November 24, 1998
Perry's experiment with public housing for returning veterans of World .War II seemed satisfactory to most of the young tenant families who occupied the 20 units. Aside from minor difficulties, the city also found the temporary apartments in northeast Perry were an acceptable solution to the shortage of new homes for the ex-GI Joes and Janes. The units, in four two-story frame buildings, were erected in the area we now know as Jay Dauman Park and their administration was handled by a committee appointed by the city council and a resident manager. Rental fees were modest even by that day's standards: $35 per month for two-bedroom apartments and $40 for three-bedroom units. Those rates could be adjusted still lower if certain [sic] were met.
Jane Davis and her late husband, Dean, both veterans of World War II, were appointed the first resident managers. Mrs. Davis remembers moving into the units in September 1946 and becoming quickly aware that sounds were easily heard through the single-sheet plywood walls. "There was no privacy," she says. Furnishings provided were simple -- an ice box (not an electric refrigerator), a kitchen stove and a sink, plus standard bathroom fixtures. Floors were bare hardwood, but most renters quickly installed linoleum. A single furnace in each building provided heat for all the units. Downstairs apartments were cold all winter long while the upstairs apartments were almost unbearably hot. Most of the tenants suffered with colds during the worst winter months. None of the cabinets had doors, although many of them had cloth curtains. Each bedroom was just large enough for what was called a three-quarter bed and not much else.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis continued as resident managers until 1948, when she returned to work as clerk of the Noble county selective service board with offices in the basement of the post office. John and Rosemary St. Clair then became resident managers, and they retain many memories of that period. Mrs. St. Clair believes many of the old barracks were moved here from the veterans housing area that once covered the landscape northwest of the campus at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Mrs. St. Clair and Mrs. Davis remember the names of many of the tenants. "We had ministers, teachers, state employees and many others," Mrs. St.Clair recalls. Among the names remembered by both ladies are Mr. and Mrs. Buddy Warner, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Swearingen, Mr. and Mrs. Marden Winkler, Mr. and Mrs. VanArsdell, Mr. and Mrs. Bus Dotts, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Hicks, Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Marshall, Mr. and Mrs. James G. South, Mr. and Mrs. John Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Tate, Mr. and Mrs. Alan MacAulay, Mr and Mrs. George Butler, Mr. and Mrs. Tannel Shadid, Dr. and Mrs. Bill Simon and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ley.
The apartments were opened to tenants in the late summer of 1946. They were erected on land owned by the Perry school district and made available to the city through an arrangement agreed upon by the local school board, the city council and Mayor G.A. Ley.
In February of 1947, the school board and the council began discussing terms for a five-year agreement on use of the property. Members of both panels concurred unanimously that the veterans housing project should remain on the school land as long as necessary, but Dr. C.H. Cooke, president of the Perry board of education, said the school had another concern to deal with.
At the time, on-the-job training for veterans was a major, part of the GI Bill of Rights, the same program that enabled many veterans to return to school for their degrees. In rural areas such as this, many young men were back on the farm and were receiving training in agriculture practices. Dr. Cooke said the Perry school board hoped to erect a farm training center on the property where the housing project was located. The city council and Mayor Ley discussed the matter with Dr. Cooke and the school board but no formal action was taken, and the housing units remained in place until the early 1950s. By then, upkeep on the old barracks was a major expense and the city council believed private housing was sufficient to accommodate local needs.
Eventually the two-story frame buildings were dismantled and moved, and the school land again became a green park area for the use of the band and athletic teams. A baseball diamond was constructed there and in later years the park was named to honor the memory of Jay Dauman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gene Dauman. The youngster had been part of the city's youth baseball program until a tragic accident took his life one summer. Today there are no traces of Perry's veterans village, but long-time residents perhaps can still envision, in their mind's eye, the old Army barracks that once stood there, providing shelter for a small portion of the veterans who came here with their young families after completing military service in World War II.