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January 26, 2001

Here’s another personal recollection provided by a reader who recently was moved by the Northwest Corner column concerning Mr. and Mrs. Fred G. Moore. The Moores, you may recall, were prominent residents of this community from the time he first came here in 1896 to establish what is now the Exchange Bank & Trust Co. But when the Great Depression of the late 1920s arrived, the Moores, like many others, were reduced to a new level of living. What follows is from the memory of Elfreda Wells, now of Stillwater, who did most of her growing up in this community. Here’s a portion of her letter:

“My Daddy (known to most of us as Happy Kerr) owned a hardware store located in one of the buildings near Eddie Parker’s Kumback Lunch on the north side of the square. The one thing I recall about the hardware store is a balcony at the front inside the building on which Dad kept bicycles for sale. Dad was known as ‘Happy Kerr.’ (His full name was James Charles Kerr, or J.C. Kerr.) He was a Lions club member and a city councilman. We lacked for nothing. Dad had built a very nice home on Ninth street near the Tate two-story gray home on the corner. We had an ‘Overland’ car. The rear part of the roof would fold down. Dad would let us ‘Red Hots’ (Perry high school cheerleaders) ride with the roof down when he drove us to out of town football games.

“All at once one day the banks closed and my Dad lost everything – the store, home and car. We moved to a rental house on Sixth street where the road curves on to the old highway to Ponca City and into Kansas. There was a service station on the curve and I believe it is still standing. We lived in the house directly across from the station. Dad could not find work and we ate potatoes, cabbage and greasy slices of salt pork.

“Dad finally was hired as a foreman building the CCC Park outside of town. Mom did the same as Mrs. Moore, walking all over town selling ‘Merle Norman’ makeup. Bless her heart, she would be so tired, wearing worn-out old shoes so my brother, Buddy, and I could have decent clothes.

“On Sunday evening, if Dad had the money, the four of us would walk to town to see a movie. It was a very sad time for everyone. My Dad began drinking and could always be found hanging out at Joe’s Smoke House. That’s when Mom, Buddy and I left via a bus for Tulsa. I only returned to Perry once back then for my Dad’s funeral. He was a good man. His pride was gone. The Depression killed him and I loved him.”

This is a sad story, but true. Perhaps for some of you who are too young to remember the Depression this will provide a clue to the depths of misery that sorry era brought to families throughout the U.S. Thanks to Elfreda for granting me permission to tell this story.