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The Cordell Beacon, Thursday, June 2, 1966
Bethel Reunion Account Given
The following account of the development of the Bethel-Lake Valley reunion was written by Tera Hawkins Lee.

Each story has a beginning and ending and here is the beginning of our story of the greatest reunion I have ever known.

I’ll start this story away back in my early childhood days…when I was a very small girl (in fact only 5 years of age), my parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Hawkins, my two sisters, Nora and Mittie, my three brothers, Delmar, Homer and Ulys, came to Washita County, Oklahoma, from Clay County, Texas, November 4, 1898. There were 4 families who came together on a wagon train, I would say.

My dad got a 160-acre farm 9 miles north and I mile east of a little town, at that time called Harrison. (Later it was named Gotebo in honor of a very brave Indian man who saved a white woman and baby from drowning. His name was Gotebo and the town is still known by that name.) This farm had lots of water and timber on it. I’ve heard Dad say: “That is why I picked this farm-for the wood and water.” Well, I’m sure it paid off. In those days, wood and water meant a lot to the old settlers.


The little community where we made our home consisted of an area of 13 ½ square miles and was, as far as I know, at that time called Bethel. (Bethel was one of the 31 districts organized in 1892 and 1893, the year after Washita County was opened to settlement.) I well remember there was a half dugout for a school house. It was dug back in a hill, sealed and covered with split cottonwood logs, and had for seats logs with split side turned up to sit on. I never went to “school” there, but I did go to Sunday school there.


As I recalled, during the summer of 1899, my dad, with the help of other dads of the community, went by wagons to a little town called Geary, several miles away, to get lumber to build our little white school house. It was a 4 day trip!


The first term that was taught in our new school house, as I remember, was by Miss Trotter, the summer term of 1899. The next session was taught by Miss Stella Thornburg, 1899 and 1900. The next was a short summer term with Miss Ann Vandagrif teach. Mr. McDonald taught 1900 and through the summer term of 1901. Mrs. Jordan taught 1901 and 1902; John Cauner taught summer term, 1902; Mr. Gernert taught 1902 and 1903; Miss Vema Bryson taught summer term of 1903; Mr. McDonald, 1903 and 1904; Miss Pearl Briggs taught 1904 and 1905; Joseph Foth taught 1905 and 1906; Lucy Perry taught 1906 and 1907; Perry Evans taught 1907 and 1908; Frank Anthony taught 1908 and 1909.

We got a small room built onto our little school in the summer of 1909, so we then had two rooms and Miss Nora Davis and her sister, Zuna, taught the term of 1909 and 1910. I guess there wasn’t enough money for two teachers as only Isaiah Russell taught the last session at Bethel 1910 and 1911.

During summer terms, it took a lot of water for us, (naturally, we were thirsty) so during recess and in the afternoons, our teacher would let two girls and two boys go to the old gyp spring (about a quarter of a mile from the school house) for cold water. We had two zinc buckets and two tin dippers – one for the girls and one for the boys. Sometimes we would meet on the way, have a water fight, then back to the spring we would go for more water.

In those days, we children had to go to school when there was not work in the fields to do and when it wasn’t so cold we couldn’t get there. We had weeks of zero and below. The whole earth was solid ice. We kids and our neighbors school chums who lived on our way from school (south) had a high steep hill to go up and down. For days we would have to slide down mornings, crawl up evenings and sometimes we’d lose our dinner pail (Karo syrup bucket) and have to slide back down to get it, and crawl back up the hill. Believe me, it wasn’t easy, but we
all had to go through with it. (Guess that is why we have stuck together through all these years.)

At that time, we knew the children we went to school with and that was it. We had Sunday school every Sunday and church when we were lucky enough to have a preacher in our community who could preach for us. We were not particular which church he belonged to. (I would say that is one reason our bunch were all so close, we were just like one, big, happy family.)

The only recreation we had in those days was singing at the school house on Sunday afternoon or maybe a walk to the natural bridge. Yes, we had a natural bridge, and if anyone was lucky enough to own a Kodak, we would take pictures. We would take a walk to the old gyp spring for a drink of water (should we want a drink that bad). And there was the blue hole where the boys went swimming. We girls, no, we couldn’t go swimming. It would have been the talk of the community if we had gone swimming. No “good” girls went swimming those days. As we got older, we sometimes had a play party. In that way, we met a few boys from other schools. We would have candy breaking, when the boys could “rake and scrape” enough money to buy candy. We had fun at the candy breakings and we were all happy. Here is a little poem I have written as I really think it fits this occasion:

The old school house is gone, dear pals, over these many, many years.
And on the spot where it once stood, a memorial is displayed.
The names of those we all once knew are written on this stone;
Our memories of them are very sweet, though some of them are gone.


In June, 1911, after school was out, quite a tragedy happened in our little community; the school house burned down on a Saturday night. To us it was a sad occasion. But after all was said and done, I guess it was really for the benefit of the community, but we couldn’t see that far ahead.

Later in the summer, our parents got together to talk things over. In July, 1911, a move for expansion took place and East Bethel school district 15, Redwood school district 16, and Haggy school district 17 were dissolved and formed Lake Valley consolidated school district 4. That is when we began to scatter—from that summer, 1911. Things were never the same for us again, but we though often of one another as there was a feeling between us that couldn’t be forgotten.

In the summer of 1947, nine of our bunch got together, decided to go to the mountains at Medicine Park, spend Sunday and renew old memories. Those attending were Lawrence Sturgeon, Ivy Coffey, and Delmar Hawkins of Gotebo; Burnett McDonald of Cement; HomerHawkins and Lloyd McCormack of Cooperton; Frank Collier and J. T. Bailey of Cordell; and Albert Coffey, formerly of Gotebo, now with the United States Army. That Sunday meeting marked the first time the group had been together in forty-four years. A reunion plan formulated and the Bethel association was formed to promote an annual reunion of all former students who attended Bethel school before its consolidation with Lake Valley. Frank Collier was elected president and J. T. Bailey was named secretary-treasurer of the organization. It was planned to hold the first reunion the next June 1948. (Frank Collier was president of the organization untilhis death 4 years ago.)

And so, on the first Sunday in June, each year since then we former Bethel students meet at the old Bethel site at 10 o’clock, visit and take pictures, have a basket lunch at 12 with families and friends, with some type of entertainment after lunch. Paul Bryant of Oklahoma City has taken movies ever since the reunion started. He has some beautiful pictures and quite often shows these in the afternoon. We have a wonderful time visiting, eating, and entertaining.

Bethel association members think their organization is unique in that no other group of this type exists in the mid-western country at this time. The association represents a school not a class.

Sometime later, after the first meeting at Medicine Park, a bunch got together and decided it would be nice to place a stone where our old school house stood. So together we had it put there with the names of each one wishing to have their name engraved on it. It is a monument made of gray granite with an engravement of 84 former students and four teachers names.

Dedication of the memorial was made on the old Bethel school site in Washita County by an attorney from Oklahoma City, Mort Perry, one of our former students. The dedication was made at an annual meeting of the Bethel association with 35 former pupils and 75 guests attending.

Each year that I have been able to go to the reunion, I have seen someone I haven’t seen in 40 or 50 years and one I hadn’t seen in 58 years. They are not strangers, for when I find out who they are, it seems just a like a long, long friend come home. To me it is great. I just live from one year to the next to see everyone. The first year, I believe we had 41 former students, last year we had 21. Could it be we are getting older?

As far as I know, Joseph Foth is the only living teacher we have. Mr. Foth was at one time a resident of Cordell. He came to Cordell in 1901 and attended high school here. Later, he taught in Cordell Christian College in 1911 and 1912. He and his wife were with us at our last meeting, June 1965. They now live in Topeka, Kansas. We felt quite honored to have them with us and plan on having them again this year. We just hope it will be possible for them to
come.

Each year someone else has gone. Never a year passes that we don’t lose someone. We are scattered all over the United States. There is bound to be a closeness for people as old as we to come as far to be together. I have a little poem that fits:

The pictures in my mind, they swiftly come and go.
When you and I were boys and girls, in Oklahoma long ago.
What other school than Bethel draws people far and near, to meet old friends and schoolmates,
the years have made more dear?

The old gyp spring we all loved, where just 2 of us could go to fetch a pail of good, cold water.

Rock bridge near Bethel, Okla.

Tera Hawkins (later) Lee and Estella? Sturgeon
This was taken at the natural Bridge.  Mentioned in article by Tera regarding their Bethel School Reunion from the Cordell Beacon, June 2, 1966.  
 She made the following comment:
The only recreation we had in those days was singing at the school house on Sunday afternoon or maybe a walk to the natural bridge.  Yes, we had a natural bridge, and if anyone was lucky enough to own a Kodak, we would take pictures. 


 

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