“An Okie from Muskogee”
I was born on January 12, 1919, in Muskogee, Oklahoma — so I’m an Okie from Muskogee.
I have three sisters, no brothers. I was born there, and the next thing I know, I was living in old Mexico when I was four years old, and I remember that date exactly because my youngest sister was born there in Mexico in 1923.
My family came out of old Mexico shortly thereafter and I went to school in Mangum, Oklahoma. When I was ten years old, in 1929, that was when the Great Depression hit, and my dad lost his job in Mangum, and he got a job in Shamrock, Texas — that’s just across the border.
I finished junior high and high school in Shamrock. I graduated from high school in 1935 — I was 16 years old.
I worked my way through college taking dictation, and it just so happened that I won a scholarship at a business college in Fort Worth, Texas, and my agent there said `If you can take dictation and learn how to do it, I can get you a job at college that would pay for your room and board.’ So, did that in the summer of ’35.
When the fall semester started, I enrolled in West Texas State Teacher’s College as an agronomy major. I lived on the college farm with about 30-40 other boys, a lot of whom milked cows for their room and board, and I sure was glad not to have to do that, cause’ I was milking cows at home with my dad since I was 10-years-old.
I got my degree in three years and I was teaching high school mathematics in Texas; they were mostly farm kids. When the school year was over, I was anxious to get married to my childhood sweetheart, and teaching school wasn’t paying enough for that.
“I‘m gonna marry that girl”
I met Mary Grace Ellison one semester at college — she was the sister of a friend that I knew. I saw her one day drinking from the drinking fountain and said `I’m gonna marry that girl.’
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She came in 1936, she graduated high school in Segundo, Colorado. It wasn’t long till’ I was dating her, and somehow or other we got to talking about marriage. I was 17 when I met her, and that was too young to start talkin’ marriage, but we did.
She agreed to be engaged to me, and in 1939 I did marry her after I got enough of a job to get married. I took a position in Mesa, Texas as a bookkeeper, but you can’t keep books every day, so during my free time I learned how to be a butcher and how to cut meats and steaks.
We decided to go ahead and get married and struggle through, as young people were doing — and that was in the middle of the Great Depression.
1939, November the 26 — that was our anniversary date, and we lived together for 72 wedding anniversaries —72! That’s kind of a record in itself, I think, most people don’t get married that long. We were both 93 when she passed in 2012.
When we got married, we said we’d have two boys and two girls; and that’s what we did. We had James, Cherry, Mary Louise and Jon. I’ve got 12 grandkids, 18 great-grandkids, 6 great-great grandkids.
World War II
In `41 they bombed Pearl Harbor. In `42 I tried to enlist in the Marines, the Navy and the Air Corp, but they turned me down because I was 21 with two kids. I spent the first part of the War being a soil conservationist for the government in Texas.
They decided they could use me in 1944. They drafted me as a private and I went to basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma to be a field artillery loader. When I got out of basic training there, my Sargent said, `You ought to go to OCS.’
I didn’t know what OCS meant, but that was Officer Candidate School. So I went, and four months later I was an officer as a Second Lieutenant. And they were going to put me on the front lines in field artillery, but my First Lieutenant said, `You’re not going, the CIC wants you.’
I didn’t know what CIC was, but that’s the Counter Intelligence Corp. I went to Maryland to learn how to be a spy. By that time, it was 1945, and the war was over in Europe. It still went on for another few months there in Japan.
But they wanted to send me to Germany anyway. I said, `The war is over, I’ve got a wife and two kids at home, they need me, you don’t need me now.’ And they said `No, you’re going to Germany.’ And that’s where they sent me for two years.
My main job in Germany was to go over and keep a pulse on the German people, the local population and see how they were taking the defeat, looking for hotbeds of dissention. We were also looking for old Nazis to see if any of them were trying to hide out within the population there – never found one of those, though.
When I got back to the States, I found that young people my age were established with jobs and businesses. I felt a little angry because the Army had kept me from starting a career. They let me go in 1946.
While I was in the War, Mary took the kids up to her family in Colorado. I was sending money home, and when I got back, we went to Texas, back to my soil conservation job. We were living in Dimmitt, Texas, and there was no place in that town I could even rent a room. I took an old barrack and remodeled that on a small piece of land.
I got a job at a factory near Fort Worth building F4 fighter planes. I rose up the ranks of that place during the `50’s and got into cost accounting with them. Around that time, Martin Marietta sent a headhunter town to Texas who talked me into going up to work for Martin.
That was in 1960, and I moved to Colorado then.
Life in Arvada
When we were moving here, I was looking for housing in Lakewood, looking for housing in Arvada. They were building new additions there, in Arvada, and I selected one that I liked the position of, and that’s where I am right now.
There didn’t used to be anything west of us. At that time, there didn’t used to be anything west of Oak Street. The Ralston Creek ran down the edge of the division, and this old barn across the creek there, that was the edge of Arvada at the time.
After Mary and I retired, we built a house in Perry Park, down by Castle Rock, but my son Jon stayed here. We moved back to a retirement home in Arvada, and after she passed, I moved back in with Jon and his family.
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I retired from Martin in 1981. The highlight of my career there besides building rockets was being on the team that got the Mars Viking Landers built. I’ve been retired for 40 years.
First decade I was retired, I got together with a friend of mine and we went gold mining throughout Colorado, we went hunting and fishing and all of that stuff.
After being retired a couple of years, Martin hired me back as a consultant. They shipped me off to Virginia and Florida, Washington D.C.; they had me doing cost estimates on things I’d never heard of. I traveled around with Mary until I finally retired for good.
I took all of the correspondence courses I could. That’s how I got up to be a Lieutenant Colonel, was from doing those courses.
What Jon and I are doing now is every morning having a Facebook Live, sitting around a potbelly stove, chewing the fat. We started that a little over year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic since we weren’t going out or seeing anyone.
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It’s a way to let us do something with family and friends and talk about stuff. We talk about anything that comes to our mind. We have people joining us from Japan, Indonesia, all over joining our `Coffee Talk with Dad.’
I have poor eyesight, poor hearing, but I feel great! I can tell you the Gettysburg Address, the first 100 digits of pi — you can take any number from one to 99 and cube it and give me the cubed number, and I can tell you the original number within ten seconds. I don’t think 100 people in Colorado can do that. Nobody ever asks me to recite pi, so I stopped at 100 digits.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I’m interested in what’s happening in mathematics — I’m just amazed. They didn’t even know what they do now when I was in high school and college.
On a typical day, Jon and I do our Coffee Talk with Dad for an hour or so, then I listen to my current audiobook, then Sudoku.
Take it one day at a time. Don’t get in a hurry. Smell the roses and taste the honey. Life’s too short to be in a hurry.
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The first time I was in the paper was in 1935, in Wheeler County, Texas, for raising a championship cow. I sold those cows, and it gave me money to get into college.
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