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March 17, 2000

Two totally unrelated deaths have brought to mind the recollections of different times in the ongoing story of Perry and Noble county. The principal figures stand out for distinctive reasons but the two men involved may never have met. Their footsteps were along different paths, even though each left lasting impressions on those who had the good fortune to know them.

In a different era, back during the 1960s, this newspaper also published a weekly edition for our neighbors to the north in Billings. It was called The Billings News, the successor to a long-time weekly put out by A.M. Miller and later by his son, Leon. Both are now deceased. They were colorful characters in their own right, but they are not the subjects of this essay. The Miller newspaper originally was compiled, printed and distributed in the Billings community. After Mr. Miller and his son died, publication was moved to Perry. Milo Watson, publisher of this paper, handled advertising and business affairs of The News and I was responsible for gathering and writing news items. I spent one day each week trodding the sidewalks of Billings to pick up information for the news columns. I made many new friends and renewed acquaintances with some old friends during the process. If it had not been for their help and their determination to continue publication of their hometown paper, my trips would have been futile. I enjoyed each day that I spent in Billings.

One of the "old friends" I met on the streets of that hospitable little town was Charlie Durkee. His wife, Dorothy, became a new friend. Both contributed greatly to my accumulation of news stories each week. Dorothy died a few years ago but I have run into Charlie numerous times since then. Our acquaintance actually began nearly 70 years ago when his sister, Mildred Durkee, lived at our house in Perry while she finished high school. As I have written previously, Mildred was about the age of my older sister, Jeanice, and she always seemed like my big sister. During her time with us, I met just about every member of her family on their farm near Billings. Mildred eventually married and moved to New Orleans where she and her husband, Jerry Osborne, reared four of the finest young men you could hope to meet. After her death a few years ago, the city of New Orleans named a new grade school in Mildred's honor. I have stayed in touch with the family largely through her nephew, Duane Durkee, and his wife, Cecilia, who live here in Perry. At different times, I have had the good fortune to share in some Durkee family events and one of the highlights at each of those came when Charlie, even as an octogenarian, demonstrated that he could still do "the splits." He was that limber. Charlie recently was diagnosed with a terminal illness and he passed away last week at Green Valley Nursing Home. During my last visit with him the other day, he was still grinning and telling fascinating family stories. He was the last to go in a family of nine children and he will be missed for many reasons.

An obituary last week in the Oklahoma City newspaper told of the death of Richard L. May, 61, a former Perry resident. His death was unexpected. It served to recall the years that Richard and Steve Daniels spent here as operators of a floral shop on the south side of the square where Vickie Malget now has Thorn Originals. Steve and Richard were talented decorators. They made many events festive occasions in Perry, then transferred their skills to Oklahoma City. There they were prominent in the annual Decorator Show Houses and they were widely acclaimed for their artistic creations. While in Perry both were active in the early days of Stagecoach Community Theatre and the local Arts & Humanities Council. They contributed ideas, set decoration skills and artistic endeavors of all kinds. Richard gladdened the hearts of many Oklahoma City hostesses with his unique decorating talent and he will be missed in that community, just as he is missed here in Perry.