Monday, May 19, 2014

Wanda Evaige, 1933-2014

Wanda Jo Evaige

Wanda Evaige Loved Frederick 
Some people are content to live quiet lives. Others live bold lives, continually looking for new challenges, new experiences, and new ways to shape the world around them. That’s how Wanda Evaige lived her life.
There was nothing quiet about Wanda. She was a force to be reckoned with!
When Wanda died last week at age 80, her passing marked the end of an era in Frederick. That’s because, throughout her life, she was active in many parts of the community. She was never idle, she was always involved, and she was always outspoken. There was nothing shy about Wanda.
Wanda had a huge number of friends. I’m pleased that, for almost 40 years, I was one of them.
I first knew Wanda when I came home to Frederick after college in the mid-1970s to work in the local school system. Wanda was teaching in the open classroom at Prather Brown Center in those days (open classrooms were a passing educational fad in the ‘70s), but she soon moved to Central Elementary where she taught music until her retirement. I think that’s where she was happiest.
Over the years she taught thousands of young Frederick students from her music classroom – the old Central Grade School Auditorium.
She loved that old school. When the old Central Grade building was torn down just a couple of years ago, I think Wanda took the building’s demise harder than anyone.
She had a passion for Frederick, for education, for history, and for her friends. She loved young people and gave piano lessons in her home for decades after her retirement from teaching. She loved to talk about her family, her growing up years in Frederick, the old Boyd High School, and her church – St. Paul AME Church.
She was civic minded, serving for decades on the Frederick City Council, and she was proud of the fact that she was one of the first female African-American mayors in our state.
Wanda was a Democrat – first, foremost and always! She and I shared that. Countless times Wanda called me on the phone to talk about politics. She lobbied at the state and federal levels for decades, she served numerous times as a Tillman County Democratic officer, and she attended the national Democratic Convention several times.
She was a great seamstress, and she took pride in her work. After retirement from education, she opened a small fabric shop in downtown Frederick and she tried to launch a company making men’s neckties. The business never quite took off, but she continued her sewing and embroidering projects throughout her life, often selling the items as fundraising projects for her church.
When the Tillman County Historical Society was looking for an old church building to move to the Pioneer Townsite Museum property, Wanda helped secure her church – the St. Paul A.M.E. Church, built in 1924. After the church was moved to the Townsite, she took pleasure in giving tours there, telling visitors about the unique history of the building and her church’s congregation.
She was an active member of the Frederick Chamber’s Board of Directors for decades, and no project brought her greater satisfaction than planning the Chamber’s annual Christmas Parade. She and Linda Haston were a team for years as parade planners. Wanda’s Christmas enthusiasm was contagious! Last Christmas, when Wanda was in physical decline, she could no longer help with planning the parade, but she did serve as parade marshal. She had a great time that day!
I will always think of Wanda’s big smile… and her laugh.
All of us who knew and cared for Wanda will certainly miss her, but her legacy of love for Frederick will live on.
Services for Wanda Jo Evaige will be held on Friday, May 24, 1:00 p.m., at the Frederick First Baptist Church, 11th and Grand, under direction of Jackson Funeral Home.
Wanda’s obituary is as follows:

Wanda Jo Evaige was born on July 9, 1933, in Frederick, Oklahoma, to the late Sam and Lenora (Oliver) Evaige.

Wanda was the seventh child born to this union.

She was the third generation of the Evaige Family to attend Boyd School. She graduated from Boyd High school in 1951. She played basketball, was a cheerleader, and member of the choir and band.

She attended Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas, which later became Huston-Tillotson College. In 1955, she graduated with a bachelor degree in music.

She taught first grade at O.E. Kennedy Elementary School, in the same classroom where she attended first grade. She later transferred to third grade at Prather Brown where she taught in Oklahoma’s second open-space classroom.

She applied and received the music position at Central Grade where she taught grades four, five and six. On the 75th birthday of the State of Oklahoma, her music students sang for the governor at the state capitol.

In 1981, she was named Teacher of the Year for Frederick and Tillman County and was the first black teacher to receive this award.

She served as president of Frederick and Tillman County Classroom Teachers and served on the Legislative Commission for the Oklahoma Education Association where she lobbied at the state and national capitols.

Ms. Evaige touched thousands of lives through the children she taught in the Frederick Public School system.

Wanda was elected to the Frederick City Council in 1982, as the representative for Frederick’s Ward III. She was named mayor in 1987, and continued to serve and be involved in city and state government until the time of her death.

In 1985, she and the city were successful in receiving a grant to restore the O.E. Kennedy Elementary School to preserve the rich history and heritage of black education in Frederick. Her leadership and personal credibility brought stability to a community in need.

Ms. Evaige continued her service as the first Chairperson of the Tillman County E911; her personal diligence and persistence led the transition for a county with no 911 services to county-wide E911 services of high standards in short order. In 1988, she was appointed to represent Tillman County to the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments (ASCOG) and in 2000-2002 was elected president of the governing board. The same year she attended the National Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Georgia and represented the Democratic mayors of Oklahoma at the convention and was featured in a related photo and article in USA Today.

She was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her local membership was at St. Paul AME in Frederick and served as a conference trustee of the church. She represented the church on the State Council of Churches, USA and the National Council of Churches, USA.

Wanda received two appointments from Oklahoma governors: the first from Governor Henry Bellmon to the Oklahoma Constitution and Revision Commission; the second by Governor David Walters to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. She was later appointed in 1997, to the National Judicial Commission by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

She had served as president of the Huston-Tillotson University International Alumni Association and was the first out-of-state alumnus to serve in that position.

One of Ms. Evaige’s greatest accomplishments was when she was inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame for Elected Officials. She had been the recipient of numerous awards throughout the years; Wanda once stated “I feel that I have fulfilled my mother’s dream. She lived to see me teach my first year, and I feel I am what she would had been, if she had been given the chance. When I received Oklahoma’s Human Rights Award, I knew that she would have been really proud of me. My membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has had a major impact on my life. I supported young girls in college in various ways, from transportation to and from college, to clothing and developing motivational skills. I am a 50-year member. In 1968, I took on the leadership in getting the first Southwest Oklahoma chapter established in Lawton, Oklahoma. I was on the first national committee of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Connection, a political action committee. I have learned so much by being involved in Service.”

She spent many hours advocating for municipal and humanitarian issues; she was well known at the Oklahoma Capitol and in Washington, D.C. for her passionate advocacy of rural issues such as housing and jobs creation. Her level of commitment and positive influence has done much good for the citizens of Frederick, southwest and all of Oklahoma.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

2014 Abernathy Day

Jaye McLaughlin (left) as Jessie Pearl Abernathy and Fred Peters (right) as Jack Abernathy visit with Frederick youngster Jake Schreiner (center) who portrayed Bud Abernathy at last year’s Abernathy Day. The car is a 1910 Brush Runabout like the one that Bud and Temple Abernathy drove from New York City to Oklahoma in 1910.
Abernathy Day Dinner Set for June 7
The Tillman County Historical Society’s 2014 Abernathy Day Dinner will be held Saturday evening, June 7, 6:00 p.m. at the Pioneer Townsite Museum in Frederick.
In addition to a complete chuck wagon BBQ dinner, the event will feature two acclaimed storytellers who will perform as early Frederick area settlers Jack and Jessie Pearl Abernathy.
Fred E. Peters will portray Jack “Catch ‘em Alive” Abernathy, famous wolf hunter and friend to Theodore Roosevelt. Abernathy served as U.S Marshal in Oklahoma Territory and later, the young state of Oklahoma. Jaye McLaughlin will portray Jessie Pearl Abernathy, Jack’s wife and mother to his six children.
They will present an original program titled “The Intrepid Adventurers: Catch ‘Em Alive and the Boys”. They plan to perform this program at the National Storytelling Conference in Phoenix this July. Peters and McLaughlin live in in Fort Worth, Texas, and have told the story of the Abernathys in many performances to school and civic organizations throughout the region.
They are associated with Tipi Storytellers and are members of the Tejas Storytelling Association and the Tarrant Area Guild of Storytellers.
The dinner and performance will be held on the beautiful museum grounds east of the townsite’s red barn. Ticketholders should bring their own lawn chairs.
Tickets to the dinner are $15 for adults and $7 for children 10 and under. All proceeds will be used for operations of the Pioneer Townsite Museum.
Tickets will be sold through Friday, June 6, at the Pioneer Townsite Museum’s general store.
Tickets are also available at the following Frederick businesses: Frederick ACE Hardware, KC’s Gift Shop, BancFirst, First National Bank of Altus (Frederick branch), and Tillco Supply.
The tickets may also be purchased at the Frederick Chamber of Commerce, 580-335-2126.
The Abernathy Day event, held annually in Frederick on the first Saturday of June, celebrates the 1905 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Frederick for a hunting expedition with famous wolf hunter Jack “Catch ‘em Alive” Abernathy. It also celebrates the remarkable exploits just a few years later of Jack and Jessie Pearl Abernathy’s young sons Bud and Temple, including the boy’s 1910 trip from Frederick to New York City and their return trip to Oklahoma driving a Brush automobile.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Abernathy Story

Statue of the Abernathy Boys stands on Tillman County Courthouse Square in Frederick.

Story of the Abernathys 
      Those of us who are associated with the Tillman County Historical Society and the Pioneer Townsite Museum often find ourselves telling the remarkable story of the Abernathy family to folks who have never heard it.
     For folks who do not know the story, it follows. Links are to related past posts in "Tillman County Chronicles".
The Remarkable Abernathys
This brief account of the adventures of Jack Abernathy and sons Bud and Temple includes references to “Tillman County Chronicles” entries that tell sections of the story in detail with photographs.
As you read, click on the links for more detailed information.
Crossroads Ranch
The area that is now the western part of Tillman County, Oklahoma, was opened to settlement by land lottery on August 1, 1901.

One of the men who secured land in this newly settled part of Oklahoma Territory was a man named John “Jack” Abernathy. Jack Abernathy had grown up in Texas and had an adventurous upbringing. As a very young boy he had worked as a cowboy and during his growing-up years he even worked for a while as a saloon piano player.

Jack Abernathy and his wife Jessie Pearl had homesteaded their ranch west of Frederick in the Tesca and White Lake community in 1901 (the nearest early post office at the time was Tesca. The nearby school was White Lake). Their first “residence” there was a piano box, followed soon after by a dug-out, and later a house. The couple had six children: Kittie, Golda, Louie (Bud), Johnnie, Temple, and Jessie Pearl.

In the new territory, Jack Abernathy was renowned for being able to capture wolves alive… with his bare hands.

His ability was so remarkable and so unique that President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a great adventurer, heard about Jack Abernathy and wanted to see Abernathy’s feats for himself.

On April 8, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt came to Frederick for a five-day wolf hunt with Jack Abernathy. 
The Wolf Hunt

After the hunt, President Roosevelt and the hunting party departed from Frederick on April 13, 1905.

The President had a wonderful time. On his return to Washington, D.C. he wrote an article for Scribner’s Magazine called “Wolf Hunt in Oklahoma” in which he described day-by-day the adventures of the hunt.

The wolf hunt forged a friendship between the Roosevelt and Jack Abernathy that lasted for the rest of their lives.

Less than one month after the hunt, Roosevelt appointed Abernathy as Deputy U.S. Marshall for Oklahoma Territory. He would be sworn is as full U.S. Marshal on March 8, 1906.

The Abernathy family moved to Guthrie, the territorial capital, although they kept the family ranch west of Frederick and returned there often. Abernathy relatives remained on the ranch.

The family’s happiness in Guthrie would be short lived.

Jack’s wife, Jessie Pearl Abernathy, died in Guthrie in May 1907. Her reported cause of death was Bright’s Disease.

Certainly, Mrs. Abernathy’s death coupled with Jack Abernathy’s adventurous upbringing combined to allow the remarkable adventures of sons Bud and Temple that came just a few years later.

In 1909 when Bud and Temple were just five and nine, Jack Abernathy took a trip to New Mexico Territory. When he arrived home, he told the boys about his trip and they begged to go, too. So… He let them go, alone on horseback, to New Mexico Territory. The boys survived the trip well and made it home safely.

The next year, in 1910, a huge celebration was planned in New York City to welcome then former President Roosevelt home from a year that he had spent abroad in Africa collecting specimens for the National Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jack Abernathy had planned to attend the celebration, travelling there by train.

Bud and Temple, then ages six and 10, begged their dad to let them go, too – on their horses.

In 1910 when the boys were ages six and 10, they rode their horses alone from the family ranch west of Frederick to New York City to greet the former President. Along the way the "little cowboys from Oklahoma" (as the 1910 news media called them) became celebrities of the day and met many important people of the time, including President William Howard Taft, his Cabinet officials, and one of the Wright brothers.

Their father was in New York City to meet them on their arrival, having travelled there by train. Also on hand to greet them were huge crowds of people.

In New York City they were part of a giant celebration and tickertape parade that welcomed former President Theodore Roosevelt back to the United States after his long trip abroad. The boys were treated like celebrities in the big city.

When it came time for the trip back to Oklahoma, though, they convinced their father to abandon their plan to travel home on the train. They shipped their faithful horses home by train. The boys drove home – in a brand new bright red 1910 Brush Runabout.

The Brush Runabout… and the Trip

The boys’ trip back to Oklahoma was remarkable and received extensive coverage in newspapers of the day. What’s more, the famous Abernathy Boys were used in Brush advertising.

The boys went on to have other great adventures in coming years, including a coast-to-coast horseback ride from New York City to San Francisco and a cross-country trip on an Indian motorcycle in 1913.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Abernathy Painting Dedicated at the Capitol

"The Abernathy Boys" by Mike Wimmer

Painting Honors the Abernathy Boys

     Tillman County's Abernathy Boys are now represented in the Oklahoma State Capitol.

     A painting of Bud and Temple Abernathy was commissioned by Representative Don Armes and Senator Don Barrington as a project with the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund.

     The painting by noted Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer of Norman depicts an actual scene from the July 1910 New York City tickertape parade that honored former President Theodore Roosevelt on his return to the United States after a long trip abroad. Roosevelt traveled to Europe in 1909 to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, and he had then traveled to Africa where he collected specimens for the National Museum. Even though he was no longer President, Roosevelt was still the most famous man alive. His return to the U.S. after a year abroad was met with a giant celebration, including the biggest tickertape parade that had been held in the city up to that date.

     Bud and Temple Abernathy, ages six and 10, had ridden their horses, alone, from the family ranch west of Frederick to New York City to be part of the celebration. In the parade, the "little cowboys from Oklahoma" (as the national news media of the day called them) were afforded a place of honor behind the President and ahead of Roosevelt's Rough Riders.

     Wimmer's painting depicts the parade scene, showing Roosevelt with New York City Mayor William J. Gaynor riding in the back of a carriage, followed by Bud and Temple Abernathy riding their Oklahoma ponies. The Rough Riders are shown marching behind the boys.

     The painting was unveiled during a ceremony in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this afternoon, May 14, 2014.

     I was honored to attend representing the Tillman County Historical Society and the Frederick Chamber of Commerce. Also present were Ray and Virginia Walker, current owners of the Abernathy's original Crossroads Ranch west of Frederick. Virginia also represented the Tillman County Historical Society. Also present was Dennis Hammond of Dove Publishing, publishers of the book "Bud and Me" by Alta Abernathy, the story of the boys' great adventures. The four of us were invited to stand with the painting on the floor of the House.

     Also present in the House balcony were Frederick native Leslie Blair, public information officer at the Oklahoma Department of Tourism; and Harvey Schroeder of Frederick, executive director of the Oklahoma Cotton Council.

     Rep. Don Armes made introductions and delivered comments about the painting and the story of the Abernathy Boys. Sen. Barrington also spoke, as did Mike Wimmer and retired Senator Charles Ford, president and founder of the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund.

     The painting will hang permanently in a hallway on the Senate side of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

     According to Wimmer, it is likely that fine art prints of the painting may be produced at some point in the future, in which case they will be available for purchase.