I truly LOVE Our Town! That fact certainly is no surprise to anyone who knows me. In fact, you could easily say I have a passion for promoting our little piece of planet Earth we live on in north central Oklahoma! Kind of a self-appointed good-will ambassador?
To demonstrate my affection for my hometown, I have narrated guided tours of the community, whether it be via a large school bus full of SHS alumni from years past in town for their high school reunion, or simply family or friends here for a visit with us. I puff up with pride as I drive out and about, explaining all I can about Our Town, past/present/future. It is really a passion of mine!
Last weekend, I was presented another opportunity to do this tour-guide, alter ego role, by driving Chad around our lovely city for a couple of beautiful Sunday afternoon hours. It was on this recent outing, I will share a past school experience, involving an often over-looked Stillwater icon.
I will chat about our own Booker T. Washington (BTW) public school, 619 West 12th Avenue; a structure that ceased its primary educational function in 1956. The building still stands today, although empty and unoccupied for many years.
BTW was a major part of my public school experience during my 7-9th grade education in Our Town, 1959-62. As I sat in my truck recently with Chad on the south side (behind the school’s front facing north entrance) of the boarded-up, graffiti-painted old red brick structure, the memories flooded back into my head about my activities there, long, long ago. Many of you readers out there will think I am stretching reality. as I tell you some of the forthcoming information about my experiences with BTW. Folks, these things really happened! Yes, they did!
For starters, a large number of junior high boys took physical education class at BTW during that previously mentioned time frame. The classes were conducted at the school, several blocks southwest of our main school buildings, which were located between West 10th and West 12th Avenue, and South Duck and South Duncan Streets. So, how were we, 12-year-olds in grade #7, expected to get from our main school campus to BTW? Yes, the correct answer is – WALK, every Monday thru Friday during the school year!
That would be walking in any kind of September-May unpredictable Oklahoma weather, westbound to and eastbound from BTW, on a poorly maintained blacktop (i.e., asphalt, not concrete) West 12th Avenue. With heavy rain, the street would be full of runoff water, and if the rain was really hard, the city sewer system would overflow into the street and surrounding ditches. As I recall, there were no sidewalks for pedestrians to use. Also, walkers experienced the usual winter conditions; ice, sleet and/or snow, that covered the asphalt and surrounding land, making the walk interesting for sure??.
The junior high girls, however, did not have these daily possible travel obstacles. Their PE classes were held on-site at our main school building..
Once inside BTW, my male classmates and I would change into our gym shorts and white T-shirts in our dressing room, located in the south section of the gym. After class, we would shower, and dress for our walk back up the street for our regular classroom instruction in the main building. Iconic PE teacher, Coach Floyd Caldwell, was our teacher for those 3 years, and he left SO many memories in my head! My dear friend and fellow newspaper columnist, John Pryor, recently wrote a piece about Coach Caldwell’s influence on him, too. Coach Caldwell was a dominating physical presence, and, also, had a BOOMING voice. He gave me the nickname “Birdseed” because I seemed to always be eating sunflower seeds around him. Right now, I can picture Coach in my mind’s eye. timing us with his stop watch.on the indoor rope climb. The rope was attached to the top of the gym. His classic spoken word was to yell “Mannnnn!!” at us, hoping we would improve our upper body strength on our frequent rope climbs during PE class.
Oh, my, the flood of personal memories of those three magical school years, 1959-62, with Coach Caldwell, BTW School, and my fellow male PE classmates. Certainly, these are utterly priceless thoughts!
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including News Press) reporter. He resides in Stillwater, and has for most of his life. He has been a contributing writer to various media over the United States for years. He may be reached at email@example.com.