October 17, 1996
By the year 1919, some thought Perry's growth had reached a plateau. Gone were the exhilarating times that followed the city's overnight birth on September 16, 1893, the day the Cherokee Outlet was opened to settlement. The spirit of those days, when every stage of development was an exciting new experience, had been tempered with time and the momentum of forward thrust had been greatly decelerated. The business community was restless and seeking some way to regain the old zeal.
As time drew near for biennial municipal elections in the spring of 1919, that feeling of ennui was driving some of the town's leaders to look for officials who could return a sense of momentum to the city of Perry. Urged on by the weekly Perry Republican and its doggedly determined editor, Judge E.W. Jones, a group of non-partisan leaders put together a coalition and offered a slate of businessmen who filed for every city office up for election. Their intention was to do away with "a period of inactivity" and provide a city ticket from top to bottom made up of representative businessmen, according to a front page news story in The Republican on March 13, 1919.
The newspaper story continued: "Whatever may be the merits or shortcomings of the present administration, it is a fact that the business interests have never been behind it with support or advice. The result has been nothing done for the real advancement of the city's interests and ... the regular grind of routine work that has been necessary each night and day just to keep the municipal machine going." Such marathon subjective sentences were commonplace in front page news stories of the day, and the editorial page kept up the drumbeat.
No charges were made of fraud, deception or corruption by the existing administration; it was merely an expression of the business community's desire to get things moving here once again. The coalition felt progress was at a standstill and new ideas were needed.
The non-partisan ticket included these men, none of them identified by political affiliation:
For mayor -- W.E. Johnston, a produce dealer.
For ward one council members -- John Marshall, freight agent for the Santa Fe Railroad, and John Ruth, retired farmer who had lived southeast of town for 20 years.
For ward two council members -- C.D. Jensen, cashier of the First National Bank; and W.R. Fry, proprietor of the Palace Market and a former city mayor.
For ward three council members -- John Hansen, cashier of the Bank of Commerce; and Jim Lobsitz of the Lobsitz Hardware Store.
For ward four council members -- George Newton of Christoph & Newton Furniture & Undertakers; and J.S. McCormick, described by the paper as "an old-time educated councilman."
"The citizens and taxpayers, and as well the farmers of the county and other county interests at large, are to be congratulated on having such a group of men in charge of our city," Judge Jones wrote. "No salary would tempt them to run and every man is making a sacrifice of his personal affairs in accepting these offices. The many projects for the city's good that have been long discussed will now be put into action." Again, these quotes are from front page news stories, not the editorial page.
The city election, on March 20, 1919, promised to be historic in more ways than one. Women's suffrage had been instituted and a heavy registration of women voters was recorded in Perry that spring. That fact plus the heralded non-partisan slate of candidates made it seem that there would be a heavy turnout at the polls. However, the only contest was in the ward one council race. None of the other candidates had any opposition. Still, precinct officials were dismayed when very few voters of either sex or party affiliation took the time or trouble to cast their ballot. It was but another demonstration of the lethargy affecting the city.
When the handful of ballots had been counted, these were declared the winners:
Mayor -- W.E. Johnston.
City clerk -- F.F. Busch.
City treasurer -- G.A. Ley.
Ward one councilmen - John Marshall and Ed Marshall.
Ward two councilmen -- W.R. Fry and C.D. Jensen.
Ward three councilmen -- J.A. Hansen and Jim Lobsitz.
Ward four councilmen - George Newton and J.S. McCormick.
School board elections were held the same day. Everett Nelson and T.C. Goley were elected board members and C.D. Benight was named school district treasurer. In ward one, where the only city council contest existed, John and Ed Marshall defeated Stoddard and Rather. The newspaper reported "only a few more than 100 votes" were cast, as the non-partisan coalition got an early sample of how deep the community's apathy ran. Nevertheless, the coalition happily proclaimed victory and told citizens to took forward to renewed municipal vigor.
"The new city officials are recognized as about the best set of men that ever controlled (Perry's) municipal affairs," Judge Jones wrote for his front page report, "combining ability with enterprise and we can look forward to many improvements within the next year for the benefit of the city and taxpayers."
Editor Jones correctly predicted that Perry would again be on the move. We were, along with the rest of the U.S.A. Indeed, the roaring '20s brought an unprecedented era of prosperity to the entire country and Perry shared in that mushrooming economy. Our non-partisan coalition may not have been responsible for all the boom in the nation's business, but they undoubtedly contributed to our well being in this Cherokee Strip community. It was an interesting time.