January 9, 1997
This was the Fisherman's Sunday School class at the First Methodist church of Perry on their first anniversary in January 1950, as they posed for the camera on the front steps of the church. Attendance sometimes totaled around 100. Identities given for some in this photo may be flawed, and three are unidentified. Some of the rows are not well defined, but names are given as the individuals seem to appear in sequence.
Front row: from left: Dr. Delmar C. Hoot, John H. Mugler, Charles Kerr, L. B. Swearingen, Ralph Cooper, Rev. Jack Wilkes, Dorrance Barnes, Ernest P. Moore and Dick Kraemer.
Second row: William H. Meier, C. A. Brant, C. I. Brant, Sam McGuire, Harold (Hump) Daniels, Jimmie Cain, Orlan Lemler, Myrl McCormick, O. E. Griesel, and Lloyd Lambert.
Third row: Ivan Lighty, Chester Brewster, L. E. States, Lee Purser, Jack Smith, Dale B. Ream and Dick Mayes.
Fourth row: Jimmy Henderson, L. E. Plumer, John Treeman, Paul Harding, John B. Terry, Harold Smith, W. T. Henry, E. J. Kemnitz and Buck Johnson.
Fifth row: Unidentified, Harold Scovill, John Johnson, C. E. McBride, Dennis Bolay, L. H. (Doc) Beasley, next man unidentified, Herbert O'Neil, Charles A. O'Neil, Lawrence Hirschman and Harry A. DeLashmutt.
Sixth row: Al Bollinger, Edgar Dixon, Dick Eby, Pete Cutsinger, J. A. (Spitz) Bluethman, Clarence Bolay and Faye McQuiston. Seventh row: Olin Randall, Monte L. Jones, Curtis Tyler, Merrill R. Hamous, Everett Morrow, J. Val Connell, George Freeman and Buck Wyatt.
Back row: Charles L. Monroe Jr., Phillip Rhees, Art Coffey, unidentified partially hidden man and Bill Faris.
In the late 1940s, the Rev. Jack S. Wilkes was pastor of the First Methodist church in Perry. He was a handsome, young, dark-haired minister with a pleasant smile and a winning manner, and he had ideas for building a stronger faith among his congregation and within the community. One of his notions was a real-winner. On the first Sunday of 1949 he organized a Sunday morning men's Bible class which soon attracted an attendance of around 100 from many denominations throughout Perry.
At the time, many adult men stayed home on Sunday morning, at least until church began. Their general feeling was that Sunday school was a good idea for women and youngsters, but grown-up men were mostly put off by it. Jack Wilkes turned that attitude around in short order by providing men of all ages with a dynamic learning experience and practical ideas on Christian living. He called it the "Fishermen's Class," and the double meaning of that term drew some inquiring minds into its membership. Most of them loved to fish, but they found the story of the big fisherman, Peter, and the other apostles also had meaning in their lives. They became fishers of men, and the class grew in size very rapidly.
One of the innovations Mr. Wilkes introduced was coffee and doughnuts before class started. This is fairly common among adult classes today, but it was a new idea some 50 years ago. It created an atmosphere of fellowship where friendly, manly discussions took place before the lesson was begun. Mr. Wilkes chose topics that were Bible-centered but that also focused on matters of concern to adult males in a society undergoing radical changes in the aftermath of World War II. Many class members were veterans of that war.
Because the composition of the class was a mixture of many denominations, dismissal was always set early enough on Sunday morning that each of the men could go to his own church for morning worship. The class was not an attempt at proselytizing, but its appeal did lure some males into a new relationship with their own church, perhaps for the first time.
In due time, Jack Wilkes was assigned to another position by the presiding bishop, and the leadership role here fell to his successor, Howard Bush. After a few years, class attendance began dwindling. Many of the non-Methodist men became active in the Sunday school and Christian education programs at their own church, and a core of Methodist men continued the Fishermen's Class tradition.
There's more to the Jack Wilkes story than just his early ministry in Perry. He earned a doctorate degree and after leaving Perry he was named pastor of Crown Heights Methodist church in Oklahoma City. Later he was chosen to become president of the denomination's fine school, Oklahoma City University, during a time of its mushrooming enrollment. Dr. Wilkes was always interested in government at every level, and soon he was elected mayor of Oklahoma City. The church then severed his relationship with OCU, presumably feeling the mixture of careers was incompatible, and Dr. Wilkes moved on to a church-related university in Louisiana.
It was widely assumed that he was being groomed for the presidency of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but while attending a football game at SMU one fall afternoon he became a ill. He died of a heart ailment after leaving the stadium to get the medication he took for his coronary problem, and his passing took a toll on all the churches and institutions he had served during his relatively brief time on earth. His wife, Annette, still makes her home in Dallas.
Jack Wilkes brought a new zest for church activity and participation by men that reached beyond the walls of the First Methodist church of Perry, and his impact can still be seen today in some of the Sunday school classes now meeting here. He left his imprint here but it is also evident everywhere else his ministry called during a too-brief span of time.