April 20, 1995
Fourth and final installment on the Perry CCC Camp story.
Although the young men who built Perry's CCC Park were moved to Ponca City in June 1935, improvements continued to be made through the years by regular city employees. The beach area and bathhouse were closed after a youngster drowned when no lifeguard was present, but the summer supervised play program used the lake for swimming lessons. By the summer of 1938, interest was spreading to rebuild the beach and offer it for public swimming again.
The city council, which had supervision over all parks, voted in June that year to provide $1,000 for reconditioning the beach and gave the Perry Chamber of Commerce the authority to oversee the job. Banker Y. V. Willett was named chairman of the C-C committee responsible for the project. The work included clearing the beach and bringing in new sand, installing safety poles, wires and floats in the swim area, and construction of a raft. Lifeguards were to be on duty. "It will be one of the finest beaches at any resort in Oklahoma," a Perry Daily Journal reporter promised.
A new bathhouse measuring 70' x 14' was built for the use of swimmers. The lake was treated with chemicals and by July 8 reports indicated it was beginning to clear. The joint effort by the city council and the Chamber of Commerce was a model of interagency cooperation.
Formal opening of the beach was set for a Friday night, on July 22, 1938. The C-C appointed a committee composed of wholesale oil dealer Merle Allen, chairman; plus Dr. D. F Croake, Joe Weber, Ray Havens, Romaine Powers and Jack Smith, to plan the big event. One of the features was to be a bathing beauty contest for juniors, consisting of girls from 2 to 16 years of age; and seniors for those 16 and older. The evening also was to include a concert by Perry's 158th Field Artillery National Guard band, directed by Ivan Kennedy. Families and groups were encouraged to hold picnics throughout the park that evening.
Swimmers could use the beach area without charge at the gala opening night, but regular prices were to be 10 cents for children and 15 cents for adults.
An estimated 600 people attended the opening on a clear summer evening. Patricia Kerr, sponsored by the Mulhall American Legion, won the junior bathing beauty contest, and Ema Marie Miller, sponsored by the Mulhall Booster club, won in the senior category. Loretta Klinglesmith of Perry and Katherine Veach of Red Rock took second and third, respectively, in the senior competition. Patricia Ann Smith of Perry was second and Donna Mornhinweg of Red Rock was third among the juniors. It was a wonderful night of fun for all ages.
Local swimmers were thrilled to have the new facility. Until then, only the Country Club lake was available and membership fees there were beyond the reach of many in that depression era. Other alternatives were Crystal Plunge Pool in Stillwater, Wentz Ponca City, Springlake Amusement Park in Oklahoma City, or some muddy farm ponds. Private pools were only located at the homes of movie stars.
The park was officially named "Perry Lake Park" by action of the city council not long after the initial construction was completed. That name never really caught on. In popular usage, most people continued to call it the “CCC Park,” and in 1989 the council made that the official name. If a poll were taken today, probably few local citizens could tell you what CCC means, or why our city's largest park bears that name. Perhaps a plaque could remedy that.
The good work accomplished by America's depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps members is all but forgotten by this generation, although the monuments to their labor are found in all parts of the country. The CCC was a forerunner to the Soil Conservation Service and federal parks and forestry agencies. The CCC was created for the conservation of natural resources and to provide employment and training for young men during the depression.
The CCC was abolished in 1942 when defense industries were heating up and unemployment was down to an acceptable level. While in operation, the CCC provided jobs for about 3 million young men. There are some who believe a similar program could be successful today in providing honest work for young men who are unemployed or involved with drugs. It might give them a purpose in life, as it did those 3 million desperate souls in another age.
Our CCC Park now has no swimming facilities. The beach was closed about the time the municipal pool was built in Lions West Park, but you can still find remnants of the old bathhouse foundation where a fishing dock now stands. The lake is a popular fishing spot. Family gatherings are held in the park frequently. Camp Tan Da Ko, originally built for the use of Camp Fire and Bluebird organizations, was added in the 1950s. The park has a quiet beauty and a charm all its own. Only last month, the historic old Episcopal church building was moved to a site overlooking the lake at CCC Park, and it will only enhance the potential uses of the facility.
Although Perry community residents had a sense of affection for the young CCC workers here in 1934-35, there was little opportunity for interaction between them. The men put in long, hard days, and welcomed bunk time after each evening meal. Weekends were spent writing letters or lounging. Most of them sent a large portion of their $30 monthly pay checks to their families back home, and that did not allow much for entertainment, even if the local movies were priced at around 25 cents. They played softball in the town league, but otherwise there was very little direct connection with the local populace. Their work spoke for itself then, and today it still gives us a visual reminder of what their hands created. They left us with a credo, too: Take care of the natural beauty and resources that have been entrusted to us.
My thanks to Calvin Kelley for suggesting the CCC Park history as a subject for this column.