Irene Anna (Contreras) Olea Hilbers was born on the family homestead near Skull Valley, Arizona Territory, on July 9, 1911, to Edward and Inocentie (Leivas) Contreras. Irene was one of a family of eight children. Her roots in Arizona were deep: her grandfather, Lucas Contreras, emigrated from Spain and migrated to Casa Grande from California in the 1870s.

Irene's first memory was of a train trip from California to Kingman, Arizona when she was about three years old. Her family caught the stage from Kingman to Signal, Arizona, where they visited her grandmother, Gertrude Isham. Her father, Edward, ranched in Yavapai County in partnership with others until 1914, when he applied for a homestead on what became the Contreras Ranch, fourteen miles west of Prescott off Iron Springs Road. Later, he acquired a second ranch at Burro Creek.  Memories of her childhood on the ranch were of moving there in a wagon with a team of horses, shelled corn stacked in a crib, and always the rodeo in Prescott on the Fourth of July. Her great-uncle, Juan Leivas, won the first trophy at the Rodeo, which is currently in the Sharlot Hall Building on the Sharlot Hall Museum campus.

She began her education in 1922 at age eleven, when a school was established at Tonto Flat. Her brothers, Mickey, Edward, and Ray, all younger than she, were also in the first grade! They spoke only Spanish at home but soon learned English in school. She advanced a couple of grades every year, and soon was ahead of her brothers.  Irene went to high school at St. Joseph’s Academy and attended Prescott Business School, where she learned accounting, typing, and shorthand. She built up her shorthand speed by sitting in on trials at the courthouse.

Her father died in 1933, and Irene got a federal job at the courthouse “interviewing everybody else that was hard up, too.” She was paid partly in scrip. In this way she was able to help her mother, who was pregnant when her father died, and who continued to ranch with the help of her boys.

Irene married Frank Olea, a Mohave County rancher, in 1932, and they moved back to Prescott in 1936. She opened a little restaurant on “the island” on Miller Valley Road, where she made and sold barbecue and Mexican food. This business enabled her husband to buy a ten-wheeler and go into the trucking business. The couple had two children, Betty June, born in 1936, and Frank Olea, Jr., born in 1942. Irene and Frank’s marriage ended in divorce.

On April 14, 1947, Irene married Morton “Mickey” Hilbers (1918-2003) in Ely, Nevada. They were remarried in the same church on their thirty-fifth anniversary. She worked as a bookkeeper for a wholesale grocer in Phoenix, and for Thriftee Wholesale Grocery in Prescott for twenty-seven years.

Initially, she did everything by hand; it was a red-letter day when her boss sent her to Phoenix to choose a new NCR bookkeeping machine. When the business closed, Irene was “only sixty-seven,” and she didn’t want to retire. So she worked part-time for the Forest Service for three more years.

Irene died June 2, 2006. Irene’s mother, Inocentie (Leivas) Contreras, is also commemorated in the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden.

Donor: Mona Lange McCroskey, October 2003
Photo Located: Oral History Vertical File – F-Hilbers, Irene
Updated: 2/04/2016, Gretchen Hough Eastman