In 1945, when Billy Mitchell finished the 9th grade at White Rock School in south central Lincoln County, his class took a school trip to Oklahoma City. Billy had never been to the big city and was in awe of its size and sights. First they were taken to the State Fair and then treated to a movie. This was the 2nd movie that Billy had ever seen and it was in Technicolor.
In 1945, when Billy Mitchell finished the 9th grade at White Rock School in south central Lincoln County, his class took a school trip to Oklahoma City. Billy had never been to the big city and was in awe of its size and sights. First they were taken to the State Fair and then treated to a movie. This was the 2nd movie that Billy had ever seen and it was in Technicolor. “National Velvet” starred Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor. Bill said, “Everything was so beautiful. They all had fancy clothes and big houses and the most magnificent horses. And then there was Elizabeth Taylor. She was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”
Bill’s father, Thomas Wesley Mitchell, came to Oklahoma from Kansas when he was about five years old with his parents and an extended family of Mitchells. They settled southwest of Chandler just north of the Deep Fork River. Bill’s mother, Elizabeth Nancy Gregg, was the daughter of a circuit riding Methodist preacher who came from Texas. The couple met in about 1915 at Forest Methodist Church near Union School where Elizabeth was a teacher. They courted in a horse and buggy. After they married they moved around the area as share croppers. In 1930, they were living on a farm northeast of McLoud. There on December 3, 1930, William R. Mitchell, the fourth of their five children was born. His mother sang him hymns for lullabies and by the age of three he could read. His grade school education through the 6th grade was in a rural one room school called Pleasant View, located just inside the Lincoln County line from Pottawatomie County. This school closed for lack of students and Billy transferred to White Rock School in the 7th grade.
In 1945, Billy’s father had taken a second farm to work and Billy had to do most of the hoeing in the cotton and corn fields. While he was hoeing in the hot dirty fields, thinking of the beautiful fields and people and especially Elizabeth Taylor from, “National Velvet”, Billy decided he had enough of hoeing and was going to California. He didn’t really know how to get to California except that it was west on highway 66 which came through Lincoln County at Chandler. So….fourteen year old Billy Mitchell, dressed in some khaki pants his brother had sent from the war, the shirt on his back, his brother’s military cadet cap on his head and three dollars in his pocket, threw down his hoe and started running west to Midway that was on highway 62. He walked a long way and then caught several rides to just west of Oklahoma City. He was tired and decided to spend a little money the next morning and ride the trolley car to El Reno. There was a sheltered bench by the trolley tracks for people to catch the next street car. Billy slept on that bench his first night out. Every morning he was up at daylight and headed west walking. He caught a ride with man driving an 18 wheeler carrying wheat. The driver stopped at a grain elevator and asked Billy if he would unload the wheat. Thinking that he would get paid or at least fed, he shoveled the large load of wheat. He got back in the truck and they headed west again. The man asked Billy how much he owed him. Billy answered about three dollars. The guy stopped the truck and asked young Billy to get out. A very upset and angry Billy walked on west. He got some rides and walked a lot, finally coming to Globe, Arizona. Exhausted and hungry, Billy lay down on the ground in the railroad yard and went to sleep. He awakened with a foot in his side and looking up he saw the biggest man he had ever seen in a blue cop’s uniform staring down at him. “Get up, son” the man said. “We are going to the police station.” Billy had to tell his story, who he was, how old, etc. The nice cop did not put him in jail but let him sleep in the police station. In the morning the police chief told him to go down to the grocery store, get a job sacking groceries and then go back home.
But as soon as he was turned loose, Billy headed farther west as fast as he could. By the time he got to Phoenix his money was all gone, he was hungry so he found a grocery store to get a job. First he had to go get a social security card. Then he worked long enough to buy some food and get a little extra. He bought a bunch of junk food, ate so much he made himself sick, and spent the night on a park bench.
Along the way he had sent his parents a post card and told them he was okay and not to worry. By now he had been gone eleven days. He was tired, hungry, and homesick and decided it was time to go home. He was more experienced at hitch hiking by now and was able to get home in three days. When he got home everyone was in the fields working. His mother came in first and was so glad to see him, she cried all over him. When his dad came home he was quieter and didn’t say a lot. Bill said, “I found out later that dad had taken a bus as far as New Mexico looking for me, but of course, he didn’t find me. I learned a lot from that experience about life, other places and a self confidence that I had not known before.”
His junior year in high school, Bill transferred to Chandler and he loved it. They had a big library with lots of wonderful books and a librarian named Dorthy Miller. After graduating from Chandler High School, one of three valedictorians in his class, he enrolled in Oklahoma City University. When not in class, Bill worked as a billing clerk and a dock hand at the public market. One day when he was at school he had bad pain on his right side and suspected that he had appendicitis. He took a bus downtown to find a doctor. The doctor asked him why he thought he had appendicitis. Bill explained his symptoms; the doctor sent him to Deaconess Hospital and took out his appendix.
After his freshman year in college, Bill and Dorthy Miller decided that they wanted to get married but Bill was only eighteen and at that time a man had to be twenty-one to marry without parental consent. The problem was that his parents, especially his dad, were against the marriage. He thought Bill was too young and needed to finish school first. Dad finally gave in and they were married on a very hot day at the First Baptist Church in Sparks, Oklahoma, June 19, 1949. The new couple rented an apartment on 12th near Walker in Oklahoma City. Dorthy worked for P.F.Collier, a publishing company and Bill started back to OCU for his sophomore year and still working at the public market.
It had become necessary for the Mitchells to have a car. They didn’t have any money but Bill went to the bank and asked for $750.00 to purchase a 1946 Ford straight six. He impressed the banker with his honesty and got the money. They purchased the new car but there was a problem. Neither Bill nor Dorthy knew how to drive. So they took a friend, Charles Schoenecke, with them to bring their new car home. Their brother-in-law taught them how to drive.
Bill graduated from OCU in 1952, Magna Cum Laude (With Much Praise) with a teaching certificate. At the time he really was not interested in teaching, he wanted to write literature. The big names in American literature that he knew about had come from Boston. So he applied to schools in New England. He really wanted to go to Harvard, but he was accepted at Boston University, across the river from Harvard.
With their 1946 Ford packed full of their belongings, the Mitchells headed east. After four or five days they drove into Boston tired and badly needing sleep. They drove downtown in Boston finally finding a hotel. Bill said, “I walked into the very fancy and expensive hotel in my t-shirt and jeans and realized right away that was not the place for us.” After driving around in Boston even more exhausted they finally found a quiet place where they could get a little sleep- in a cemetery.
Soon they were able to find a nice place to live and Dorthy got a good job at Harvard University. She would take the car to Harvard to work and Bill walked one and one-half miles to school at Boston
University. At the end of his second semester, Bill was ready to take the test for his Master degree. He did not pass but he had five years to try again. A resourceful young man, Bill bought all the books that he needed to read in order to pass the test, purchased a footlocker and filled it with the books.
It was home to Oklahoma. By the end of summer 1953, Bill had been drafted
and Dorthy was working at Tinker Airforce Base as a secretary.
Basic training was at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Bill was picked for counter intelligence training and that took him to Ft. Holabird, Baltimore, Maryland, that had been a prisoner of war camp during WWII. After training, Bill was sent to Korea by way of Tokyo, Japan. He had his footlocker full of books shipped with his other things but when he arrived in Korea, his footlocker and Billy were separated. In Korea he was stationed a few miles from the DMZ but he never saw any action. Then he was sent back to Tokyo where he found his footlocker full of books. While he was in Japan this time he was finally able to read and study for his test. During his time in Tokyo Bill worked in counter intelligence. He was in charge of transcribing and reproduction of field reports.
Discharged June 4, 1955, Bill came home on a troop ship full of returning troops. He said it was a most miserable trip. They landed in Seattle, Washington, and he took a train from there to Camp Carson, Colorado. Very anxious to see his wife, Bill calculated how long it would take him to hitch hike to Oklahoma and how long it would take Dorthy to drive in the car so that they could meet at a place in northwestern Oklahoma. From the time he arrived at the meeting place, she drove up fifteen minutes later.
Bill got a job teaching at US Grant High School in Oklahoma City where he taught two years. In August of 1957, the five year time to retake the test for his Master degree in Boston was running out. By now, Bill and Dorthy had one little boy and she was eight months pregnant when Bill left for Boston. The afternoon before he was to take the big test he received a telegram saying that Dorthy and his new son were doing fine. Bill said, “I went to the chapel at Boston University and prayed asking God to help me calm down and pass the test.” He promised God that if he passed, he would use his degree in some way in God’s Work. The next day he passed the test, got his Master degree.
Needing more income, Bill worked at selling Americana Encyclopedias and he was very successful at it. But after a while he decided that he was not fulfilling his promise to God so he started looking for another teaching position. James R. Scales at Oklahoma Baptist University had a sudden last minute vacancy for an English teacher. Through timely contacts from different people he learned of an English teacher with a Master’s degree who was looking for a position. Bill Mitchell was hired to teach five sections of freshman and sophomore Literature which included Greek drama that he had never read. This was the beginning of a thirty-eight and a half year career at OBU. Immediately after he was hired he started work on his doctorate at Oklahoma University which he completed in 1969.
During those years Dr. Mitchell and his wife raised their three children, Michael, Daniel and Janet, all of whom graduated from OBU and completed advanced degrees. Bill rose to full Professor of English and also served nine years as an academic dean before returning to fulltime in the classroom. He retired from OBU in 1996.
Over the years Dr. Mitchell has published two novels, a memoir, a collection of essays on Christian higher education and two collections of poems. He also wrote three plays, all of which were produced in local theaters.
In 1998, Dorthy Mitchell died suddenly. Later that year Bill met and married Dora Mae Tacker, a widowed retired teacher and administrator. The couple lived on Mae’s farm near Tecumseh, Oklahoma.
At the age of 68, Bill was ordained as a Baptist Minister and served two fulltime pastorates. One was at Vivian Baptist Church near Eufaula, Oklahoma and the other was at the First Baptist Church at Sparks, Oklahoma where he served for almost four years.
About seven months ago, due to failing health, the Mitchells decided to move into the Primrose Retirement Community where he continues to serve the Lord as Chaplin and Sunday morning worship leader.
Note: Story submitted by Pat Gaines on behalf of Primrose.