September 10, 2002
The Cherokee Strip celebration in September always has been the biggest entertainment event in Perry. That’s appropriate for several reasons, including the fact that Our Town is the only one in the whole Strip that has never failed to salute our pioneer heritage every year since 1893. Perry area people are proud of those early settlers who made the run, or those who came soon after them, and it is fitting that we have a good time on this anniversary every year. We salute those hardy men, women and children who came here trusting in the Almighty to make it possible for them to carve a home for themselves on the barren prairie that made up the Strip – 57 miles wide from the Kansas border to a line that ran north of Orlando and 200 miles long from the Texas border to the Cherokee reserve in Northeastern Oklahoma. The Cherokee Strip! A colorful name for a land of drama, romance, hardship and adventure.
A fillip to this year’s celebration is the gigantic salute being planned to mark a significant Centennial at Perry High School. One hundred years ago, in the spring of 1902, the first senior class was graduated from PHS. So, as our area’s roots grow deeper, we take pride in achieving a century of progress in education. And, added to that, is another Centennial – the birthday of the humble blacksmith shop presided over by a stout German immigrant and his two strapping son, Gus and Charlie Malzahn. From that shaky beginning in a dusty little shop just off the southeast corner of the square emerged the giant now known as The Charles Machine Works, Inc., where Ditch Witch equipment is created, manufactured and marketed throughout the free world. We are so fortunate to have a business like this in our midst. There could not be a better industrial partner for a town of any size.
Being a native son myself, I have an inordinate sense of pride regarding all the good points of this community. And there are many of them in addition to the few I have a chance to mention here in these Northwest Corner columns. The truth is, Perry is blessed with an abundance of wonderful people, the kind you’d like to have as neighbors or to lend a hand when things go wrong. I could not begin to name them all because many of the good works they do are not public knowledge, and that’s the way it should be.
Likewise, being a proud graduate of Perry High School (1941) I have an undisguised conceit when it comes to the local system. Our school has been home for many excellent teachers at every grade level and I was fortunate enough to sit at the feet of some of them. Actually, there were far too many to list here and inevitably I would leave out some of the best. So, if you understand that this is only scratching the surface, let me mention just a few. Thelma Brown was a playful young lady during recess at the old Elementary school and a good teacher during classroom time. Ditto for her sister, Ethel Knox. Hal Sherrod was a hard taskmaster but he made sure we caught on to everything he was trying to tell a rowdy bunch. Thelma Stewart, Fern Folger McCormick and Gertye Kobes Croka were some other favorites. Pearlie Mae Acheson used some unusual techniques to get her points across in Geography at Junior High. Floyd Pratt was an old-school professor who sneaked out to the teachers’ lounge between classes to smoke a cigarette, then returned to the classroom reeking of tobacco. Perry Carmichael was a dignified superintendent, as was George Spraberry. Professor Radgowsky was everyone’s dream come true on the podium when the band rehearsed. I barely knew Homer Hill but I understand he was another good superintendent. No one excelled like Elizabeth Green Rogers and Della Whisenhunt in my public speaking and Spanish classes.
Such lists could and should go on and on, but that will have to suffice in this limited space. If you knew those people, you have your own recollections to contemplate. Just let me say in parting that each of them, along with many others, made a real contribution to my life, and I thank them, one and all. As our PHS graduates gather this weekend, they will tell many tales of their years in the local system, and I wager that all of them are very grateful to our school, whatever year their graduating class represents.