Topeka Capital Journal
April 14, 1999
When my brother Al and I planned our trip to western Oklahoma, we knew we’d see the place where we were born, and places where a lot of our ancestors are buried. What we didn’t know is that we’d also see Rollin Shaw, our next door neighbor more than 70 years ago in Oakwood, our birthplace.
We hadn’t seen him since the Sniders moved from Oakwood in the mid 1920s, but shortly before we headed back down memory Lane, Al’s daughter Claire, found him on the Internet, listed him as a resident of Dewey County and giving a phone number.
We called him and he remembered us, and after he recovered from the shock we arranged to meet next day at the Phillips 66 station in Oakwood. We had lunch, he took us on a tour of what’s left of the town, and then we went to the farm home where he has lived for the past 57 years.
Rollin is 82 now, and an outstanding tour guide, the kind old codgers don’t expect to find when they go back home. He kept me and Al, and AL’s son Richard, engrossed as he gave us a drive-by history of a town now struggling to stay alive.
There are two empty lots where the Shaw and Snider houses once stood. Across the
street is the wreck of the house where Dr. Edwin Sharpe lived, and where I was born. Two blocks away are the remains of a two-story house where Al was born three years earlier. It’s a disaster scene now, with both it and the yard filled with every kind of trash and junk imaginable.
There are about 100 people still in Oakwood, most of them living in mobile homes. In the front yard of one of them are three new John Deere combines, about a half-million dollars’ worth of machinery, owned by the custom harvester who lives there.
The only other new things we saw in Oakwood is the home of the Volunteer Fire Department, and it’s only partly built. The rest is waiting for more federal grant money, which means all of us can feel good about our federal taxes at work in Oakwood.
There is only one store on Main Street, and it sells seed. The building that once housed my dad’s drug story is still there, but just barely, and you can say the same for the rest of the “business district.”
Oakwood started dying when it lost its bank, where Rollin’s dad Clifford worked after the National Bank closures in 1933. Clifford was lucky, because when Franklin D Roosevelt became president, the Republican postmaster of Oakwood eventually was ousted and Clifford got the job – and kept it for 28 years.
The town got closer to the grave when it lost its school. The only part of it remaining is the lunch room, still used for town meetings.
Rollin graduated from the school in 1934 and went on to Southwestern State College, where he lasted less than a semester. He walked out when a sarcastic English teacher asked him what he was doing in college.
He went home and got married and became a farmer. He bought his first half-section of land for $3,200 and it included a house deemed unlivable. But he and his wife Evelyn made it livable and over the years remodeled it and added on a few times, and now it’s a comfortable home so high on a hilltop you can see the town of Thomas, five miles away. Evelyn died last year.
Rollin has done well. Driving to his home, he pointed out several parcels of land he said were his comma and added that on the first 320 acres there was discovered a sand pit that has yielded a million yards of sand, ranging from the original price of eight cents up to the current $1. We saw it, and you could hide the Expocentre in it . And not to be overlooked are two producing gas wells – and one dry hole.
From Oakwood we went to Custer City, where our dad’s parents, Alfred Snider, and both his wives, are buried. And, on the side of the building there where our mom once worked, you can still read the big painted letters; “Ed. Hockaday & Co. Hardware. Implements. Buggies and Harness. Paint’s, Oil’s & Glass. Pumps and Windmills.” They weren’t hot on punctuation, but that paint has lasted almost a century.
We went from there to where the town of Anthon once was, and found the church, Sts. Peter and Paul, where our parents were married. The building is there, but it now is a storage shed.
Next to it is the cemetery where are mom’s parents, William and Maggie Shively, are buried. Maggie died at age 34 of tuberculosis, when our mom was only 11. Her dad died at 48, but our mom lived to 96.
I don’t know about my brother, but I was disappointed that on the outskirts of Oakwood there is no sign saying it is the birthplace of the Sniders. Neither is there one in the front yard of doctor Sharpe’s old house. It seems to me the Oakwood Convention and Visitors Bureau is missing a good bet.