5, 1937)
1943 land deed from Leon and Frances Lowell to Lester and Lyle Shannon (deed recorded June 8, 1943)
Memories of the Shannon farm by Linda Shannon, Kathy Shannon and Pat Shannon (Shannon family archives)
E.D. Jewett, “Across the Dry Rillito II, Territorial Publishers Inc., 1986.
Allen Scott, “Streetwise and stravenued,” Tucson Lifestyle magazine, October 1985
Information about Shannon Parks Apartments provided by Don T. Shannon, son of Jay Shannon