March 17, 1998
In the process of compiling information recently for a series of columns about the construction of Perry Stadium in 1938-39, I came across several unrelated matters which made me realize that the year 1938 was one of those watershed times of major news events in this community. Most of the information was found, of course, in the microfilm files of The Perry Daily Journal, but where else would you expect to find that type of historical data in a complete and reliable form?
The overriding, oppressive mood of that year was a result of the Great Depression in Perry and throughout the land. We were not yet close enough to World War II to realize that such a terrible conflict was also going to bring back good economic times, so we reeled numbly with the punches and listened hopefully to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he tried patiently to comfort our fears and re-invent the American dream. "Good news" was welcome in any form, and our local newspaper placed emphasis each day on all the positive aspects it could find to celebrate. The stadium project, a $100,000 WPA bonanza secured for us by dedicated local civic leaders, certainly was just such a story. The community received news of that project with great joy and anticipation.
But other things were happening in 1938 to make the residents of this little city aware that others knew we existed and that folk in Perry were recognized elsewhere for their competence, achievements and various other abilities. It was a matter of civic pride, a necessary part of the fabric of self-esteem even if most of us only share vicariously in the tributes. This is not intended to convey cynicism.
Three stories caught my eye. The first had to do with the selection of Howard R. Cress, the former Perry chief of police, to become head of the newly organized Oklahoma Highway Patrol. On March 5, 1938, The Journal announced that Cress, then a captain in the patrol, had been tapped by J. M. Gentry, state safety commissioner, to succeed Jack Hitch, who had been chief since the patrol was organized. All of this was part of a political struggle that plagued the patrol from its inception.
Hitch had been credited, or blamed, with being one of the prime movers in an attempt to remove H. E. Bailey, also of Perry, as deputy safety commissioner. The newspaper said, "(Hitch's) own removal as patrol chief is said to be the result (of that attempt), although he claimed to have resigned without being asked to do so."
Cress, a nephew of colorful Perry attorney P. W. Cress, left the police chiefs job here to join the patrol when it was created just a few months earlier in 1937. His wife, son and daughter remained here while he commuted to Oklahoma City, keeping the comfortable family bungalow open in the 900 block of Jackson street. Before joining the patrol Cress was a popular police chief in this community. He was friendly with youngsters and adults alike, and his nickname, "Howdy," was appropriate for a man who never failed to greet friend and stranger alike with a wave of the hand and a smile spread generously across his face. Later he was a familiar figure on the streets of Perry in his new patrol uniform, featuring a hard-brimmed military style cap in place of the broad-brimmed headgear now favored by troopers. Capt. Cress had commanded the highway patrol headquarters troop since its organization. Of him the local paper said: "...He has been recognized throughout the state as the crack executive of the patrol and it has been known for months that he eventually would be named commander of the organization."
Cress was the top ranking student at the first patrol school and as a result, he was named to command the second school. Most of the men who comprised the patrol at that time were trained by him and he inaugurated most of the system used by the organization.
The Journal noted: "Aside from Commissioner Gentry, most of the top positions in the state safety department are now filled by Perry men. H. E. Bailey is deputy commissioner, Cress is patrol chief, Bud Warren is purchasing agent and Frank Marshall, chief clerk. However, Bailey, who has been executive officer of the department since last July (1937) and who is given credit for putting efficiency and system into the layout, is expected to ask for an extended leave of absence in a short time. He is considering a number of attractive offers from other sources and probably will not return to the state department," the article concluded.
Such news gave us fodder for coffee-shop conversation and curbside comments in Perry as we viewed the eminence achieved by some of our local folks. It brought welcome relief from the grinding anguish of the depression, a release from futility, a sense of progress and pride despite the status of our bank account. More about 1938 in Perry in the next Northwest Corner.