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April 6, 1996

Congratulations to our city officials for fixing the traffic lights around the square. Workmen finished the job Thursday afternoon and now we have a real traffic system once again in the downtown area. Those blinking red lights had been in use for so long that it took a little while to readjust to the green-amber-red sequence once more. A friend suggests that since we now have that problem solved, let's see what we can do about getting some more rain.

The public's craving for memorabilia from the past seems to be unsated and growing steadily. Martha Casteel is getting ready to open a "This and That" shop on the north side of the square, featuring antiques and collectibles and adding to Perry's list of places that fascinate visitors. There is a growing market for items of historic interest that are indigenous to a particular area, such as the Cherokee Strip.

Strolling around the square one day last week, I met a lady -- visiting here from Owasso. She told me she has been here several times and always looks forward to browsing through such shops. Although she may not make a major purchase in each store, she generally finds something in some store that she can't live without and considers that a minor triumph. We have dozens of such visitors regularly and the number will continue to grow as we learn new ways to lure them off the highways.

Pawnee, our smaller neighbor to the east (pop. 2197), has done an outstanding job of developing its tourism. appeal. Pawnee's efforts have been mostly homegrown, and the story of their accomplishment is one that we should study carefully. It has a direct application to our hopes and dreams here in Perry.

The Pawnee success story is the feature article in the current issue of our state's excellent official magazine, Oklahoma Today, and it is interesting reading. The title is right to the point: "Pawnee -- the Can-Do Town." A short time back Pawnee residents recognized the value of their heritage and revived the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show as an annual summer event. It is held on six consecutive summer weekends against a backdrop of buffalo and native stone at the Pawnee Bill Ranch on the outskirts of town. By year's end, it is expected that well over 100,000 people have come to see the show, tour Pawnee Bill's sandstone mansion and ranch, and peruse the authentic cowboy and American Indian arts and crafts in the stores that line the town's main street.

Darrell Gambill, president of the Chamber of Commerce, remembers when there weren't but a couple of cars in town. "Now most days, you can't even find a parking space, he says. Outside professional talent was first utilized for the Wild West Show, but for economic reasons that did not quite work out. So, to make it happen, local folks pitched in and staged the entire production themselves with hometown volunteers.

Incredibly, the show had the gloss and sheen of a professional performance and huge crowds attended each night throughout the summer. Shows were limited to weekend performances, and the hometown trick riders, stunt men, musicians and all others who took part had a ball. The Wild West Show became a keystone of Pawnee's renaissance.

Meanwhile, in the town's once-forlorn looking business district around the square, a new sense of pride infused merchants who were already there and served as a catalyst to bring in new enterprises. Store fronts were painted and generally refurbished, broken sidewalks and curbs were rebuilt and the old town developed a fresh look, though it was still authentically American West.

D. Jo Ferguson, publisher of the weekly Pawnee Chief newspaper, sensed something changing when then-Gov. David Walters, accompanied by several state senators and congressman, visited Pawnee in the spring of 1993 as part of the Cherokee Strip centennial commemoration. "You could feel something happening that day," Jo says. "People were starting to get excited about Pawnee again."

Some 200 people volunteered to assist in preparing downtown and the Pawnee Bill Ranch for the centennial celebration. "The lawns were mowed, the buildings were refurbished, the whole town was cleaned up," Jo says. "And everybody chipped in. It was a whole community effort. That day is when things really started to happen in Pawnee." Perry would do well to borrow some of that spirit in time for our own cleanup drive on April 13. Help is needed. Check with Cindy Rice for details on how you can be part of that project.

One of the new businesses that came to Pawnee was Miss Lillie's Tea Room, operated by Sharon Sample, which quickly became a major tour bus attraction. Featuring excellent sandwiches, soup, homemade pies and candy, plus frontier days atmosphere, the restaurant brought a large number of diners to Pawnee each day. Sadly, Miss Lillie's has now moved to Stillwater, but Pawnee's development continues unfazed. Something else will take the place of the tea room.

There is no real reason why Perry cannot match or exceed the great turnaround Pawnee is experiencing. We have the people and the potential. Do we have the energy and the motivation to do it? Perry Main Street, the Perry Development Coalition and the Perry Chamber of Commerce are all trying to take us along that path. If we listen to the workers and leaders in those organizations and put our shoulders to the wheel, we can become one of those "success stories" and folks will be reading about us in a future issue of Oklahoma Today. Let's make a united effort to reach that goal.

Welcome to the Perry business community, Martha Casteel.