February 18, 1997
158th Field Artillery National Guard Band is shown in this photo from the 1930s while the citizen soldiers from Perry were at Fort Sill for annual summer camp. Ivan Kennedy, standing at right in khaki uniform with breeches and boots, was the band director. His young son, Robert, is seated on the front row beside the bass drum. Only a few of the guardsmen are identified. Among them are Mickey Johnson and Warren V. Ryan, seated on ground at left in front row. The drum major standing at left is Bill Elliott Jr. Seated next to him is clarinetist. Henry Clark. Perhaps a reader can furnish other names. Pyramidal tents in background housed bunks for the guardsmen.
Ivan Kennedy was a skilled artisan in several unrelated fields, but his real love was music and he excelled in that, also. His principal instrument was the violin, and the sensitive hands that coaxed beautiful music from that delicate medium also knew hard work. He was slender and not very tall, a sparse, frail-looking man whose frame belied a seemingly boundless reservoir of energy. As the father of seven young children during the Great Depression, he understood the necessity of applying one's self diligently to stay afloat in a whirlpool of economic distress. He made a living as a professional musician in his younger years, but later the very practical reality of paying the bills for a sizable family forced him to look elsewhere for a vocation. I always had the feeling he would rather be stroking his violin or leading an orchestra if he could afford it, but he was wise enough to know that a life like that was not to be for him. Instead, he found other ways of indulging his love of music, like directing the local National Guard band and playing in a community band led by Dr. W. C. Marshall. On occasion, he also was invited to direct the Oklahoma City orchestra.
During the 1930s, Mr. Kennedy operated the Kennedy Tire Shop, a car, truck and bicycle tire repair business on the east side of Seventh street a half block north of the northwest corner of the square, about where the Dollar General Store now stands. It was a small wooden building with broad folding doors in front, providing an opening big enough for a car to be driven in for service. The interior was expectedly cluttered and disorderly with racks of tires in various stages of repair, empty rims, tire tools scattered everywhere, a tub of murky water where inner tubes could be submerged to disclose tiny leaks, Vulcanizing patches to seal punctures, and the pungent aroma of rubber, hot glue and red Oklahoma dust permeating every cranny. Right next door, where Boatmen's Bank is now located, was the OK Filling Station operated by Cleo Stout and his uncle, Ira Stout. The Kennedy shop was straight out of Gasoline Alley. Years later, tubeless and steel-belted nylon tires changed that entire aspect of automobile service.
Hazel Eby Kennedy, Ivan's wife, provided a comfortable home for her husband and children in a neat frame bungalow at 815 Tenth street. Like Ivan, she was a musician at heart and found time to give piano lessons to youngsters of the community as a means of supplementing the family income. I for one remember the parlor where their upright piano stood, and the patient instructions Mrs. Kennedy gave to some of her less than gifted pupils. In my case the lessons were exchanged as barter for items purchased by the Kennedys at the Beers family's City Drug Store. Bartering was the accepted medium of trade in those days when cash was scarce.
Private lessons of any kind were generally regarded as luxuries reserved for the well to do at that time, but the barter arrangement helped both parties to proudly avoid acknowledging just how tough the times were. Our drug store also had the same trade-out plan with the nuns who taught piano at St. Joseph's Academy and with Mrs. Florence Crowder, who also taught. My sister Gloria became quite proficient on the keyboard, although I never did.
In addition to fixing flat tires, Mr. Kennedy operated a locksmith shop and mattress factory at the Seventh street location. In 1938 he opened a roller rink on Elm street in a building which the Cooper Motor Co. Oldsmobile dealership later occupied. Safeway bought Mr. Kennedy's property on Seventh street in the early 1940s and built a spacious new supermarket there after closing the old store on the west side of the square at 317 Seventh street. (The "new" Safeway building has since been utilized by several businesses; it is now the home of Dollar General Store.) When the tire shop closed, Mr. Kennedy concentrated on the Elm street roller rink.
Skating was immensely popular with youngsters and young adults and the roller rink did a thriving business during the week. Rollerblades and inline skates were introduced many years later. On Saturday nights the building was converted into a dance hall with music provided by country and Western bands led by such as Merl (Salathiel) Lindsay, Johnny Lee Wills or some other popular musician. There in the subdued lighting and happy atmosphere, liquor was not tolerated. City police maintained a presence in the vicinity to make sure folks did not become too zestful. The Saturday night dances brought couples here from a broad area for a wholesome good time.
Still later, Mr. Kennedy moved the roller rink, dance hall and locksmith shop to a larger building almost directly across from his old tire shop location on Seventh street. The building had been the home of the Cramer Body Works, operated by Gerald Cramer, at 415 Seventh street, and in more recent years it has been used by the Ragsdale Hardware Store, which recently closed with the retirement of Mr. and Mrs. Larry Ragsdale. The Kennedy Roller Rink continued to be a popular recreational spot for skaters until it was closed. With its demise, Mr. Kennedy focused his attention on a picture framing business and locksmith shop in the middle of the north side of the square for the last few years of his active life. His son, Robert, grew up in the Perry roller rink and began operating his own business in Shawnee. It also was enormously successful. Robert, a 1942 graduate of PHS, played drums in the high school band and for a time joined a local dance band which played in this area. He and his wife were professional-caliber exhibition skaters.
Hazel and Ivan Kennedy were soft spoken and gentle in dealings with their children, the rest of their family, and their friends. None of the family lives in Perry any longer, but it is safe to say they left an enduring imprint. Because of that and because they were interesting folks to know, we have more to relate about the Kennedys of Perry when the next Northwest Corner appears.