The Redbud City: Springtime in Shawnee, 1940

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
The 1940 Queens for the Little Olympics paused for a photo during the event. (l-r) Lillian Parks of Washington, Betty Darlene Wurth of St. Benedict’s, Thomasine Allison of Woodrow Wilson,  Rita Harp of Horace Mann, Betty Bailey of Irving, Betty Sue Lee of Jefferson, Mary Lou Weir of Harrison, and Leona Hall of Franklin.


Shawnee took another step forward on Tuesday night, March 12, 1940. The city commissioners took 20 tracts of land into the city limits and automatically added several thousand residents to the city’s population. The ordinance, submitted at the regular March meeting of the group, passed without a dissenting vote.

The ordinance composed of 20 sections, was passed without comment by members of the board or the approximately 50 citizens who attended the meeting. Pat Murphy, first ward commissioner, was the only ward representative absent.

The plan of bringing outlying populated districts into the city was first brought before the commissioners in December by City Manager T.E. Thompson and Mayor Ezra Stanard for the purpose of increasing the population and extending fire protection to property that was outside the limits before. Under regulations, fire equipment could not be taken outside the city to fight a fire unless the property owner contracted with the city for the protection. An ordinance changing the city boundary lines was submitted to the commission at the February meeting, but was voted down.


The North Canadian River bridge on Highway 18 at the south end of Beard Street was ready to be reopened to traffic on Sunday afternoon, March 24, 1940. A.K. McBride, resident highway engineer, said a crew of 20 men went to work on the span early Saturday morning and began repairing damage caused when a lumber truck crashed into an upright H beam on Friday morning.

The bridge, at first left open to car and light truck traffic, was closed Friday night and McBride said traffic was detoured to cross the river east of Shawnee on Highway 270 and join Highway 18 again just south of the Santa Fe shops. McBride said several beams and other braces were being replaced and that a sag in the floor of the span was being corrected. Many area residents expressed hope that the bridge would be replaced with a new crossing instead of merely repair work.


A tearful 37-year-old former WPA worker, who said he still owed doctor bills for the delivery of his last two children, and that his wife was expecting another “any time now,” promised County Judge Tom Stevens on Saturday, April 20, 1940, that he would never make another batch of moonshine whiskey. “I wasn’t making that stuff because I liked to,” he told the judge at his arraignment. “I was making it because I had to in order to get some money.”

Under questioning by Judge Stevens and Assistant County Attorney Fred Albert, the man said he had been out of regular work since his last WPA job in June of 1939. He said he hoped to get work on another WPA road job near Wanette, that was scheduled to begin earlier, but was delayed. He made whiskey occasionally between odd jobs for the past few years. He was selling it for two dollars a gallon.

Deputy Sheriff Roy Potts, who with deputies Earl Sumpter and C.W. Franks, arrested the man near Wanette on April 19. He had a still and five gallons of liquor and a barrel of mash at the time of the raid.

Aside from piling up the debts he owed for the birth of two of his children, both of whom were born while he was on the WPA, the man said he was forced to sell his cow last winter in order to buy food. Most of his spring garden was killed by the heavy freeze a week earlier.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been in trouble,” he said, trying to hide his tears with his hands. “I’ll never sell another drop of whiskey as long as I live.”

“I’ll fine you $50 and sentence you to 90 days in jail,” announced the judge, puffing jerkily on his curved stem pipe. “And I’ll suspend the sentence. But if you ever get into trouble again, and I don’t care if your wife is going to have triplets, I’ll put you in jail again and you’ll have to serve your time.”


Loyd Wallace set new Class A records in the 100-yard dash and broad jump and won first in the 200-yard dash on Friday, April 26, 1940, leading Washington school to its third Little Olympics championship. Washington piled up 56 points in winning the 1940 event, while Woodrow Wilson school was second with 48, and Irving finished third with 31 in the event.

Wallace also took the Class A decathlon, which he won the previous year. Granville Harp of Horace Mann won in Class B and Buddy Powers of Franklin won the Class C decathlon.

Queens for the occasion were Lillian Parks of Washington, Thomasine Allison of Woodrow Wilson, Betty Bailey of Irving, Rita Harp of Horace Mann, Betty Sue Lee of Jefferson, Betty Darlene Wurth of St. Benedict’s, Mary Lou Weir of Harrison, and Leona Hall of Franklin.

In the opening ceremony, a salvo of bombs, which released parachuted American flags above the stadium followed playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America” by the Tecumseh band.


One of the most important business transactions in Shawnee’s history was announced Saturday, April 27, 1940, culminating a deal which saw the Mammoth Department Store go out of business and its buildings taken over by Montgomery Ward and Company. The announcement was made by George H. Kerfoot, president of the store and its inspiring leader through 40 continuous years of merchandising in Shawnee.

All store floors of the Mammoth building, Jackson’s Garage building to the rear of the store, which was recently purchased by Kerfoot, and the Brandenburg building, currently occupied by the men’s department of the Mammoth, were included in the lease contract with Montgomery Ward. Office floors of the Mammoth building remained under the management of Kerfoot.

Kerfoot said possession of the site would be turned over to Montgomery Ward shortly. Prior to that action, a closing out sale that included all merchandise and fixtures of the Mammoth would be held, since none of these were included in the lease deal. Kerfoot said he gave his consent to the deal after long and careful consideration. 1940 marked the 45th anniversary of the Mammoth, 40 of which were directly under Kerfoot’s management. He came to Shawnee in 1900, when the city was young, and he built his store step by step as he helped to build the city from a village of the wilderness to the fifth largest city in the state of Oklahoma.

In discussing his future plans Kerfoot said that after 60 years in business, he had decided the time had come for him to play a little. He said he and his wife expected to spend as much time as their other business interests would permit in travel.

These stories all appear in Volume Two (1930-49) in the six-volume history of the City of Shawnee. The first four volumes, through 1989, are now available for purchase at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. They are now open, and you may visit them, or you may order them online at their website, or by calling (405) 275-8412. Each volume is $35, but a purchase of two or more volumes can be obtained at $30 each. We are offering a special deal. If you purchase any other volume, you may obtain Volume One (1830-1929) for just $20. Volume five, (1990-2009) is coming in May or June. Volume six, (2010-2021) should follow quickly in the fall.