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February 12, 2002

The 100th anniversary of anything is a big event and the PHS Alumni Association is trying to make sure the centennial year of our local high school is properly recognized. A handful of former students is ramrodding the project but they need help. A lot of help. If you’ve ever been involved with the organization of a family reunion or a class reunion, you know what kind of headaches can be encountered. And this centennial celebrates all of the 100 senior classes that have graduated from Perry high, so you know the usual problems are multiplied many times over on this special occasion. If you are willing to lend a hand, contact Delores Mitchell or someone else at the PHS Alumni Association office on the south side of the square any Wednesday afternoon. You won’t have to do any heavy lifting, but you will need to dedicate some time to assist in rounding up a few of the loose ends.

The late Ethel Knox, the daughter of a true Noble county pioneer, taught social science subjects in the Perry school system for many years. History was one of her favorite topics and the history of this area was at the head of the list. In 1937 she wrote a thesis on “The Beginning of Perry, Oklahoma,” as part of the requirements for a master of arts degree at Oklahoma A.&M. College. It is still a very lucid, well-organized treatise on the early years of this community. She was a teacher, so the history of local schools was a subject very dear to her heart. The thesis has only 61 pages, including the bibliography, but it is chockfull of factual information about the earliest days in Perry.

Thinking about the school’s centennial year, I turned to Miss Knox’s thesis, as I have many times previously, and found it to be still a veritable fountain of well-researched facts. Miss Knox introduced the subject with this statement:

“As things were in a more or less chaotic condition (after the opening), it is impossible to get a complete history of the growth of the schools in the early days. However, the settlers made various provisions for schooling. Short terms were maintained in all sorts of places – dugouts, sod houses, shanties and tents. Those early schools were greatly handicapped for want of space and in many instances they were far from inviting as to conveniences and equipment.”

If you have visited the restored Rose Hill country school on the grounds of our wonderful Cherokee Strip Museum you can perhaps glimpse what it was like in those pioneer schools. In the portion quoted above, Miss Knox is talking about conditions as they existed even before the old one-room school houses emerged on the scene. Our ancestors were truly concerned about educating the children who came to this part of the Cherokee Strip. They recognized the importance of schools and they took steps to insure the cultural growth, understanding and development of the young people who assumed the mantle of leadership in due time. We’ll have more about early school days in Noble county in a future column.