August 10, 2001
Those recent columns about some of the dance halls that used to be located in the Perry area brought back a few special memories to John Skinner. John was a young polio victim when the disease was raging in every part of the. U.S. and he was left with a permanent disability. That never stopped him from making his way in the world on his own, or from raising money to fight polio. When the annual March of Dimes campaign was at its peak in the battle to wipe out that crippling disease, he served again and again as Noble county chairman, despite his youth and the physical problems that became part of the residual effect of his sickness. A partner in the campaign was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, another battler who refused to let polio slow him down.
In the early 1940s, John began staging March of Dimes dances in Perry to raise money for the polio campaign. He also persuaded John B. Terry, operator of the Perry; Roxy and Annex movie theaters, to put on shows with ten-cent admission prices, and most of the proceeds went to the charity. A magazine, Oklahoma Publisher, used a photo of the young John seated at Mr. Terry's desk which was piled high with stacks of dimes from one of those shows.
John remembers booking the Merl Lindsay and Leon McAuliffe bands for benefit dances at the Kennedy Skating Rink and the Perry armory. He also arranged some dances at the Perry American Legion Hall with music provided by Ashley Alexander and his three sons, Artie, Alan and Ashley Jr., with Hank Voise also sitting in. When John was a bit older, he became a booking agent for Mr. Lindsay. Once, when John was working for Marvin Jirous at the Sonic Drive-In in Alva, Merl brought his entire Western swing band there when passing through en route to another engagement. He knew John was there so he and the boys just went by to say '"Hello," John remembers.
Even before John began his efforts, March of Dimes benefits, were being held in Perry and throughout the U.S. The initial impetus came from President Roosevelt, who refused to be photographed in his wheelchair or being assisted to a speaking podium but still acknowledged his physical limitations. Mr. Roosevelt also popularized the healing pools at Warm Springs, Georgia, as a place where victims such as himself could receive therapy.
Yes, the old Perry area dance halls were not fancy and the bands weren't the greatest in the land, but they served a recreational need for many local folks, and they were always available for special projects such as the March of Dimes. Remembering all that makes one wonder, whatever became of those places? Here's a salute to John Skinner and his benevolent exercises that helped produce the vaccine that wiped out polio.