Velma Margaret Knearl


July 16, 1908 -


AS I REMEMBER, written by Velma M. Knearl, 1972




At the time I was born, July 16, 1908, my parents John Frederick Knearl and Cora Belle (Dale) Knearl lived on a farm 3 miles north and 1 mile east of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Like every generation there were the difficult periods of crop failures and drought in addition to the regular hardship of making a living. I remember my father telling about a n epidemic of hog cholera sweeping the country. He had a large number of pigs which he expected to provide part of the income for a year, but due to the epidemic all the pigs died. Then the barn burned down, the cause was believed to be due to spontaneous combustion from alfalfa hay in the barn loft. The barn was rebuilt and later the house burned. The furniture and most of our clothing were destroyed by the fire. From there we moved to a three room house on the farm that dad had homesteaded during the opening of the Cherokee Strip, 1893. I can still see the Methodist minister driving in the yard in his car with blankets that the church members had collected for us. Also of us sitting on wooden boxes, in place of chairs, around the table at mealtime. There was one box about 4 or 5 feet long that was placed at one side of the table, with the open side facing it, and three of us sat on this box. One day the family realized that they hadn't seen me playing about for awhile and started to look for the "lost child". After a search indoor, one of my brothers looked at the open side of the box and discovered me there, asleep. Why I thought this was a good place to sleep, I have no idea. A two story house was built on the farm where we had been living as we had a good barn, and good water supply there. We were expecting to move soon, but on April 25, 1912 a tornado (we called them cyclones) hit Ponca City and moved eastward. After the storm disintegrated, my father and older brothers hitched a team of horses to the wagon and drove to the other farm to see if any damage had been done. Yes, there was damage, the barn was completely demolished and the house moved partly off the foundation. A tornado can do weird things. A span of mules in the barn were unharmed, one was carried across the fence in our pasture with the halter on and the halter rope still tied to part of the manger board; the other mule across the road in the neighbor's pasture. This was not the end of the hardship for my father. Four years later my mother died from uremia when my sister was born. Several wonderful women of the church helped care for my sister until Aunt Anna, my father's sister, arrived from Michigan. Aunt Anna stayed for about tow years and I am sure that it was a terrific adjustment for her and no easy task to have eight children around. Two of my aunts in California wanted my sister and me to come and live with them. My father did not wish to break up the family and he taught us all to help one another.

Living in the country one was not worried about population overcrowding as our nearest neighbor was one fourth mile away. We didn't have playmates very often, therefore, we always looked forward to the beginning of school and seeing our friends again. Of course as the end of the school term approached we were anxious for summer vacation and to go barefoot, as we never went barefooted to school. Summer vacation was not all play. We had certain chores to perform, such as: working in the garden, feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs and my brothers had to milk the cows, hoe and cultivated the corn, help harvest the wheat, etc. Harvesting the wheat was really hard work and there were 25 to 30 men to cook for when the wheat was threshed. At that time there were no combines. The farmers exchanged work with one another and the entire crew followed the threshing machine until all the wheat in the community was harvested. My youngest brother Albert, who we called Bill, started with the crew as "water boy" at $1.50 per day. That was big money for a 12 year old boy. He took a horse name Prince and the single buggy and a 5 gallon milk can to carry water to the crew in the field throughout the day. Bill always went to town early in the morning to get 50 pounds of ice (the ice he paid for out of his earnings) in order to have cold water for the crew. Sometimes on a real hot day he would go to town after lunch for more ice. If he was near the Knearl farm he always go water from our well. This well was 52 feet deep and everyone remarked about how good the water tasted.

I still remember how we picked peas and green beans from the garden; then we had to shell the peas, string the beans and pick trough the leaf lettuce for any worms. The hardest job of all was picking potato bugs off the vines. Not long ago I was listening to a television program and a natural food advocate was saying that the government should ban all pesticides and that the potato growers should hire the youth to pick bugs from the potato vines. I am sure that this advocate knows nothing about this back breaking practice.

I always enjoyed going to town with my mother to buy groceries or some necessary clothing. Often we took some eggs to sell to help pay for whatever was purchased. Our mode of transportation was a horse and a single buggy. On Sunday when we went to church at Kildare, two of my brothers went in the single buggy and the rest of us in the double buggy or you could day the surrey with the fringe on the top. Actually it did have a fringe on the top, but I just called it the double buggy.

All of us children attended a two-room school for the first eight grades. Most of the time we walked 1 1/2 miles to school. On our way home from school there was always a faithful friend waiting for us, our dog. Late in the afternoon the dog would sit in the front yard watching for us to come over the hill. As soon as we were visible the dog would run to meet us, licking our hands as if to say, "It's about time you got home." After we finished the rural school we attended high school in Ponca City. My two oldest brothers drove a horse and buggy to school and the horse was kept at the livery stable during the school hours. By the time the rest of us were ready for high school we went int a Model T Ford. When I was a freshman my brother Homer, called Bud, was a Junior and he drove the car. We had 1 mile of dirt road before we reached the paved highway 77. It always seemed like a sparkplug or something would start missing as we plowed through the mud on rainy days, but as soon as we reached the pavement the engine would start perking again and we felt then we had it made. Occasionally we would have to fix a flat tire and then on cold days there was difficulty in starting the car. There was no heater in the car and the cold wind would creep in around the side curtains with the ising-glass windows. It seemed the colder the weather the more cracks appeared in the ising- glass. After Bud graduated then Bill (Albert), my youngest brother, was the chauffeur for the Ford and we still had the mile of dirt road. When my sister was ready for high school she had to chauffeur herself. By that time the dirt road had been graveled and one was not so apt to get stuck.

During my high school days it was a small percentage of students who went on to college. One day in my junior year my chemistry instructor asked me if I planned to attend college. I said I would like to but was not sure if I could manage it financially. Mr. Greer was the kind of instructor who liked to guide students into a field that he thought they had ability and interest. He said, "Why don't you think about being a dietitian and enroll in Home Economics at Oklahoma A&M College." After finishing high school I was out of school for a year but kept thinking about college. I wrote a letter to the registrar at Oklahoma A&M, which is now Oklahoma State University, asking for their catalog and information about enrollment. After receiving the catalog I estimated how much my fees would be, then asked my older brothers if they thought they could help me and they said they would. I mailed my high school transcript of credits to the registrar office and after I received a notice that I was accepted, I requested ad reservation for a room in the dormitory at the very lowest rate, which at that time was $3.00 per month for a single room on 4th floor. The room was sparsely furnished but served the purpose. Needless to say that this building has been retired from use as a dormitory in favor of high rise and more beautifully furnished buildings.

After arriving on the campus I went to see Dean Freeman, the dean of women, and inquired about work. At that time there were very few jobs on the campus or elsewhere other than working in homes. I looked over the list handed me and selected an address near the campus and then I called Mrs. Guthrie for an interview. She operated a beauty shop and her husband a barber shop. My work would consist of preparing the noon and evening meal, staying with the two elementary grade school children after school and on Saturday until the parents arrived home. In those days beauty shops stayed open as long as anyone wanted an appointment. On Saturday I cleaned the house in addition to looking after the children. In return I got my meals, my hair set once a week and a permanent wave when needed. I could have stayed in their home but preferred the dormitory. Now it is hard to look back and realize that money and jobs were so scarce. When I had to go to town for something I would walk the mile in order to save 5 cent bus fare. As graduation drew near I needed money for my diploma fee and for rental of my cap and gown. Rather than writing home for more money I decided to have a rummage sale. A notice was posted on the bulletin board that a rummage sale would be held in my room at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. I made close to $20.00 and really felt rich. The next morning I went to the registrar office and paid the diploma fee, then stopped at the student book store to pay the rental on the cap and gown.

Our graduation exercise was held in the football stadium. While we were listening to the speeches the sky darkened and there were some loud bolts of thunder and lighting and it looked like there could be a downpour any minute. Fortunately, no rain fell, however, I doubt if the rain could have dampened the spirits as there were many others like myself who knew how hard we had worked and how determined we were to complete those four years of college. After receiving my degree I then had to complete 9 month dietetic internship in an accredited hospital. The following September, 1931, I was on my way to Chicago to start my internship at Cook County Hospital, 3300 bed capacity, and for training in a private hospital Cook County affiliated with Grant Hospital, 500 be capacity. There were six of us in this group. The others were from: Bringham Young University, Arkansas University, Chicago University, Missouri University and Ohio State University.

When we finished our internship in June, 1932 we all knew that the depression was still on and would have its effect on us. There were no jobs waiting for us and for many others. On my way home to Oklahoma I stopped in Kansas City to visit my uncle and aunt (Eli and Ada Dale) and their daughter Margaret. While there Margaret drove me to all the hospitals to inquire about work, but the results were always negative as hospitals were laying off rather than hiring. After staying home for a few weeks I went to Oklahoma City and it was the same story. Letters of application were sent to may places without results. It was almost two years before I got work as a dietitian. In the spring of 1933 my brother and sister-in-law (Homer and Inez) were driving to Chicago. Bud suggested that I go with them as far as Kansas City and visit Uncle Eli and Aunt Ada and make personal interviews for work at the hospitals. Still no luck. My uncle and aunt wanted me to stay and work in my uncle's restaurant until something in my field developed. I had registered with a Medica Exchange and one day I received a call asking if I would go to El Paso that Masonic Hospital needed a dietitian. Within two days I was on my way to Texas. That was a long train ride from Kansas City to El Paso, by coach. My starting salary was $50.00 per month with board and room. After that I worked in Colorado Springs, St. Augustine, Florida, Alexandria, Louisiana before going into the army. January, 1943 I was assigned as dietitian with the 75th station hospital at Camp Clairborne, Louisiana, the first woman to be assigned which was no doubt due to the fact that I was already in Louisiana and the nurses came from the east coast. We left Camp Claiborne for Camp Stoneman, California to await orders for somewhere in the Pacific. That somewhere turned out to be Hawaii and later Okinawa. On Okinawa we operated a tent hospital and was there when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima August 6, 1945. I received my discharge from the army in January 1946. Then I worked as chief dietitian at the Veterans Hospital in St. Louis and then four years later was transferred to Wichita, kansas. After 30 years with the Veterans Administration, including my army service, I retired from gainful employment but not from life.

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