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Former 1940s News-Star paperboy lives a 'full, wonderful life'

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
Shawnee resident John Gilbert was in the Air Force from 1956 to 1977.
John Gibert with his wife Frankie Foster.
John Gilbert with his former track coach and principal.

Wind slapping through hair, ink stained fingertips and the sound of papers hitting the pavement of porches describe everyday life for John Gilbert from 1949 to 1953 as a News-Star paperboy. 

According to Gilbert, he lived in Shawnee on and off for most of his life and never lost his love for his hometown. 

He was born on Oct. 4, 1938 in a farmhouse south of Tecumseh to his parents, Opal and Orval Gilbert. 

He said his family moved to Shawnee when he was three-years-old and he lived in various places in the city and attended many of the original schools. 

The father of two said when he was about 10-years-old, he got a job as a paperboy for the News-Star.

“My brother was also a paperboy at the Shawnee News-Star and his route was to the north of Highland and mine was from 7th Street and I was a (paperboy) for about four years,” he said.

Gilbert said his position as a paperboy was his first job and it was hard work.

“When I first started at the back of the Shawnee News-Star I’d fold my papers and then I’d start on the route,” he said. “Then they started delivering our papers to our house which gave us another 30 minutes to sleep.” 

The grandfather of five said in addition to working at the News-Star, he had another job at a local drugstore. 

“After that I moved over to Coffee Drug. I was a delivery boy along with the paper route and I was a delivery boy until I was about 16-years-old,” he said.

When he turned 17, Gilbert said his parents moved to Dallas, and in 1956, at the age of 18, he joined the Air Force.

“I became an instructor in 1966. I repaired anything to do with the airplane when it was on the ground,” Gilbert said. “I was an instructor and (taught) people how to repair the airplanes.” 

The veteran said he retired from the Air Force in 1977 and at that time he was living in his family home in Shawnee which he took over from his aunt who passed away in 1968. 

“I lived there until it was 2010 and that’s when my first wife died and I went to my son’s in Austin and I stayed there for a while,” he said. 

The former paperboy said he met his first wife Lois Marie on Halloween in 1955. 

“I was living with my brother in Dallas and she brought her little brother trick-or-treating,” he said. “When she came in I knew I was going to marry her.” 

The veteran said he and Lois Marie got married three years later and were together for 52 years. 

“It was a good life and now I live in Powderly, Texas which is between Paris, Texas and the Red River,” Gilbert said. “It’s been fairly a complete life.” 

In 2011, Gilbert said he went to Paris, Texas for his sister’s 50th wedding anniversary and it was there that he met his second wife, Frankie Foster.

“I happen to mention to my sister, ‘do you know of a lady that might like to go out with me,” Gilbert said. “She said ‘yes I think I know somebody.’ So then she called Frankie.”

Gilbert, his older sister, his younger sister and her husband met Frankie at her job at Sears and made plans to meet her at a restaurant for dinner.

“We sat there and kind of waited and waited. We thought maybe she changed her mind,” he said. “Just about the time we started to leave she pulled up and she said ‘sorry I went to the wrong restaurant.”’

After meeting her and spending time together, John said he and Frankie got married and have been together for the last 10 years.  

During his time living in Shawnee, the great-grandfather of four said he worked in 1985 with Judge Glen Dale Carter and County Commissioner Glendon Combs to find land for the county juvenile detention center to be built.

“I was the liaison between the builders and Judge Carter and as they were building the building. I was there in the morning and in the afternoon making sure there were no hiccups or anything to keep them from building that building,” Gilbert said.

In addition, Gilbert said he owned a lot of buildings in Shawnee, including three houses and 33 apartment units.

“I ran (them) all by myself. I did all of the work. I did carpentry, plumbing, electric. I did it all,” he said. 

John said he was extremely active in the Shawnee community as a member of the Advisory Committee to the County Commissioners and the business owner of Gilbert’s United Hobbies. 

For the majority of his life, he went back and forth between Texas and Shawnee, but he decided to sell the rest of his properties and completely live in Texas. 

“I still retain my citizenship in Oklahoma. I’ve lived a while here in Powderly with my wife mainly for 10 years and then I’d go to Shawnee for a little while,” John said.

The 81-year-old said he has and will always love Shawnee because of the homes he has lived in, the jobs he has had, the businesses he has owned, the people he has met and the history it holds for his family. 

“I’ve had quite a life. It’s a wonderful life,” he said. “(I look forward to) just being with my wife now and settling in Texas and enjoying life.”