December 21, 1999
As promised earlier, here's the first installment of my "Fabulous and Famous Perry People of the 20th Century." Originally this was intended to be only a Top Ten list, but very quickly it became obvious that we have far more than just ten, so the number is indeterminate. The list is totally my own creation, and I fully expect you folks will have some additions. I don't expect unanimous agreement, so feel free to compose your own list. The names are presented in no particular order. The only criterion is a measure of success in some field of endeavor, and field. Ready? Here we go.
Mary Jane Barnes. This lady was a Hollywood actress. She never achieved stardom, but she came close. In 1939, The Perry Daily Journal reported: "(Mary Jane) hit the big time Sunday when she appeared on a Hollywood radio program with Joan Crawford. So bright a performance did Miss Barnes, now of Oklahoma City, give that a rosy future in filmland is almost certain for her, experts in that cinema capital said. Miss Barnes won an elimination contest sponsored by the RKO Studios in Oklahoma City." Her parent were A.E. and Frances Barnes, who lived in Perry from 1933 until after her father died in 1952. After winning the radio talent contest, Mary Jane did appear in some minor Hollywood productions. She died in 1951.
Paul W. Cress. A federal district attorney, Kay-Noble district judge, Perry city attorney, World War II Air Force officer, bon vivant, raconteur, and a respected and eminent citizen of this city from his birth here in 1904 until his death nearly 90 years later. He practiced law here from 1929, when he joined his father's firm, until he retired in 1979. Paul had an endless supply of informative and often humorous tales about the early days in Perry.
Jack VanBebber. Gold medal winner in wrestling in the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles. Jack hitch-hiked part of the way from Perry to Los Angeles for the games. He reportedly never lost a wrestling match in his career. Member of the Helms Hall of Fame, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Jim Thorpe Hall of Fame; he was an outstanding collegiate wrestler at Oklahoma A&M (now OSU). After 30 years with Phillips Petroleum, he retired, moved back to Perry, and died here a few years ago.
Danny Hodge. This one could be a candidate for "Mr. Wrestling," or "world's strongest man." After graduating from Perry High School, where he excelled in wrestling and football, Danny enrolled at Oklahoma University. He never lost a match there and was an NCAA champion. He wrestled in Olympics at Helsinki in 1952 and was a silver medal winner at Melbourne in 1956. After graduating from OU, he won the Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing championship and then turned to pro wrestling, where he also ruled. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater during the first honors banquet there in September 1976. He was the cover boy for Sports Illustrated magazine. Dan still makes his home here.
Bill Pricer. We're still talking athletes. Bill, who died just a few weeks ago, was an all-state football player and a state champion wrestler at Perry High School in the 1950s. OU recruited him, and for a time he competed in both sports there. However, Bud Wilkinson convinced him to concentrate on football. He played fullback and place kicker for the Sooners, then was signed to a professional football contract. His most exemplary work was with the Baltimore Colts when Johnny Unitas was quarterback. Injuries forced him out of the game prematurely.
Bill Krisher. He attended high school in Midwest City and went to Oklahoma University on a football scholarship, but Perry can claim him because his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Krisher, were long-time Perry residents before they moved to Midwest City. Bill went on to play with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. In recent years he has been a staff member with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Many more names to come, including some more of our "in-laws" and shirttail relatives. Keep watching this space.