Grilling Secrets of a Barbecue Judge

Professional barbecue judge, Merl Whitebook, visited the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club recently and shared “barbecue secrets” and “biggest mistakes” he has learned from being a certified barbecue competition judge.

Those in barbecue competition know that the secret to better barbecue is adding margarine or butter, Whitebook confided. In addition, Whitebook said that his own secret ingredient was white pepper because it doesn’t compete with the barbecue flavor. “You taste it on the back of your tongue,” he explained. When grilling, “avoid salt — it dries out the meat” — and consider spraying the meat with apple juice, Whitebook said. Honey and herb and spice rubs also add flavor.

This attorney and professional Barbecue Judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society said that the biggest mistake people make in charcoal grilling is using a whole bag of charcoal. Instead, “use about a third of it,” Whitebook said. Also, don’t place coals all the way across the grill, he advised. “When you have coals all the way across, you’re fighting the top all the time,” he said. “Otherwise, you can move your meat off the heat.” His favorite charcoal is Ozark Oak.

Whitebook explained how to tell when the meat is done. Briskets are done at “195 to 210 degrees,” he said. However, the way the meat feels is also important. When he checks the interior, he wants it “to feel like butter.” Once the meat is finished, there is another important step: “I smoke it for about an hour,” he said.

One thing that is not commonly known outside the barbecue competition world is that in these contests “chicken is parboiled in margarine or butter and finished off over direct heat. The butter penetrates it and adds a lot of flavor,” he said. However, at home Whitebook does not parboil in butter because, although it adds flavor, it also adds significant fat and calories.

Although there are things to learn from the world of barbecue competition, these techniques may not always be appropriate for home grilling. Barbecue competitions are judged on the grilling of: chicken, ribs, pork and brisket for: taste, tenderness and appearance “in that order,” Whitebook said. Some competitions also include side dishes.

There are many barbecue competitions in our area, including one in May in Claremore, he said. The winnings can be impressive. “The team of the year won $50,000 this year. Sam’s Club is putting $100,000 in prize money this year,” Whitebook said. Currently, he serves as the Secretary for the Kansas City Barbecue Society and on the New Ideas and Nominating Committee.

Sample plates of the barbecue competitors can be purchased at these events, so be sure to try one at the next competition in your area!

The Cowboy Life of James Willcox

By Roseanne Sutton
[Shown in Photo: James with his children. L-R: Back Row: Kim Darrow and James Hagin Willcox; Front Row Jamessa Terrell and James Willcox]

One Sunday afternoon recently, James Willcox, wearing a Marfa straw cowboy hat, met me at his daughter Kim Darrow’s house to talk about his career as a cowboy, which has spanned over 40 years.
James Willcox was 24 when he began working for Frederick Ford on the Drummond Ranch near Hominy. He lived in the house called “Red Top” on the hill. He was married to Linda Sue and had two daughters, Jamessa and Kim at the time. [In photo: L-R James, Jamessa and Linda Sue back in the day.]
James relayed Frederick Ford’s approach to ranching. “Frederick does not raise cattle. He grows grass and he tries to find a way to harvest that grass and be paid for it and cattle is the way.”
James still remembers his start date — March 15, 1969. The foreman, Cecil “Shorty” Hendrix put him right to work.
“In the first few days I started, there was 15 inches of snow and I started out riding horses and feeding these cattle. I had a cow horn to call the cattle,” he explained.
Asked what he thought of starting the job that much snow on the ground, he replied, “I was used to it. I thought it was a pretty good day.”
Shorty gave him three horses to use – Jabo, Solo and Hershey. In addition, he brought his own two horses, Spot and Buster, which he rotated using during the seven-day work week.
During the winter months James explained, “We fed seven days a week, so I rotated them.”
They worked seven days a week feeding the cattle from cake houses in 13 to 14 pastures per day. “The pastures were a lot bigger than they are today,” James said.
“We’d have the 100 lb. bags in the cake houses …. The bunks are four [half] barrels welded together and we laid one bag in each bunk.” Essentially, they were 55 gallon drums cut in half.
Each cake house was about a 12 x 12 barn or round tank, he said. “There are still some around. Most of them are burned up or rotted down.”
His second daughter, Kim Darrow, chimed in, “After you all quit using them, I remember playing in them.”
James smiled and then continued, “Back then, we were feeding 1,000 head of cattle a day.”
When asked what breed of cattle he dealt with, he said, “Herefords — then they started buying black bulls, Brangus, Charlais, Angus, Beefmasters. I liked the Beefmasters because they weighed more.”
Once the herd was established, “Frederick didn’t buy any. He raised his own and kept the best heifers and kept them for replacements – about 100 per year,” James said.
When they reached age 10, Frederick sold them, James said.
“He’d keep replacements back and started his herd over – that was Frederick,” James explained.
Haying was also part of the routine. In the winter months they would feed cake one day and hay the next. Hay barns were about 100 ft. by 50 ft. wide. The bales of hay were loaded from the barns onto a truck. “There were three of us. Shorty drove the truck and me and another feller cut off the strings or the wire.”
James’ son, James Hagin Willcox, joined us for this part of the interview and explained that the hay bale would be held at the side of the truck by one man and the strings cut by the other so that the hay fell on the ground when the strings were cut.
James worked at another ranch before taking the job for Frederick Ford. “When I was 15 years old, the opportunity came up at the Thompsons. I lied about my age. He wanted someone 16 years old to drive the truck; I was 15 and a half and they hired me,” James confessed. One of his cowboys “had gotten a DUI and they needed someone to drive. Once they saw I could drive, they kept me on.”
James worked for Bill Thompson who raised horses and had a ranch near Hominy. He would break the American quarter horses, some of which were shipped to Hollywood to be used in movies by Ben Johnson and John Wayne, he said.
James said he did not know John Wayne well, but did know Ben Johnson. Regarding Ben Johnson he said, “He was all Osage County – even when he was in Hollywood.” James said knew him well enough to drink from the same cup.
James explained the horse-breaking process. “They’d bring 30 at a time to break,” he said. They would “tie four or five of the horses behind a wagon drawn by trained horses. The back of the wagon had a feeder on it. The horses followed the feeder and were led by the trained team hitched to the front of the wagon.
However, when other opportunities presented themselves he decided to make a change.
James might have taken another offer to work for E. C. Mullendore he said, but his wife’s family, the Hillsberrys were from Sand Springs and the Drummond Ranch was closer to them.
Of his wife, Linda Sue Willcox, James said, “She was a city girl. Cause she married me, I made a country girl out of her … She could sure cook … She took care of the house … would go out gather eggs.”
The first year they were at the Drummond Ranch, they had some milk cows to earn extra money. “I’d milk and she’d strain the milk and sell the cream and the milk in town (Hominy).” She also churned butter, daughter Jamessa said.
In those days, a number of people in the Drummond family had ranches – Frederick Ford, Jack, Gent, Fred Alexander.
“You could walk from the Arkansas River all the way to Kansas and be on Drummond Ranches,” James said with a note of pride.
He suggested reading the books published about the Drummond family tree to fully understand who was who.
James also had a small herd of his own cattle, and still does. He prefers long-horns. “I just love them,” he said. “The cowboys come hunting for calves for roping every year. They buy the calves.
“They outlive other cattle. I have one 23 years old that still had a calf.” James sells them after they stop bearing.
I asked James to explain how the seasons altered his work on the ranch.
“After the snow melted and spring came, we worked cattle … vaccinating the cattle for anaplast, branding the calves, castrating the males and dehorning them,” James said.
Another task was putting an earmark on the cattle. Each local rancher in the area used a different earmark. “Fred Ford did an underbit in the left ear. There were probably about five or six of the earmarks,” he explained. They were used so that you could distinguish the cattle. The cattle look at you and raise their ears and you can readily see the earmark, he said. That way if a neighboring rancher’s cattle got on your land, you’d know who to return it to. The earmarks were easier to see than the brands because the cattle typically look at you and raise their ears.
In order to complete these tasks, the cowboys had pens to gather the cattle and a series of chutes that they went through. “I helped build about all the pens out there on the ranch,” he said.
“I did most of the tripping the chutes and the branding,” James said. R. C. Atkins did most of the castrating. In addition, they used a calving table to inoculate and work the calves.
“There was me and Shorty and Frederick, Joe Rusk sometimes, who was building fences – he was there longer than any of us,” he added.
“We’d get up at 4 a.m. We’d have to leave the house at 6 o’clock and be in the pasture at daylight.
“Going to the backside gathering cattle and seeing the sun come up … not everyone gets to see that,” he said. [Shown in photo below L-R: R. C. Atkins and James Willcox rounding up cattle].
“Starting in April we worked the cattle. We’d try to have the cows done and ready by early June for Cattlemen’s Association tour because a lot of cattle were sold during that tour.
“That’s why all the little livestock auctions stopped around here. They just take their semis out there and load ‘em up,” he explained. “The tour is for out-of-staters to see what kind of cattle you’ve got …. The Cattlemen’s tour has been going on a long time.”
Fighting grass fires is another regular part of ranch life. “Hominy ranchers started a rural fire department in 1994. I thought I should go to the meeting and they made me the Hominy Ranchers Rural Fire Department chief!” James said with a chuckle. “They were going to have a different person every year, but I’ve been it since 1994,” he said smiling broadly.
The ranches in the area are all tallgrass prairie “that’s the reason we had so many fires,” he said. Early spring used to be a big fire time because people would do controlled burns that got out of control, he explained.
His wife, Linda Sue, would make sandwiches for them and drive through the fire to bring it to them, Jamessa said.
When Shorty Hendrix retired as foreman of the Frederick Ford Drummond Ranch in January 1987, James took over the position – Jan. 11, 1987, a position he held until Jan. 2011, when he retired.
James explained that after the Cattlemen’s tour, when some of the herd had been sold, their summer schedule began. “In the summer we could ride fences, fix it if it was bad. We had to watch for sick cattle. We’d spray cattle for flies. We took our firefighting rig and put a chemical in it and sprayed the cattle.
“We shoed horses — broke horses … My favorite part of the job in the summer was we had cookouts … At the cookouts we cooked a whole beef and we’d have a band come and play.
“I had some friends who played bluegrass. There’s nothing like having bluegrass at a big cookout,” James said with a smile.
“I had a big ole’ black pot to fix beans in – pinto beans, and potato salad, white bread,” he said.
They also went to Hominy for parts for the pens and other ranch supplies. “We went to the Pioneer Store. The Drummonds owned that. Now we go to C & G which is out north,” James explained.
“About once a week we’d go to Pawhuska to ship the yearlings to different feed lots before they were sold. Sixty days at the feed lot and they were sold outright by different people from the feedlot itself …. In July they sold the yearlings to the feedlot.”
If they were not sold at the feedlot, the beef was sold “on the rail” after butchering. The rail is the system in the ceiling in the beef processing plant which holds the beef, he explained.
“We saddled the horse, loaded them on a trailer and took them to the West ranch called the Strohm Ranch, but it was owned by Frederick Ford Drummond,” he said. “We’d go to the back side of the Strohm Ranch to load them on semi-trucks and take them to feed lots in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska – most of them in Kansas,” he said. “They paid someone to transport them to the feed lot.”
While in Pawhuska, they would grab lunch “at the Pig Stand and places like that.”
His wife Linda Sue would make lunch for the cowboys too. “Every meal you had a pot of brown beans.” (pinto beans) In addition, there was “meatloaf, charcoaled hamburgers, salad, roast, Frito pie, casserole, chicken fried steak, cake, pie, rolls … mashed potatoes and gravy,” James said. “All the meals were made out of Drummond beef.”
“We’d get in trouble if we had chicken,” Jamessa said.
“When we ate out, if we bought chicken, Fred wouldn’t pay for it,” James said with a chuckle.
In a previous phone interview Frederick Ford Drummond said, I’ve never had a cowboy die of a heart attack and they’ve eaten beef every day!”
He took his daughters with him for some of these trips. He’d “throw the kids on a flatbed truck,” he said. Having no sons at the time, he treated his daughters like sons and taught them to be cowboys, especially the oldest daughter, Jamessa.
But God had a surprise around the corner for James. His wife had gotten her tubes tied, and a few months later started having strange symptoms.
“Linda went to Springer Clinic on the advice of Frederick Ford Drummond,” James said. At the clinic they told her she was pregnant! Three months later she had a son. They named him James Hagin Willcox.
“James works for Indian Electric in Cleveland,” he said with a gleam in his eye.
“I went to a palm reader over here in Cleveland. We’d been hauling hay … She said ‘I see two girls and a boy.’ I said ‘No, I don’t.’ She also said ‘You’re going to lose your father in the next year and I did. After James came, I looked back and said, she knew what she was doing,” James said.
“Once the yearlings were shipped, then we’d do fencing and everything else ‘til we started feeding again the first of November.”
Around that time fires became an issue again, he added. “We had a fire bug out there who would start fires.” The people were eventually found and stopped, he said.
“In July and August we’d ship bigger cattle. We had two sets of calves on the ranch. In October we’d wean the spring calves and ship them to Pawhuska and they’d keep them on the Strohm Ranch until the next spring … when they’d ship them off,” James explained.
Although they had had trucks and Jeeps since he began working there, James always used horses for the work. When four-wheelers became popular, he still preferred riding the horses. “I used the four-wheelers for chasing the wild boars,” James said.
By telephone Frederick Ford Drummond spoke of James: “James has been known to be a wild man. He’s chased deer and wild boar and rode in the Cavalcade every year.”
“Not every year,” James told me later. However, he did confess to chasing wild hogs.
“See, I have a pack of dogs and they chase the hogs. I still hunt the hogs. As soon as I get my knee good, I’m going to go back hunting them. I hate those hogs; they do so much damage and they’re dangerous to kids.”
And that’s not all: “I’ve caught a couple of live deer and I’m a wild hose-backer,” James said.
Drummond also said of James, “Everybody in southern Osage County knows him.”
James confirmed this. “That’s about right,” he said laughing.
Drummond said, “I really love all my cowboys. They’re special. It’s a hard life – seven days a week; and the weather can be extremely harsh …”
In addition to all of his work on the ranch, James also “took care of a lot of boys who would come out and work and Frederick Ford would pay them,” he said. They learned discipline and skills that kept them out of trouble. “That’s what I’m more proud of than anything,” James added.
James also collects spurs and has won many belt buckles in rodeos, but those stories would have wait for another day. Some of the extended family was arriving and it was about supper time. His daughters were already beginning to cook and his son James was preparing the grill.
James lost his wife Linda Sue from COPD on Dec. 6, 2006. He used to smoke three-packs a day himself, but quit in 1978, when he began to see it affecting his lungs.
Since his retirement, he tends his small herd of long-horn cattle. James confided that he is thinking of selling some of his long-horns this year. “They’re getting’ older,” he said.
These days James has more time to spend with his family. He got knee replacement this spring and is going through the recovery process.
I took photos of him and his children and then asked him one final question. “What was the best part of the cowboy life you’ve lived?”
“The freedom,” he answered with a broad grin.
We shook hands and I thanked him for taking the time to tell me all about his cowboy life.

A Group of Concerned Citizens meets with BKL, Inc. and County Commissioner Bob Jackson to discuss issues surrounding study of courthouse renovation or new construction

Bill Knowles of BKL, Inc. and Carol Crews

Top Photo: Retired Architect Frank Lorenzo with District One County Commissioner Bob Jackson
Middle Photo: Bill Knowles of BKL, Inc. and Carol Crews
Bottom Photo: Kim Reeve of BKL, Inc., Frederick Ford Drummond and Kathy Swan

Photos and Story by Roseanne Sutton

Recently, a group of concerned citizens met at the Pawhuska Library with BKL, Inc., the company that completed the courthouse feasibility study, in order to get a better understanding of the issues in anticipation of the public hearing set for 6 p.m. on April 26 at the Osage County Fairgrounds Ag Building.

The citizens attending the meeting, who did not represent any organization in an official capacity, included some who were members of the Osage County Historical Society. In attendance were: Hank Benson, Carol Crews, David Crews, Lu King, Kathy Swan, Frederick Ford Drummond, Frank Lorenzo, Roger Lloyd, Terry Loftis, Lloyd Smith, Nancy Woodyard and Shirley Roberts.

County Commissioner Bob Jackson attended the meeting as did representatives from BKL, Inc.: AIA and President Kim Reeve and Bill Knowles, AIA, NCARB, and Preservation Consultant Cathy Ambler, Ph.D., invited by BKL, Inc.

Bill Knowles and Kim Reeve both have ownership interests in BKL, Inc., a civil engineering and architectural firm founded in 1946, which the Osage County Commissioners had employed to complete a study regarding the feasibility of either renovation of the courthouse or construction of a new one. BKL, Inc. has an impressive record of having done courthouse renovation plans and courthouse construction plans in this region. For more information about their work, visit their website at

At the meeting, the tone of citizens was respectful but concerned as each person had an opportunity to speak with BKL, Inc. representatives and Commissioner Jackson. Once everyone had been heard and BKL, Inc. had responded, it became clear that these citizens, who supported the idea of preserving the courthouse, felt troubled that the County Commissioners had not instructed BKL, Inc. to do the feasibility study from the perspective of the District Ten Courthouse being preserved — an historical structure which attracts tourism to Pawhuska.

Situated on the highest hill, the courthouse, constructed in 1914 for $80,000, can be seen for miles around and is beautifully constructed – reminiscent of an earlier time in Pawhuska.

County Commissioner Bob Jackson pointed out that some county employees and Osage County residents who come to Pawhuska to do various kinds of county business, taxpaying, visiting the zoning and planning department or the district attorney’s office, find it more convenient to go to one centralized location. Out-of-towners come to Pawhuska and have a hard time navigating around town to find out where county offices are located, Jackson said.

However, the concerned citizens at the meeting, challenged the premise that all of the offices needed to be in one location. Lu King brought up the problem of parking on the hill if the courthouse were renovated or rebuilt. The new construction would decrease what is already limited parking. King and others wanted a study which would evaluate the idea of having the county offices in a downtown location, such as the Whiting Building along Kihekah Ave. “There’s a huge parking lot behind it,” King added.

“Let’s take a look at some of these things that can help preserve the downtown and meet the needs of the community offices,” said Frederick Ford Drummond.

“The Whiting Building could be renovated to be lovely and meet the needs of the county office and preserve the historic character of the downtown community,” said Lu King.

County Commissioner Bob Jackson who had voiced concerns about abandoning the downtown at public county commissioner meetings previously, appeared to see both sides of the argument. However, Jackson said that security was a concern in determining the best solution.

Kim Reeve said, “Security is one reason to separate the public from the criminals, to separate the traffic patterns.” He told of judges expressing the awkwardness of having to share restroom facilities with the public which came before them in court. Summing up the dilemma Reeve said, “Courthouses are space inefficient.”

Frank Lorenzo, a retired architect, asked, “The planning commission has a strong connection to the assessor. Could those be moved downtown?” Lorenzo added, “City planning for growth needs to be considered.”

BKL, Inc. representative Bill Knowles said that his company was well acquainted with, and sensitive to the concept of architectural historic preservation. However, BKL, Inc. had not been instructed to focus on this in the feasibility study, he said. After the meeting adjourned, Knowles told Pawhuska Community News, that he had begun the feasibility study process with County Commissioner Clarence Brantley, who had told Knowles he would personally speak to the Osage County Historical Society. However, Brantley became ill and died unexpectedly. As a result, Brantley’s intentions could not be carried out.

Instead, the study evolved into a very analytical approach to the most efficient method of bringing all of the Osage County offices under one roof.

The challenges of bringing the courthouse up to current building codes, while making room for the departments currently scattered in offices on Kihekah Ave., were emphasized by Bill Knowles in public meetings with the county commissioners in the last quarter of 2010.

Reeve introduced Dr. Cathy Ambler. “She’s very valuable to us. She has a very strong body of knowledge. We would use her consulting services in this instance. We didn’t discuss this with her because we didn’t want to spend money unless it was going to happen,” Reeve said.

Overall, the meeting was an opportunity to examine the validity of the premise that all of the county offices should be either put under one roof or in a renovated courthouse/annex.

Instead, the citizens at the meeting wanted to consider a third option – updating the courthouse and moving other related county offices to a renovated location downtown.

“The county commissioners need to give the architects the latitude to really look at it and come back with what really makes sense,” said Kathy Swan.

With the feasibility study complete and BKL, Inc. already paid in full, this raised another question, voiced by Terry Loftis. If a third option were considered, who would pay for it? “You’re not doing this out of the kindness of your heart. What will this cost?” Loftis inquired of BKL, Inc.

Reeve responded, “We don’t make money on every project … We are under contract … We set a dollar amount because clients need to be committed to it – otherwise they’re not invested in the project.
“We’re committed, although maybe not contractually, to talk to groups … Obviously, it’s in our best interest long term …

“We have some responsibility long-term because we did not educate the owners to other possibilities … and we didn’t address the historic preservation …

“Maybe we have not done all the professional services we should have.”

Pawhuska, a town originally build with oil money, which is the home of the Osage Nation, is currently in the process of redefining itself.

The Osage Principal Chief John Red Eagle elected in 2010 has publicly, and repeatedly, expressed his commitment to partner with the city of Pawhuska on projects to showcase Pawhuska’s historical significance.

He has already demonstrated this commitment by partnering with the city in the Pawhuska Business Center project, the city’s splash pad for children, and in the joint application between the city and the Osage Nation for an Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant application. If awarded, the ODOT grant would facilitate the first phase of renovation of downtown Pawhuska for pocket parks and/or plazas containing bronze statues of people such as: Osage Chief Pawhuska and Actor Ben Johnson.

Local leadership in Pawhuska and the Osage Nation’s Principal Chief have expressed their desire to preserve the uniqueness of Pawhuska while improving its infrastructure.

With the issues now in focus, the stage is set for Tuesday night’s meeting to really discuss these issues and, rather than pointing fingers, commit to finding the answers.

Plan to have your voice heard by attending the meeting at the Ag Building of the Osage County Fairgrounds on April 26 at 6 p.m.

Recipe for Chocolate Cheese Cupcakes served by Janice Cranor, Osage County OSU Extension Educator Family & Consumer Sciences at the April seminar

Chocolate Cheese Cupcakes

This tasty recipe was provided to Janice Cranor over 30 years ago by Betty Kloeckler of Checotah, Okla.

Makes 18 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


1 & ½ C. flour

1 C. sugar

¼ C. cocoa

1 tsp. soda

¼ tsp. salt

Mix all dry ingredients above & add wet ingredients below and beat until smooth.

1 C. water

4 T. vegetable oil

1 T. vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla

Fill muffin tins ½ full. Set aside and mix cream cheese mixture.

1-8 oz. package cream cheese (softened)

1/3 C. sugar

1 egg

6 oz. package chocolate chips

Cream together and place 1 T. on top of chocolate batter in muffin tins. Optional-sprinkle finely chopped nuts on top.

Bake for 25 minutes in 350 degree oven or until the top springs back when touched.

Served at Extension Café-Salsa Savvy-April 2011

Janice M. Cranor, OSU Extension Educator
Family & Consumer Sciences, Osage County


Ruby Duke speaks in Pawhuska to GFWC – Heeko Club of ranch life in western Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression

Ruby Duke, seated, surrounded by her family. (L-R) Kelly Duke’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke, Ruby’s son-in-law Jim Kerwin and daughter Gayle Kerwin, Ruby’s son Kelly Duke and daughter-in-law Kathy Duke.

By Roseanne Sutton

Ruby Duke, born Aug. 12, 1916 in Shattuck, Oklahoma , was the guest speaker at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Heeko Chapter meeting on April 11. Ruby Duke has been a very active volunteer in Pawhuska since she and her late husband purchased a ranch and moved to the area in 1952.
However, her speech to the Heeko ladies focused on her experiences as a newlywed rancher’s wife during the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
Seated at the front of the room with over 40 guests and members of Duke’s family, she recounted stories of her life.
“I’ve lived a varied life — mountains and valleys. I’ve been told that if you don’t have the valleys, you don’t appreciate the mountains.”
Ruby said that the lessons she had learned during this period had stayed with her.
Her father had an automotive garage business in Shattuck, Okla. “1929 is when I first noticed the depression. In those days people came to have their car batteries recharged, and Daddy lost the garage. There were a lot of sacrifices made.”
Ruby described her life: “In 1935 everyone was poor. We were poor but we didn’t know it. We were happy.
“Life was much more simple. Even though you were poor, you shared with those who had less than you … The Santa Fe Railroad ran through our town. We fed many homeless men who were riding the rails looking for work. They were daddies riding from town-to-town looking for work,” Ruby said.
“Mom baked homemade bread twice a week. We shared what we had. My mom said, ‘We can’t afford to give both jelly and butter – you get one or the other.’ If we had milk, they got that too.
“They rode under the box cars. It was dangerous,” she added.
“When the class of ’35 graduated, we were too poor to get a class picture. No class rings – our families were too poor to buy them, but no one whined,” Ruby explained.
After graduation, college was not affordable, so Ruby became the society editor for the Ellis County News, working Wednesday through Friday. “I got $1 a day. We would go to press late Friday and if I stayed to hand-fold the newspapers, I got an extra dollar.”
“My best source of information was an old dentist, whose office was on the second floor above the drug store,” she said. “Dr. Fulton was the most gossipy person I knew.”
At this time, the dust had already begun to blow,” Ruby said. On Saturdays, Ruby also cleaned house for her boss and his wife, Gladys. “Gladys always had smothered steak. We didn’t have that much steak at our house,” she said with a chuckle. As time went on, Gladys reduced Ruby’s cleaning duties a bit because the daily dust made her efforts moot and Gladys said no one would notice.
Soon, a young man came on the scene. “There was a misplaced Texas cowboy in Oklahoma who bought a ranch northwest of Shattuck — Kay Duke. We started dating. He had a car, could take me to the movies, buy me a steak dinner once in a while and he loved to dance,” she said. They spent many an evening together at local dance spots.
“He had no plan of getting married, and I didn’t either, but we sort of grew on one another.” The next thing she knew, she married Kay Duke and moved out to the ranch.
“There was no electricity, no running water, no piped-in gas. You had to be young, dumb and happy and in love, but I was happy – extremely happy,” she said smiling as she thought of those days.
“As a pioneer ranch woman, we had some funny happenings,” Ruby said.
“Ranching is hard work. You hit the floor at five o’clock and you’re set for the day – all day.
“My first wash day, I looked like I could bite a tin-penny nail in two and I felt the same,” she said.
“There was a stick that moved the dash to make the wash go. Then you had a boiler – and you boiled your whites a while,” Ruby explained with a look of exasperation.
When the Oklahoma Dust Bowl began in earnest, everything changed. They went into a survival mode. Ruby took the down the curtains and bed spreads. She just put sheets on their bed because the dust made it impossible to keep them clean. She covered the furniture with sheets to protect it.
Fortunately, this was before the couple had their four children.
Each night the dust blew. The next morning there was a dirty film over everything it reached. “This was like powder. You couldn’t wipe it off. You had to wash it off. That didn’t start you for a happy day,” Ruby said. Before she could make breakfast, the kitchen floors and cabinets had to be scrubbed with soap and water daily, she explained.
Her husband, wearing a bandana around his nose to block the dust, would head to the barn to tend the livestock. “Before he got to the barn, he would just be a shadowy figure,” Ruby explained.
She described Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, when black blizzards of dust rolled across Oklahoma. “We were at home and Kay went out on the porch and he called to me. All you could see was rolling thumping coming toward you. We went back into the house. It was so black, you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. We stood in the living room with our arms around each other. I was crying and Kay was trembling. It rolled over us and went on. Gradually, the light returned.
“In Beaver [Oklahoma], the sand would blow over the fences and you could walk right over the fence in the corners.”
Of the experience, Ruby said, “I guess it must have fortified me, because here I am!”
After the Dust Bowl days, “Kay had wanted to enlarge his ranching business and go where there was better grassland. We were sitting on the porch one evening and looking out across the landscape and it seemed the sage brush took on a silvery hue. There were two creeks and lots of trees in the background and further to the south there was a high flat hill where it was rumored that in the early Indian days, when the Indians roamed, that was a lookout for them. I said to Kay, ‘Isn’t that the most beautiful scenery?’
Kay Duke responded, ‘Ruby, cattle can’t eat scenery.’
“This in turn caused me to do some serious thinking. We decided to tour all of Oklahoma. We stopped in many places and talked to real estate people,” Ruby Duke said.
“When we came to Pawhuska, there were red vinyl curtains blowing out of a window on Kihekah. My husband said, ‘Should we stop here?’ Nope, I said, let’s go on,” Ruby Duke said.
They went on to visit Ponca City that day, but nonetheless ended up purchasing a ranch near Pawhuska soon thereafter.
“We moved to Pawhuska in 1952 and we were happy and never looked back,” she said. “Our cattle felt like they had found heaven and we did too. That was good ole’ bluestem grass.”
She and Kay had four children – three sons and a daughter. The youngest son, Ricky, was born after the move to Pawhuska. Kay Duke died in December 1975 and their son, Ricky, graduated from Pawhuska High School the following year.
At the time, they were living at 403 E. 7th Street in Pawhuska.
“When Ricky left to go to college I didn’t cry and didn’t show much emotion until after he drove away. For the first time in my life, I realized I was all alone. I went back to the house and threw a ring-tail fit. If you’d seen me, you’d have thought I was crazy – and maybe I was,” she said.
However, soon thereafter, she threw herself into GFWC – Heeko and volunteerism. “I became involved,” Ruby said.
As a GFWC – Heeko Club member, Ruby chaired or participated in many projects. Here are a few highlights as described by Eileen Monger, who introduced Ruby at the meeting.
Ruby spearheaded efforts to clean up Pawhuska, meeting with the city manager seven times in 2003 to discuss the need to clean up the town. As a result, a code enforcement officer was hired to put teeth in the project.
Ruby also wrote to absentee property owners in Pawhuska’s historic district and organized a committee to decorate empty businesses on Kihekah Avenue.
She was instrumental in the renovation of the Blacksmith House, which now serves as the offices for the Chamber of Commerce. She chaired a two-year community improvement committee, enlisting the help of the city manager, chamber of commerce and the newspaper. “We worked together,” she said.
Ruby was given the “Outstanding Volunteer Award” in 2002 for her many efforts.
In addition, she has served in several capacities for the GFWC – Heeko Club, including as its president in 1957-58.
As a leader in GFWC – Heeko, Ruby was always full of fun. She organized, what became the first of many, “style shows” for the club and has participated in many skits.
“Ruby has always been our mentor,” said Eileen Monger. “Today we wore our hats for Ruby Duke Day.”
Of her warm introduction, Duke said, “No wonder I’m so tired!”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Heeko member and Oklahoma GFWC President Joyce Ward thanked Ruby for her contributions over the years and gave her a gift of the first newly-released Oklahoma GFWC lapel pin.
These days Ruby, who will be 95 on Aug. 12, is still going strong. She lives in Norman, Okla., and spends time with her family.
Several family members accompanied her to the meeting including: son Kelly and his wife Kathy Duke of Bixby, Kelly’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke – a youth minister in Gore, Okla., and daughter Gayle Kerwin and her husband Jim Kerwin of Norman.
Summing up her life experiences, Ruby said, “I’m so glad I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people along the way, and have been fortunate to participate in so many interesting activities with a wonderful family with me all the way.”

Plan to Attend the One-Day Ben Johnson Film Festival June 11 at the historic Constantine Theater in Pawhuska

By Roseanne Sutton

The Osage County Historical Museum’s Ben Johnson Film Festival will be held for one day only, June 11. Two family-friendly movies starring Ben Johnson will be shown at the historic Constantine Theater in Pawhuska.

“Chisum,” which will be shown at 2 p.m., with costars John Wayne and Forrest Tucker. “Chisum” is historical fiction loosely based on the Lincoln County War of 1878 in New Mexico territory, said Museum Manager Barbara Pease. Infamous characters as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are depicted in the film, she added.

The evening film, “Bite the Bullet,” will begin at 7 p.m. In this film, Ben Johnson’s co-stars are: Gene Hackman, Candace Bergen and James Coburn, among others. This film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Sound Mixing and Best Music.

The Constantine Theater will open at 1 p.m. so that patrons may meet members of Ben Johnson’s family and view memorabilia on display.

Souvenirs and copies of the book “The Nicest Fella,” a biography about Johnson, will be available for purchase. The author, Richard D. Jensen, hopes to attend and be available to sign autographed copies of the book, which will be on sale for $35 each.

Concessions, such as freshly made popcorn, fountain sodas and candy, will be available at very reasonable prices.

Tickets for the two-film event, which include one free souvenir per ticket, are $15. Children 12 and under are free, when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult. The museum is asking patrons to purchase their tickets in advance, to facilitate planning.

A visit to the Constantine Theater is an event in itself. The opportunity to celebrate Pawhuska’s own Ben Johnson should not be missed.

This unique film festival will bring to the silver screen two classic movies and give patrons the opportunity meet the Johnson family, and celebrate one of Hollywood’s most talented actors.

For more information, call the OCHS Museum at 918-287-9119.

Agape’ Mission and its expanding role in feeding the needy in Bartlesville

“I want to replicate myself as much as I can. I want to teach people what I’ve done, because I can teach people to do this in their own city,” said Agape’ Mission Director Sherri Smith.


Five years ago, Agape’ Mission Director Sherri Smith, began the Food 4 Kids program to provide food on weekends for public school children in need. In March 2005, volunteers began assembling about 150 bags of food per week.

Over the years, that number has grown to 450 bags per week, serving these public schools located in Washington County: Wilson, Hoover, Mid High, Kane, Central Junior High, Jane Phillips, Oak Park, Caney Valley and Dewey.

They also provide bags of food for two public schools in Osage County: Osage Hills and Bowring.

In a recent interview, Smith shared how she became Director of the Agape’ Mission.

The Agape Mission, located at 309 S. Bucy in Bartlesville, had been operated by another organization. Smith was sorry when it closed. She had been a volunteer in Bartlesville for many years, and knew how needed it was.

Her involvement started with conversation she had with her pastor at Bartlesville First Assembly of God. “One Sunday afternoon, we took my pastor out to lunch … and I thought who better to ask than him. By the end of the conversation, it was agreed I’d give a presentation to the church board,” Smith said.

The church board agreed to open the Agape’ Mission again and put Smith in charge of it. She had been a commodities broker for the previous eight years. However, believing God had led her to this crossroads, she left her job and agreed to take on this new role.

“On Jan. 17, 2000, there was nothing but an old icemaker and an old freezer, that didn’t work,” Smith said. “In a two-week period, God put this together. I opened Feb. 1, 2000, serving two meals a day. If that’s not God, I don’t know what is.”

Smith said that the first major victory was that the Mission was able to purchase all the needed kitchen equipment, even silverware, from a closed restaurant in Ramona for $5,000. The church congregation stepped up and provided the needed funds.

At that time, Smith cooked the meals as well. After much thought and prayer, at the end of Nov. 2000, Smith scaled back to one meal a day, which the Agape’ Mission still serves six days per week from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Mission is closed on Sunday.  “I think we’re the only United Way non-profit in Bartlesville that’s open on Saturday,” Smith said.

Two and a half years after opening, the Mission was able to hire a cook, and Smith became the full-time director of the Mission.

Because feeding the community is central to the Mission’s purpose, developing the Food 4 Kids program just made sense.

The Food 4 Kids program began in March 2005 with volunteer Rissie Soderstrom as its coordinator. Soderstrom organizes a team of seven women, who meet each week at the warehouse and assemble the backpacks during the school year.

Agape’ Mission has a truck which then delivers the food to the schools each week.

Additional volunteers such as: Church groups, home-school children, ConocoPhillips employees and others pitch in regularly to help. For example, five employees of the CIT Project Services Department at ConocoPhillips volunteer once a month assembling the food sacks.

There is a corporate giving program whereby ConocoPhillips gives $500 to Agape’ Mission for every 20 hours of service provided by its employees.

As part of her duties, Soderstrom schedules the additional volunteers to help. “If you have a group or even children, they can come in and volunteer,” Soderstrom said. Some of the groups that have helped are: Civic groups, church and youth groups and the Boy Scouts. To arrange for your group to volunteer, Soderstrom may be reached at 918-331-7815.

Asked their motivation for volunteering to the Food 4 Kids program, the team of ladies agreed, “God’s love is the reason we serve.”

“When people come to help, they have fun,” Soderstrom said. “And we’re not known … We’re behind the scenes.”

Soderstrom also coordinates the unloading of inventory from the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.  In addition, she sees to it that double-grocery bags are prepared. God has always provided the volunteers she has needed to help her accomplish these tasks, she said.

Each week, the food bags for elementary school students include: One chocolate milk, one regular milk, one pudding (either chocolate or vanilla), one fruit cup, one juice, one Pop-tart or cereal bar, one package of crackers, one package of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, one individual serving of cereal and one raisin box.

For students in junior high through high school, the bags include five extra items: Beef jerky, Vienna sausage, macaroni and cheese, one serving of oatmeal and one serving of Ramen Noodles.

“We don’t give metal flip-top cans to the younger children because of possible cuts,” Soderstrom said. “Many of these children are preparing this food alone without a parent there to help.”

“We pray over the sacks too,” Soderstrom said. “When the kids come to school on Monday they ask ‘are we going to get our sacks this week?’ Even if the kids are sick, their parents come and get them,” she added.

“Our feedback is positive – how it’s helped,” Soderstrom said. “If we help the children when they’re young, they’ll have fewer health problems as adults,” she added.

Speaking of the Agape’ Mission Director, Soderstrom said, “Sherri [Smith] is delightful to work with on this.”

Sherri Smith said after the program had finished its first year, she got some feedback that hit home for her how vital the food backpacks are. “I received a message right after spring break from one of the kindergarten teachers that a student had returned to school in the same clothes he’d been in on the day he went home for spring break. Upon being asked, he said the only food he had eaten that week was the food we provided. Also, he had been left home alone that whole week. DHS (the Department of Human Services) stepped in at that point and took the child out of the home.”

Smith said that teachers have come to her in tears saying, “Don’t ever stop the program.”

Regarding how they determine which children should get the weekend food, Smith said, “We get our information from the school administrators themselves. The teachers know a lot more about their students. Between what they know, and who is on the reduced school lunch program, they can see who needs it. We don’t want any child to be hungry over the weekend.”

In order to meet community childrens’ summer needs, the Mission will begin a summer Food 4 Kids program on June 4 called Acts in Action in Bartlesville. “We’re going into four quadrants of the community: the Brookhaven area at Girl Scout Park, Oak Park, and near Wilson at the Spruce Baptist Church parking lot,” Smith said.

“We’re going to feed them, have prizes and it will be like sidewalk bible school. Everyone has to have background checks – it’s a big deal. Mary Martha’s is also working with us to provide prizes and what we need,” Smith said.

Regarding her work as director of the Mission, Smith said, “Every day is a new day. It’s exciting going to work because I never know what God’s going to do. To be in the center of God’s will every day – what could be better?”

“I want to replicate myself as much as I can. I want to teach people what I’ve done because I can teach people to do this in their own city,” Smith said.

Agape’ Mission accepts food donations. They especially appreciate monetary donations because the food can be purchased in bulk from the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma so they get more for the money, said Smith. Soderstrom agreed.

Donations are tax deductible and can be made payable to Agape’ Mission with Food 4 Kids on the memo line of the check. The mailing address is: P.O. Box 1085, Bartlesville, OK 74005.

For more information, Agape’ Mission Director Sherri Smith may be reached at 918-336-5410.