Sunday, July 7, 2013

Notes From Oklahoma

This post comes from Oklahoma, where we are now, visiting. We’re staying in my mother Wenonah’s house in Oklahoma City. It’s so peaceful here by the lake. We brought more furniture and arranged for TV and internet service so we don’t feel so isolated. It’s sad to be here where my mother spent so much time, I also feel closer to her here, and there’s some comfort to that. I can still see her sitting there by the window, listening to the radio and looking out at the birds and squirrels playing in the trees.
We made a trip to Ada, visited with my daughter and her family there, and also with other family and friends, and we visited the Chickasaw Nation headquarters.


It’s hot here, not the dry Colorado heat that we’re used to, but a humid heat that weighs on you like heavy blanket. I’ve been running a couple of times though, and it wasn’t too bad. The air is cool, and there’s more oxygen in the air here. That kind of makes up for the humidity.


We spent a quiet 4th of July watching TV, but one item in the news reminded me of one of Pauls Valley’s claims to fame, the host to the International Championship Watermelon Seed Spitting Championships. I remember visiting Pauls Valley as a boy, and getting instructions from my cousin Phillip on the fine points of watermelon seed spitting.  


This year contestants travelled from as far away as Oklahoma City to compete, but the  championship was won by Darren Jennings, a Pauls Valley native, with a winning spit measuring over 34 feet.  


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Don Meets Wenonah

Don’s last year at OU was hectic. He was working nights at Peppers, commuting to Norman during the days for his accounting classes, and spending what little time that was left to study.  

Don enjoyed the other guys he worked with at the plant. There was Charley Kopp, Tom Pierce, Bill Beebe and Bud Bickford. They did their best to make a dangerous, boring job bearable. They all teased Beebe about breaking glassware in the lab. It seemed that no matter how careful he was he’d drop a flask or pipette or something, and of course everything he broke came out of his pay check at the end of the month. Finally one day he got so disgusted with himself that he threw a monkey wrench on the floor. He didn’t break anything else that day, so the next day, first thing, he dropped the wrench again. Nothing was broken that day either, so it became a ritual. The first thing Beebe did each day was drop that wrench. He never broke another piece of glassware.  

Bud Bickford was from Oklahoma City and he lived with his parents. Bud’s folks were having a hard time, and Bud helped them as much as he could. After he got acquainted with Don, he invited him to share his room. It was a good deal for both of them. Bud made a little rent money for his parents and Don got a cheap room.   

Don and Bud became good friends. Bud had a degree in chemical engineering from OU, and he was the chemist at Peppers’ lab. He was smart and dissatisfied with his job at Peppers though, as was Don after he had worked there for a while. They spent their spare time trying to think of ways to get away from Peppers and make it big. One of their ideas came when they learned that oil had been found on the island of Aruba. They dreamed of buying a little land there and lying out on the beach while the oil flowed in. It’s just as well that they didn’t though. After the start of WWII Aruba was taken over by the Germans, who were also interested in the oil there. 

Bud had gone to high school in Oklahoma City, and he got together regularly with his classmates. Naturally he took Don along with him. One of the girls in Bud’s high school class was Jeannette Moore, whose mother had been my uncle Haskell’s secretary at the state capital. My mother Wenonah had become friends with Jeannette, so she met Don and Bud during one of their visits with Jeannette.

Wenonah had taken an education class at OU, and some of the OU football players were in it. They were rude and arrogant and definitely made a bad impression on her. It wasn’t long before Don found out what she thought of athletes - my mother was never shy about expressing her opinions, so he didn’t tell her that he had played basketball at OU.  

Peppers had a softball team and Don soon became their star player and coach. Wenonah told me once about going to one of his games. She said that it was as though she were watching a different person. Instead of the mild mannered, shy person she knew, he was aggressive, running around shouting instructions to the other players. He seemed to be making most of the scores too.  

I have a team photo of Don with Peppers’ soft ball team. It has always made me laugh. You can see patches of sweat on some of the other players’ tee shirts, but Don’s shirt is totally saturated.  

Peppers' Softball Team, League Champs, 1939

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding a Job

During Don’s senior year at OU he began to think about getting a job. His major up to that point had been office management, and after visiting a few businesses he discovered that no one was interested in hiring a fresh college graduate as a manager, regardless of his degree, so Don changed his major to accounting. He talked with his counselor and discovered that it would take him another year to get the required credits, and it wouldn’t be easy because the courses would all be upper division.  

Meanwhile Don was losing his roommate. His brother Boyd was graduating from law school and getting married to Eleanor Adderhold, the Kappa girl that Don had coached on how to use her elbows playing basketball. Boyd and Eleanor were going to New Orleans on their honeymoon and had invited Don to go along. It would be a nice break, but then Don would have to find a better job. He couldn’t support himself any longer by delivering laundry. There were no athletic scholarships in the ‘30’s.  

I know. It’s pretty funny that Boyd and Eleanor invited Don to go with them on their honeymoon, but that’s just what they did. When I asked Don why, he said, “ Well, it was a nice trip. I guess they just thought I should have a chance to go along too.”

Boyd and Eleanor in 1838

The next problem was finding a job. Up to that time playing basketball had taken a lot of Don’s time and energy, and he had also relied a lot on Boyd’s resourcefulness to support the two of them, but now Boyd had a wife to support so Don was on his own.  

It was hard for Don to find a job in Norman because of all the college students needing work. He had gone to Coach McDermott during the second semester of his senior year for help. The coach had cosigned a loan for him for $80. $30 for the second semester, and $50 for summer school. McDermott told Don that he would be retiring as basketball coach after the next season to take the job of athletic director, and then he might be able to offer Don a job on the basketball coaching staff, but at the time being there were no jobs open.  

Don’s father was also trying to get him a job, asking his customers if any of them were hiring. Grandfather’s shop was right off the town square, and every man in town got his hair cut there. They all knew Don too, if not from high school, at least from his years as a star at OU. Finally Grandfather found a man who agreed to talk to Don about a job. His name was Peppers.  

Mr. Peppers lived in Enid, but he owned a gasoline refinery in Oklahoma City. He told Grandfather to send Don over to talk with him. After Don talked with Peppers he was excited. He had been open about wanting to become an accountant, but Peppers told him that was no problem, that he would transfer him to his accounting department when he got his degree. 
So Don went to work in the plant. Here’s a picture of Don with Mr. Peppers at a softball game. I have a feeling that Peppers may have had the idea in the back of his mind that Don would be a good addition to the company softball team:


Don and C. C. Peppers, 1938

For the next year Don worked nights at Peppers' refinery in Oklahoma City, and then drove to Norman to go to school during the days. It was a grueling schedule. The work at Peppers was dangerous too. Don had to inspect and maintain the pipes which carried liquid and gaseous petroleum products. There could be an explosion at any time. He also had climb into the big oil tanks which were sometimes filled with deadly fumes.   

Don didn’t tell me about all the dangers of working at Peppers’ plant, but he did tell me about one terrifying experience he had there. He was working the night shift as usual and it was raining. The rain was coming down hard and it was difficult to see, but over the sound of the wind and thunder he could hear the roar of an engine, so he went out to investigate. It was a big oil tanker bringing in a load of oil to be refined.  

Don could tell that the tanker was going to have trouble because there was a power line that crossed the road about half way up the road to the plant. When the weather was good they would have a man climb up on the trucks to lift the wires up high enough to clear the tanks. It was dangerous work at any time but today on the wet slippery surface of the tanker it seemed like suicide, but the plant manager said they had to unload the oil that night, so one on the workers was chosen to climb up on the tank to lift the wires. Luckily it wasn’t Don.  

As Don watched, the man inched his way along the top of the truck, holding the power line up with a tree branch. Suddenly his feet slipped. He fell on the tanker, and as he did he lost his grip on the branch and the power line fell across his chest. There was a flash of light, and then the man slid off the truck to the ground, dead. Don had nightmares about it for years.

 Don at Peppers Refinery, 1938




Friday, May 24, 2013

Don Finishes Out His College Basketball Career

We kind of take basketball for granted nowadays, but when Don played, the sport was relatively new. Basketball as a college sport started at Kansas University in 1898, where the originator of the game, James Naismith, became the first collegiate basketball coach. Naismith’s successor, Forrest “Phog” Allen, now considered the father of basketball coaches, was still the coach at KU when Don played. Under Allen the Jayhawks won 24 conference championships and three national titles. Since OU and KU were in the same conference, Don played against Kansas every year. At the same time, the coach at Oklahoma A & M, OU’s rival, was Henry “Hank” Iba, also no slouch. He was the first college basketball coach to win two national championships, and also the first coach to win two Olympic championships. Mike Krzyzewski was the second, but he did it with professional players.

Don alternated with Herman “Red” Nelson playing center his junior year. Red Nelson was from Norman Oklahoma, and when I attended college there, I roomed at his mother’s house. Here is a newspaper clipping and picture of Red from 1935.

Herman "Red" Nelson, 1935

Don played on the first string his sophomore, junior and senior years, and during that time the team got better, winning the conference championship his senior year, 1936-37. The reason he played guard part time was because he was  fast and good on defense. Don was the team captain his senior year, and he was a key to their championship. By that time he played center full time because of his height, and his ability to jump and to pass. When OU played Kansas State that last year, Don was the hero of the game, scoring the final basket clinch the victory. OU won the conference championship that year. Here’s a newspaper photo of him from 1935.
Don Gunning, 1935

The next year was Coach McDermott’s last year as OU’s coach. That was the year they changed the rule requiring a jump ball between scores. McDermott was against the rule change, but his fast break strategy continued to work, and earned his last team the nickname, “The Boy Scats.” Don was against the change too, in spite of ingrown toe nails and having to jump against centers three or four inches taller than him. I remember him grousing about it when I was little, saying that they would never be able to take away the advantage of the big man in basketball. He was right about that, but the jump ball was abused too. I read that in one game an especially tall center just tipped the ball to himself to run the clock out.   

Don graduated in 1937 so he wasn't on Coach McDermott's last team, but he did play in the alumna game. I still have Don’s Letter Blanket for basketball. He had one for track too. Wenonah used to put one of them on top of my bed covers on cold nights.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Don Makes the Team

Oklahoma University basketball squad, 1937
Don is third from the left in the back row.

Don had to overcome obstacles in his athletic career all along the way. I mentioned before that he broke his arm in high school and didn’t make the football team until his senior year. It seems like about half the notes in his sophomore year book, even the ones from girls, are consoling him because of his failure to make the team. But he did make the team his senior year, and was so good they tried to flunk him so that he could play for another year.  

Don’s college career didn’t start out much better. He went out for basketball instead of football in college, which made sense because he was really tall. 6 feet 4 inches doesn’t seem that tall now, but at the time he was the tallest man to go out for the team. In spite of his height though, he got no encouragement from Coach Hugh McDermott, who told him that he had no potential, and that he might as well stay at home. By his sophomore year he had made the team.
The game of basketball was different then. There was no shot clock in those days, so there was more passing, and players waited to shoot until they thought they had a sure thing. No one dunked the ball, and there were no extra points for shooting longer shots. Don said that a player would have been taken out of the game for attempting what’s now a three pointer. Scores were lower then. A winning score was often less than 50 points. 

Even without dunking, height was still important in the early days of basketball. Not only did it matter in shooting and guarding, but there was a jump ball after each point. Since Don played center it was up to him to get the ball for his team on the "tip." Even though Don was the tallest man on OU’s team, most of the centers at other schools were taller than him. He often played against men who were six feet seven or eight. It was also up to Don to jump for rebounds. He said that it took several years after he stopped playing basketball for his feet to heal, because his opponents would step on his toes to keep him from jumping.  

Basketball doesn't have the reputation for being as rough a sport as football does, but it can be rough, and it was in Don's day as well. He told me about a "hot shot" freshman rookie who charged up toward the basket during one of his first practices. Don taught him a lesson by raising his arm to block him. The boy was knocked off his feet by the collision and lost a tooth as well. Don said that another time they were playing at OSU and one of his team mates was hit as he jumped up for a rebound. He was knocked into the bleachers by the blow and as his body fell between the seats his scrotum was torn on a nail. 

Don's sophomore year, his first year on the team, was a tough year for him. OU's team was improving. That year they beat their arch rival, Oklahoma A and M, now known as Oklahoma State University. Don said the rivalry between the two Oklahoma schools was so bitter that when OU played at A & M, lettermen would stand along the sidelines of the basketball court, and if one of the OU players stepped out of bounds he would have to start swinging his fists to fight his way back onto the court. Luckily the game against A & M was at OU his first year. 

After the A & M game, the Sooners' winning streak continued in two back to back games against Missouri. The games were on Friday and Saturday night. Don fell on his right arm during the second Missouri game, and it was hurting and swollen the next Tuesday when the team played the first game of a double header against Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas. Don didn't know it yet, but his arm had been broken by the fall. He played the first game anyway. The afternoon before the second game he wrote a letter home to his parents. It was Jan 16, 1935:  

Hotel Eldridge
Lawrence, Kansas                                                     Wednesday
Dear Folks

          Well we played K U last night and they beat us 50 to 23. That is the worst O U has been beaten in a long time. They sure have a good team but they are pretty old and a lot bigger than we are. My man weighs 205# and is about 23 years old. Our team didn’t play near as good as usual. Browning only made one bucket. We play them again tonight and we’ll be in Norman at 8:30 in the morning.
          I fell on my right arm pretty hard in the Missouri game and it is swelled at the elbow about twice its normal size and it sure is sore and stiff. I got to play all but the last two minutes of the game last night but my arm was so sore I couldn’t do much. I made 1 basket, 1 personal foul, and 1 free shot, and I got the tip half the time. I couldn’t straighten my arm clear out or I would have got it all the time. I don=t know whether I’ll get to play any tonight or not, Browning says I can’t, but I think McDermott will let me play some. (“Browning” was Bud Browning, who was a year older than Don and was the star of the team that year. He was also from Enid High, so he and Don were friends. Hugh McDermott, the coach, didn’t let Don play in the next game. He sent him to the doctor as soon as they got back to Norman, and the doctor told Don that he had a broken arm.)
          Browning and I got a telegram from Miller, McCoy, Miss Morrow, and Miss Nellie Moore congratulating us on our Missouri games. They are all high school teachers. I guess that=s all now. I’ll let you know if my elbow gets any worse.

Love Don 

The broken arm put an end to Don’s basketball season, and after the cast was removed he couldn’t straighten out his arm. My uncle Jay said that Don carried a bucket of sand around  that winter to force his arm to straighten out. By springtime he was feeling well enough go out for track, and his arm was strong enough that he placed third in the javelin throw at the Big Six track meet in May.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Proudest Moment

My dad didn’t talk to me much about his sports career, and he never encouraged me to pursue any sport myself. It’s not that he wasn’t supportive. He would play catch with me, both with a baseball and a football. I already mentioned how amazed I was that he could throw a football, even without a thumb on his right hand. He built me a basketball goal on the garage and would play with me and show me how to shoot. As I got older and got interested in bowling and tennis, he’d go out and play those sports with me. I enjoyed watching him play. He moved with graceful, rapid movements, and could change directions quickly so you couldn’t anticipate which way he was turning, especially in basketball. 

Don never “exercised” though. He didn't walk or jog, lift weights or do sit ups. He would play golf or bowl with the people he worked with, and was always able to stay competitive with them, and with me, even as he got older, and he didn’t boast or seek any special status because of his accomplishments in sports. It didn’t seem important to him. It was as though it was something he had done in his youth, but was no longer relevant.   

Don did volunteer to “coach” my little league baseball team, halfheartedly. He would stand on the sidelines with the other coaches, and while the others would shout instructions to their sons, and push to get them in the starting lineup, Don just calmly watched the game. It’s not that I was all that competitive in sports myself. I realized that I wasn’t as strong, as coordinated, or as fast as most of my classmates, but I was intensely proud of my dad’s achievements, and I thought he should get more respect.  

There was one time that I got to gloat a little over Don’s prowess though. It was at a company picnic. I must have been 9 or 10 years old. He and Jim and I had eaten our picnic lunch and we were walking around the area, visiting with Don’s associates. The organizers of the picnic had set up some activities to entertain us, and I remember one that was simply a sledge hammer. Men would grip the sledge hammer at the end of the long handle, and try to raise the mallet end without lifting their hand from the ground. We stood there watching men try and fail, one after another. No one could do it. I begged Don to try, and finally he reached down and easily lifted the mallet.  

As we continued to walk around the park, we came upon some men playing softball. They were playing workup. That’s where you start with a group of batters, and a group of fielders. When one of the batters is put out, one of the fielders comes in to bat, and the other fielders work their way up through the positions until they get to bat too. Anyway we watched for a while, and I begged Don to play. I wanted to see him in action.   

Don said he wasn’t interested. I continued to beg though, and after a while I created enough commotion to get the attention of the men who were playing. They invited Don to play, but he turned them down, saying that he didn’t want to leave his family alone while he played softball. After that they conferred with each other, and then invited Don to bat without having to work his way up from the field, so he reluctantly agreed.  

I remember the experience as though it were yesterday. Jim and I were standing behind home plate as the pitcher pitched the ball to Don. Don swung on the first pitch. “Strike one!” The pitcher threw the ball again. “Strike two!” But the next time the pitcher threw the ball, Don didn’t swing. I think he had finally gotten serious. “Ball one.” Said the referee. Then the pitcher threw the ball right down the middle. Don swung the third time and connected.

The ball soared straight over the pitcher’s head, over the second baseman, over the center fielder, and landed in the bushes behind the playing field.  

Don didn’t run around the bases. He just calmly put down the bat, and walked back to join us.   


Monday, April 22, 2013

Mignon Laird

Lately I have been rereading my book, the one about my mother and her family, looking for errors, awkward sentences, etc., and I discovered a really interesting story that I just have to share, even if it means interrupting the story of my dad’s life.  

In the chapter I just finished editing, my mother Wenonah is telling about a time when she was ten. It would have been about 1923. During that year her older sister, Kaliteyo, who was thirteen, had a toothache. The toothache kept getting worse, until a swelling developed under her jaw. One day she was riding a horse across the yard, forgot to duck and a tree branch struck her right under the jaw, knocking her off the horse. 

Kaliteyo wasn’t hurt by the fall, but the limb of the tree punctured an abscess that had extended from the root of her sore tooth completely through her jaw bone. I remember the scar. Grandmother ran outside when she heard the commotion, and saw pus and blood running down Kaliteyo’s neck.   

Well, Pauls Valley didn’t have a permanent dentist at the time – that’s the reason Grandmother hadn’t gotten help sooner, but after seeing the huge abscess she knew she had to do something. It just so happened that a dentist had just rolled into town, in a Pullman car. I found a picture of the car in a Pauls Valley. Centennial brochure. 
The dentist’s name was Dr. Laird, who lived with his family in a Pullman car which he moved from town to town. When he came to a new town, he would have his Pullman car rolled off onto a side track and stay there until he saw as many patients as needed him. Then he would move on.  

My mother told me that Grandmother let her go along when she took Aunt Kaliteyo to see Dr. Laird, so she got to see the inside of the Pullman car. She told me that the inside was really fancy. It had beautiful velvet drapes with tassles on the pull cords, and elegant rugs and furniture.  

Oh, by the way, Dr. Laird pulled Kaliteyo’s tooth, and her jaw eventually healed, even though it took a long time and a lot of follow up visits to Dr. Laird.   

The other thing that my mother mentioned was that Dr. Laird had a daughter who played the harp. She told me that she heard her play and that she was very good.  

I found out a little more about Dr. Laird from a brief note on the Pauls Valley Centennial brochure. It says there that Dr. Laird’s daughter, whose name was Mignon, went on to become a professional dancer in New York City. I didn’t look into the story any further at first. It did strike me as funny to imagine Mignon running and leaping through a railroad car, trying to practice her dancing.  

But on rereading my chapter, I got curious about Mignon’s career, so I “Googled” her. Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? The first thing that I encountered was the Mignon Laird Municipal Airport, in Cheyenne, Oklahoma. She had an airport named after her! 

Digging deeper I found a book about the Katy Northwest Railroad which describes a local service they ran from town to town in Oklahoma. The book says that Dr. Laird used that service to move his Pullman car from town to town. Also, according to the book, Dr. Laird did a lot more than pull teeth. He put on “medicine shows” by which I suppose they mean he sold some kind of tonic which was supposed to heal whatever ailed you, and part of the show was Mrs. Laird and Mignon giving readings and singing, and Mignon playing the harp. It might have been at one of these performances that my mother heard Mignon play. 

In looking for information about Mignon’s career, I found a blog by a lady named Laura Haywood about the “Ziegfield Club” which was a group of ladies in New York who had performed in the Ziegfield Follies, and who would get together from time to time to reminisce. Ms. Haywood attended some of the club’s meetings and got to know Mignon Laird, who was one of the club’s charter members. Mignon’s told her that her act consisted of dancing with her harp, which she somehow managed to play at the same time.  

Mignon was also part of the cast of a broadway show called “Who Cares” which played for 32 performances in 1930. 

Finally, I found on the New York Public Library site a spectacular photograph of Mignon, playing the harp and dancing in the Ziegfield Follies!


Mignon Laird in the Ziegfield Follies - 1920's
(Files of New York Public Library)



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don, the Bully

Don worked hard in his classes at OU, but he also worked hard to excel in sports. He not only went out for basketball, but also track. He ran the mile, the mile relay and he threw the javelin.  

Don was exceptionally strong in his arms. He had boxed since grade school, and he worked on improving his arm strength. He told me once that he used to do 300 push ups every night. When I was little I asked him why he didn’t have big muscles like weight lifters, and he told me that they weren’t a strong as they looked. He said that he had beat one of the weight lifters at OU in arm wrestling. 

Apparently Don didn’t quit fighting at OU, and from what I can gather he was short tempered and used to push people around. I didn’t find that out from him. It was Jim who told me that Don's brother Boyd had pulled him aside once or twice to tell him that he couldn’t keep bullying people and succeed as an adult.  

Don still spent his summers in Fay while he was in college, and he was something of a hero there, especially after he made the basketball team. When I went to stay with my cousin Bud in Fay, his dad, Uncle Check, told me that Don worked at a dairy one summer, and that he could unload ten gallon milk containers out of a truck without taking down the tailgate. I guess working on the farm helped Don stay in condition. He told me once that the hardest work he had ever done was to dig a well by hand.  

Don at Aunt Laura's Dairy in Canton, Oklahoma
(Cousin Marvin Gunning on L, Laura on R, Don next to Laura)

One summer Don had a job surveying for the county, and he told me a funny story about an old farmer he met that summer. What Don was supposed to do was to measure the dimensions of each farmer’s fields. He had a chain of a certain length, and he was supposed to walk along the fence line and count the number of chain lengths on the sides of each field.  

Don said as he walked up to one farmer’s house, he saw the farmer sitting out on his porch in the sun. The man told Don that the sun was good for his arthritis. He said that his boys worked his farm now, because he hadn’t been able to work for several years because of the arthritis. Don asked if any of his boys were around, that he was going to need someone at the other end of his chain. The old farmer said his boys weren’t there, but he’d try to help. 

Don said that the old farmer walked slow, but they eventually walked around every field, and the farmer kept going, even though the chain was heavy and sometimes Don was almost dragging him along. Don said he was feeling guilty about putting the old farmer through such a hard day’s work when they finally got back to the house, but to his surprise the farmer had a smile on his face. He thanked Don for putting him through the work out, and said that he hadn’t felt better in years.  

I don’t think Don continued his boxing matches after he went to college, but he didn’t lose his self-confidence. Uncle Check told me another incident that happened at a rodeo they went to together. Check said they were sitting in the first row, and that one of the cowboys tossed a bucket of water on the ground in front of them, splashing mud up on their pants. He said that Don said something to the cowboy about what he could do with his water, and the cowboy said, “Why don’t you make me?” At that point Don stood up to his full 6 ft, 4 inches, and started to climb over the fence. The cowboy retreated.  

I used to try to imagine what Don was like in school. The stories I heard of him as a young man portrayed him as cocky and belligerent, a person totally different from my father. I never once heard Don raise his voice, let alone lose his temper. He was always calm, gentle, and understanding. He never seemed to assert himself, but people respected his opinions. He was well liked by everyone who knew him. He was a supervisor in his job, and he was elected to positions of leadership elsewhere. He was on the vestry at church, and he was president of the Petroleum Accountants’ Association of Oklahoma.  

Don did tell me one story about why he had changed his personality. He said there was a boy at OU, a member of the track team, who admired Don for his prowess in sports, but Don considered him a pest, so he bullied him and tried to run him off. He said that in spite of Don's attitude though, the boy kept trying to make friend with him, so he gradually decided that he was wrong. He told me, “I just decided I didn’t want to be that kind of person anymore,” and he and the young man became friends.  

This story is another example to me of Don’s ability to change. I think that was the most remarkable thing about my father. A lot of people try to change or improve their  personalities, but very few are able to accomplish it. Don did, not just once, but over and over again.



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don in College

Here’s a letter that Don wrote to his dad in Enid the summer after his sophomore year in high school. As usual he was spending the summer in Fay. His mother was there too and also his little brother Everett. His older brother Boyd had stayed in Enid with Grandfather that summer. Boyd had just graduated from high school, and had a job in town.
To: Mr RB Gunning, 803 E Elm, Enid Okla., June 10, 1931
From: Don Gunning, Jn 11, 1931, Fay Ok.  

Dear Father: Well I guess I had better write you a letter. I meant to write you sooner but this is the first time I have had a chance. I have plowed and howed a lot while I have been here. We milk ten cows. I ran the whole row this morning, but I got done and it is raining now. I saw Mamma Sunday a little while at Fay, but don’t know when she will come out here. Gene went to town yesterday and Everett came out with him. I am learning him a lot of things, he can’t milk a bit. He tried to last night and barely got the bottom of his bucket covered.  

Somebody down here died and Gene went to help dig her grave this morning at 8 and didn’t get it done until one thirty. This rain is getting worse and it’s hailing a little bit. Everett saw Virginia Parks Sunday and they had quite a time. How is Boyd? I wish I was up there with him. If you ever see a job up around there between now and time for school to start I would be glad to come home. I like this all right but I would rather be up there with you and Boyd. Is Boyd going to Norman (OU) next year? Tell him to write me a letter & tell me what he has been doing. Write a letter to me and tell me all the news and how you are. I’ll write every time I have time. Harold is sending a letter in the same envelope to Boyd. (Harold was one of Don’s cousins) 

Your son, Don. 
Scrapbook 9, P 1 

I probably should have put this letter into the blog about Fay or into the one about Don in high school, but it does fit here too because it shows Don’s attachment to his brother Boyd. I think Don’s respect for Boyd is partly what inspired him to turn down his football coach’s plan to keep him in high school another year, and to go on to college instead.  

Anyway, in the fall of 1933 after he graduated from Enid High, Don did enroll at OU, and he moved in with his brother Boyd. Boyd was quite enterprising. He had to be, because his father couldn’t afford to send his sons to college charging 15¢ per haircut. When Don got to OU in Norman, Oklahoma, Boyd had established two sources of income. He worked as a kitchen boy for the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house, and he also operated a laundry and cleaning delivery service for the sorority houses. When Don arrived they expanded the laundry service, and Don also went to work at the sorority house washing dishes.

Don and Boyd, about 1940

Don majored in business, and went out for basketball. After watching Don play at the first practice, OU’s basketball coach at that time, Hugh McDermott, pulled Don aside and told him not to waste his time, that he would never make the team. But Don had decided he was going to play basketball at OU. He had overcome obstacles in high school football, and he figured he could do the same in college. Don worked hard all that year, improving slowly and refusing to give up, and by the start of basketball season his sophomore year, he had made the team.  

Paying for tuition and for room and board at OU was tough, but with hard work and determination Boyd and Don kept themselves in school. Working around sorority girls was a definite plus. Boyd dated one of Kappa girls, Eleanor Adderhold, whom he later married, but Don decided that he couldn’t afford to date. When he became a star on the basketball team several of the Kappa girls asked him out, offering to pay the expenses, but he turned them down. He wasn’t going to let a girl pay his way.  

That didn’t dampen the girls’ spirits though. The sorority sisters all went to his games, sat together and cheered for him. They even made up a little ditty for him: 

To our athlete
So big and brave
About you constantly
We all rave.

 OU Basketball Team - 1937
Don in back row, 3rd from left

Boyd's girl friend Eleanor was a tall girl, and she was on the Kappa basketball team. Don watched her play, and then offered her some pointers. Since she was tall she got a lot of rebounds, but when she came down with the ball, the girls from the other team would take the ball away from her. Don advised her to hold the ball in close to her chest, to stick her elbows out sideways and to swing back and forth to force the other girls back away from her. She tried it, and it worked! She had no more trouble losing her rebounds. In fact, the other girls started calling her “Elbows Adderhold.” 


Eleanor, with Don, Grandmother and Grandfather Gunning

My dad has always been my hero. I admire him for so many reasons, and these stories are starting to illustrate some of them. When I was little I admired him most for his athletic prowess and strength, but as I have grown older it is his other qualities that amaze me the most. First was his determination. He made the OU basketball team and became a star through grit and determination, even though his coach actually discouraged him. Second was his ability to make up his mind and to stick to his decision. He decided that he couldn’t afford to date in college. Sounds reasonable, given his circumstances, but how many guys could have carried through on it? I certainly couldn’t, especially if I had been a campus hero, actually being asked out by girls.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don in High School

I don’t know too much about my dad’s high school years, but he did save the year books from his sophomore and junior years, 1931 and 1932. Here's his picture from 1932:

Donald D Gunning, age 17

Don’s older brother Boyd was a senior in 1931, and he was outstanding and popular. He was vice-president of the senior class, and a cheerleader. He was in the glee club. He played the trumpet like his father, and was among half a dozen chosen from Enid High School to go to the All-state Band. Boyd also starred in the senior class operetta, and was on the debate team. He was beginning to work toward his goal of becoming a lawyer. Here's his picture as escort for one of the May queen candidates:

Boyd Gunning, age 18
There were a lot of notes written in Don’s year books. There were a lot of complimentary notes from teachers, so he seems to have been a conscientious student. Here’s one from his English teacher:  

Don, I’ve always appreciated your attitude toward everything. You have some wonderful qualities, and I’m so glad I have had you in class. Always, Ruth Scott.

Ruth Scott, 1932

Don joined the math club his junior year and here's what his math teacher wrote:

Don, You get better and better. Since you’ve been through the real drudgery of math, now you should go on and take the fourth year where you can see the real fun in math. Sincerely, Grace Smith.

Grace Smith, 1932

In the 1931 book, Don isn’t pictured with either the football or the basketball teams, but there are a lot of notes consoling him on his tough luck in football. I didn’t figure out why until I read a note from a girl in his English class:

Don, Don’t forget the time you had a broken arm and you came out to our house and practiced for the Longfellow program. Remember me as a friend, Annabel Morrow.

Annabel Morrow, 1931

He didn’t make the football team because he broke his arm! 

Here’s the note written by Enid High’s football coach, Leon  R. Vance: 

Don, I have always said sophs were my favorites. I still do. A manly sophomore has such tremendous possibilities, and you are manly. Let’s work together and accomplish some real things. Leon Vance

Leon Vance, 1931

Lloyd Zuck was in Don’s class his sophomore year but not his junior year. I don’t know if he moved, or had to drop out of school. Here’s his note: 

Don, Remember me as a friend of yours. Remember the good old times we have had. If you try you will make the football team in 1932. You are a fine kid and a good sport. Always remember me as you gaze upon this handsome picture of me. L. Z.

Lloyd Zuck Kelly, 1931
(See blog post of Feb. 13, 2013)
Here’s a note from someone Don must have gone to grade school with:  

Dear Don, Remember the times when we used to go swimming in sewer creek, and also when we boxed in your back yard, and the good old days at Longfellow Jr. High School. An old friend, Jim Helton.

Jim Helton, 1932

And another: 

Don, I believe I’ve known you longer than anyone going to school now and we’ve sure had some keen times. Remember the keen times we used to have over on Maple with the ponies and how you used to whip Boyd’s bun? A friend. George Miles

George Miles, 1932

Don’s older brother Boyd was his best friend and mentor, but as a young boy Don was always trying to test himself against other boys, so I guess that included Boyd.

Don didn’t make the football team again his junior year, but he made the basketball team. Here’s a comment by the captain of the football team: 

Don, You sure have had plenty of bad breaks in football. I know you would have made the team this year. But after all I think more of a fellow that can take it on the chin like you did and then come back and letter in basketball. You sure have got the right stuff. And don’t forget bad breaks won’t follow you all your life. I know you will win out in the long run. Lots of luck, Dick.

Dick Gerren, 1932
The football team didn’t do so well that year but the basketball team won fourteen out of sixteen games and came close to winning the state title, finally falling to Cherokee, whom they had beaten during the regular season 28 to 13. The basketball coach, Perry McCoy wrote:

Perry McCoy, 1932

Well Don we had a great season this year. I’m looking forward to a good season for you next year. I’ve certainly enjoyed working with you, and knowing you. Next year we’ll beat Cherokee. Best wishes. Your coach and friend, Perry McCoy.

Here's Don with the Enid High basketball team of 1932:

Enid Plainsmen, 1932
(Don is in the middle row, 2nd to the left of coach McCoy)
I don’t have Don’s annual from 1933, his senior year. I know that he sang a lead in the school operetta like his brother Boyd, because he kept a copy of the program. Also he told me he finally made the football team as well as the basketball team, and was on the first string of both. He was actually a bigger star on the football team even though it was in basketball that he excelled in college.

In one game Don caught a pass and scored the winning touchdown. He told me that when he caught the ball he was on the 5 yard line, and even though he was tackled he struggled on across the goal line, dragging his tackler with him. Here's how football games looked back then:

Enid High vs. Oklahoma City Central, 1931
(It's hard to see clearly, but the uniforms had no leg pads, very thin shoulder pads, and the helmets were just thick leather with no cushion)


Football must have been very important at Enid High. That would explain the many condolences Don received the previous two years when he didn’t make the team, and also the following remarkable event, which occurred during Don's final semester. The school principal and Mr. Vance, the football coach, the same man who had complemented Don for being “manly,” approached Don’s father with a proposition. They suggested that they arrange to have Don’s teachers flunk him so that he would have to repeat his senior year and still be eligible to play football!

Grandfather was actually considering accepting the deal. He was always a big sports fan. I remember visiting him in a nursing home in his 90’s, and he had a radio by his bedside so that he could keep up with his favorite teams.  

Anyway, in spite of the pressure, Don turned the offer down flat. He proved that he was more "manly" than his coach. He knew that it was more important to get an education than to be a football star, and he had decided to join his brother Boyd at O.U.