Getting to Know… Jean Witt
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Getting to Know… Jean Witt

Route 1 Mobile Home Advocate

In 1924, Jean Witt was born in Delton, a place “way out in the sticks in the southwest part of Virginia, Pulaski County.” Electricity arrived in Delton, ten miles from the county seat, in 1942. By then, Witt was in D.C. working for the casualty division of the Department of Defense, a “heart-wrenching” job. The names of the dead in Europe streamed through her office.

After the war, she got married and had two children. The marriage lasted five years. Witt worked at Fort Belvoir after finding employment with the Army Corps of Engineers, a job that also took her to Iceland for a year. Where, she said, “your biggest tree was comparable to a bush here in the United States. We had the lava rock, hot springs, Northern Lights.”

After coming home, Witt left the Corps of Engineers and spent 17 years as a waitress at Howard Johnson’s. She left that job to work at Hot Shoppe, and waited tables there for 27 years. In 1955 she married a man who was the chief inspector with Belvoir’s Corps of Engineers. He died in 1990.

In 1953, looking for a home as a single mother, Witt bought a mobile home and moved into Woodley Hills Estates, where she has lived ever since. She said she’s helped two grandchildren buy homes, but has no desire to move to a house that’s larger than her double-wide trailer. Recently, Witt has become an advocate for a mix of mobile homes and studio apartment buildings on North Hill as a way to build more affordable housing in the area.

Witt has two sons, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. “Five generations of my family have lived here in this mobile home park,” she said.

<cl>Describe Delton.

<bt>“Delton was a little country store with a train station that had this great big water tank where the local trains, local train I should say, would get its water. That was Delton. There was our school. That was it. It was a two-room school house with a pot-bellied stove to heat.”

<cl>How did you get around?

“We had to walk. Everywhere we went we had to walk. It was just a mile here, a mile there, that’s just the way you got around. We didn’t have cars.

“When I went to elementary school we had to walk a mile. In the ’30s we had such a deep snow that my grandmother said I couldn’t go to school. And I hadn’t missed a day! She said, ‘The only way you can go to school is if you go to your uncle’s and let him take you on the horse.’ And they did not cancel school because of the snow, no way. I rode the horse to school for three days.”

<cl>Talk about the grandparents who raised you.

<bt>“They raised their wheat to grind their flour. They raised their corn to grind their cornmeal. They raised their pigs to eat. They raised their chickens to have eggs. My grandfather would take the corn and the wheat on a wagon and go about six miles to have it ground. We went to church in the wagon, about two miles to [the Baptist] Church.”

<cl>Describe being a single mother in the 1950s.

<bt>“I was the sole support of two children. I tried to rent an apartment in Alexandria and they said that I did not make enough income. I went to the mobile home sales place there at Penn Daw and talked to Mr. Beard. I had just returned from Iceland and had saved some money. He told me if I would bring that money in and give it to him tomorrow, I would have a mobile home on the lot the next day. And I did.”

“Being a single mother for six years, it’s hard to raise two children. And I did not have welfare or any assistance from the county of Fairfax. I understand what it’s like for a low-to-moderate income person to have to survive in Fairfax County.”

<cl>What’s it like living in Woodley Hills Estates?

<bt>“I’m happy with my manufactured house. I’ve been a widow now since 1990, and I can afford where I live. I have a fine community to live in … The property is owned by Fairfax county and it has helped all of these people here in 115 units to live separately. We have our own little homes. We have a little space in the yard. We have a civic association. We have our little parties at Christmas, Halloween, Easter. We celebrate birthdays … We have wonderful neighbors. We look out for one another.”

“I go out here to rake leaves, I am interrupted so many times. Any time anybody passes by. It’s yakkety yakkety yakkety yak. I enjoy it. It makes me feel good that my neighbors stop and talk with me.”

“I’m happy here. I’m within ten minutes of the hospital. When I get to the stage when I can’t drive but I can still walk, I can walk to the grocery stores. Its just a good area to live in.”

“I would like to see our community enlarged with the space that is available on North Hill. With North Hill in the condition it is in, we don’t like that in our back yard any more than a lot of the residents of Mount Vernon District like us in their back yard.”

<cl>Why do you think we need more mobile homes?

<bt>“We have five acres or more on North Hill off Route 1 that are already zoned for manufactured homes. These low-to-moderate income families would be able to afford a manufactured home because the prices are ranging from approximately $50,000 to $101,000. The manufactured mobile home sales places will finance a qualified buyer. There are spaces for 103 16 by 70 foot manufactured homes or, if we would go to double-wide manufactured homes, possibly 66 spaces.”

“[Affordable housing activists] are talking about ‘low-to-moderate income.’ I’m talking about below. I’m talking about poverty level. We’ve got people here that are in the poverty level. And if they didn’t have assistance they would be in the street, I guess. I don’t know where they would be.”