This story was picked up by the Associated Press.
---By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Her dream was to be a model.
So having just graduated high school, Ima Jean Brockett wanted to learn the trade.
But she couldn't. Pete, the man she was engaged to marry, was more important to her.
'He gave me a choice: him or modeling school,' Mrs. Brockett said. 'It was no contest. I chose him. He meant more to me than anything.'
So without regret she lived the life of a farm wife in Munday, a small town outside Abilene. She and her husband raised two daughters and before they knew it, there were grandchildren in the picture.
'But the idea of modeling never left me,' Mrs. Brockett said. 'Every time I saw a magazine or catalogue, I'd study the pictures in it. I'd look at how the models were posed, how they smiled and I'd imagine myself doing the same thing.'
Her passion was kept secret and it would have remained so if it wasn't for the inspiration she found in her mother's nursing home.
'As I would go and visit, I'd hear ladies say how sorry they were not to have tried different things,' Mrs. Brockett said. 'Some wished they could paint, others wanted to dance.'
But it was too late for them, their health prevented them from it.
'I didn't want to be like that,' she said. 'I thought, 'Oh my God, if I'm going to do this thing I've dreamed of, then I've got to do it now before it's too late,'' she said.
And then in the fall of 1986 Mrs. Brockett became the first 50-year-old student of the now defunct Ruth Ann Malm Modeling School of Abilene.
Though he was a bit surprised, her husband was supportive.
'Whatever she wanted was fine,' he said. 'It was great that she did that. It made her happy.'
The application process, though, was a bit embarrassing, says Mrs. Brockett who's now 71.
'I called and asked if they had an age limit,' she said. 'She said they didn't accept students under 5.'
She had to explain that she was 'an older woman' interested in attending class. And in response, she heard, 'Well, come in and let's talk.'
After a brief interview with Mrs. Malm, Mrs. Brockett was admitted. She started the 16-week program with a group of 18-year-old girls.
'At first I didn't know how the girls would feel about having a grandma in class,' she said. 'But the whole experience ended up being wonderful.'
In class, she learned how to apply make-up, use correct posture, walk runways, do turns and pose for photographs. The course also included exercises on esteem and confidence.
'I completed the program,' she said. 'And I started modeling things on the runway at Abilene Mall. I was happy. Going to modeling school was my dream, and I got to do it.'
New York City
Mrs. Brockett the model, however, wasn't destined to stay in Abilene.
At the invitation of Mrs. Malm, she went to New York in the spring of 1988 for a modeling contest.
'It was a competition with other models my age, 46 and up,' she said. 'It was so exciting. It was my first time in New York, and I got to stay in the Waldorf Astoria hotel.'
Winning didn't matter; she was glad to be able to compete. But she ended up taking top prize in the categories of runway, photography and make-up.
'I was encouraged to visit with the scouts, agents and photographers who were there,' she said. 'And somebody told me I should go see about modeling for Lear's magazine.'
Lear's magazine (1985-1994) was the brainchild of Frances Lear, the ex-wife of movie producer Norman Lear. Geared for women 40 and up, the national publication was 'For the woman who wasn't born yesterday.'
Mrs. Brockett met with Lear's beauty editor and submitted an application.
'They took my picture and put it in a file with my name on it,' she said. 'They asked me who my favorite designer was. I stood there blank-faced. I didn't have one. I spent my days driving tractors, remember. I make my own clothes.'
The editor thanked her for coming in, and Mrs. Brockett thought that would be the end of her adventure.
But it wasn't.
Three weeks later a representative of Lear's called and asked Mrs. Brockett to model for a fashion layout. They wanted her for the summer issue.
'So I was back on the plane to New York,' she said. 'I had to pay for my own travel, but what they paid for my work ended up reimbursing me for everything and then some.'
By the time the issue was published, her picture was on page 168. With her hair in a bun, she's wearing a red business suit, standing in front of an empty conference table. The caption reads, 'Formidable in fitted wool dress.'
'That was my first published picture,' Mrs. Brockett said.
Lear's invited Mrs. Brockett to New York for a second time in the fall of 1988.
'They were doing a spread called American Beauties,' she said. 'You were supposed to bring your own clothes and look like yourself.'
The editor in charge of the project chose to photograph Mrs. Brockett wearing her farm clothes - a pair of jeans, blue denim shirt, a red bandanna and straw hat.
'I thought that was that and that the project was done,' she said. 'But I got a call and was told that Mrs. Lear liked what she saw in the farm-wear photograph. She wanted me for the cover.'
Mrs. Brockett said she had to pinch herself to refrain from screaming in excitement.
'Being on a cover was not part of my dream,' she said. 'I just wanted to go to modeling school, and I did. I couldn't believe that there I was being asked to be on a cover. I was so thrilled.'
So in the 1988 winter issue of Lear's, Mrs. Brockett is pictured twice, once on the cover and again in the American Beauties spread. On the cover, she's wearing a strapless dress and holding a Christmas ornament.
'It was so funny going to newsstands and see my face looking at me,' she said. 'I'd buy five at a time every time I'd see a magazine with me in it. I had to save them for kids and grandkids.'
Her family, of course, was just as excited. Her mother couldn't believe she had raised a model, and her daughters were proud and glad.
Mr. Brockett is giggly when he talks about his wife's success.
'It was all great,' he said. 'Everything she does is great because - well, you know, I'm sort of crazy about her.'
Happily ever after
Mrs. Brockett's next modeling gig took place in the spring of 1989.
Lear's magazine wanted to feature her in 'Urbane Cowgirl.'
The four-page spread tells her story, how she went from farm wife to model within a span of about four months. It includes several pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Brocket at work and leisure on their Munday farm.
'They came to us to do it,' she said. 'A crew of five came, a beauty editor, two photographers and two assistants. All those big city people came to Munday, Texas, a small town of 1,700 and one caution light. What a culture shock it must have been to them.'
The barbecue dinner she prepared for them as a welcome turned out to be a mistake.
'Every one of them was a vegetarian,' she said, laughing. 'It all turned out OK. We just had to find something else for them to eat.'
Mrs. Brockett continued to model until the mid 1990s. She's appeared in several advertisements, an Abilene-area TV show called 'Big Country' and in Texas Highways magazine.
'These days, I'm retired,' she said. 'Though I do model every now and then for fundraisers that have style shows.'
Looking back, Mrs. Brockett is very glad of how things turned out.
'It would have been a different experience if I had done it when I was younger. There would have been pressure to succeed in the industry and to compete with everyone. As it was, I didn't have to worry about financial stability or success. I could do it and enjoy without fear.'