The Life of Mary Louise “Lou” Gray Rother
With the cooperation of my parents C. L. ”Press” and Edna Rice Gray, I made my debut on March 5, 1945, at the Watonga Hospital. Dr. A.K. Cox assisted my birth.
My parents were primarily engaged in the “café” business here in Watonga. The most notable being the Nickel Inn located on Main Street. It was appropriately named because the hamburgers and coneys cost a nickel. Later they owned the Hiway Cafe.
Press grew up in the Greenfield area where his parents James and Zina Gray settled in Indian Territory, in 1899. His parents along with T.G. Curtner owned the land where the township of Greenfield would be established They together owned the first mercantile store which at the time was the overnight camp and wagon yard for what was to become Greenfield.
Lou's father with his five brothers:
Thomas, James, Jack, Arvin (Bill), Clarence (Press), Gilbert
Edna, was born to O. C. Clint and Effie Bradford Rice on their farm southwest of Watonga, in the Mt. Pleasant area. She was the youngest of their four children and the only one born in Oklahoma. The Rice's’ moved here from the Douglas, Kansas community in 1908. Clint built the “new” covered wagon to make the trip to Oklahoma. They moved to town in 1927 so Edna could attend high school. Clint soon opened Watonga Hatchery, along with W. E. LeGrand. He later served as town constable and was bailiff for the Blaine County Courts.
|Lou with her grandparents,
Effie and O.C. Rice outside their home in Watonga.
This is the block to the west of Cornerstone Bank. Their home was on the north side of the block and the hatchery was on the south side of the block.
I had one brother thirteen years my senior, Richard A. “Dick” Gray. He was a star athlete and started on the 1948 Watonga State Championship team. Dick was awarded a football scholarship to college.
He graduated from Southwestern State College and taught math and coached football, until 1963 when he took a job with Boeing Aircraft, in Wichita, Kansas. He retired as a Senior Contracts Negotiator. He passed away in 1992.
Edna with Lou
|When I was four
years of age my Mother passed away from a heart
condition and my Dad moved to Oklahoma City to work
for Bill Gray Plumbing.
arrangements for me to stay with family in Watonga
and I saw him every weekend.
|At that time I was graciously placed in the care of my Mother’s oldest sister, Nina and her husband J. E. ”Shorty” Elliott.
They were a wonderful and loving couple and provided me with a secure and marvelous upbringing. What is so amazing is that they were 50 and 55 years old and had never had children of their own.
|They both would
comment ever so often, “that I kept them young.”
They provided to me many, many wonderful memories
Lou with Sandy Hursh and Shorty in one of the Pioneer Day Parades
|After Nina passed away
in 1988, Jack and I sold our home
that we had built in the Lucas addition and moved back to the home I grew-up in. So, we continued to build fond memories within those four walls.
Lou with Shorty and Nina on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Uncle Shorty and Aunt Nina, as they were fondly called by me and my friends, owned and operated Elliott Furniture Store, on South Noble. Shorty always said, “it is the right store in the wrong location.”
By them having a business in the Downtown area, I grew-up knowing most of the merchants. I made frequent visits to many of the stores. My favorite destination was the T G & Y and I loved the girls/women who worked there. The one I remember most was Cleta Haworth. She was Mina Green’s sister.
On a weekly allowance of 25 cents, a child had to carefully plan their spending.
Ten cents was taken from the top to attend the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Rook or Ann Theater.
Other destinations were Harry’s Cut-Rite Market, to visit Harry and Florence Kouri;
Babb’s Drug, to visit Webb and Wilma Babb and girls. I remember most Pat Boston DeSpain and Shirley “Woot” France Swann.
Then to Veatch Drug, to visit Orren and Elsie Veatch and girls. I mostly remember Nell Richardson.
C&R Drug to visit Jake Ruhl. He gave me my first job as soda jerk at the age of 12; Of course, I enjoyed going to Gladys and Dell Nigh’s beauty and barber shop (She was my Uncle Shorty’s sister)
After the Elliott’s sold the furniture store to Joe Elliott, who was Shorty’s brother, they bought the building where the Nigh’s operated their beauty and barber shop and opened the Tastee Freeze/Malt Shop.
JoAnn Ashton Hursh and Sue Knapp worked there.
It was directly across the street from the Rook Theater. They served the first soft ice cream in town, fountain drinks, short order food and extra-ordinary hospitality.
Aunt Nina in her Pioneer Day garb in front of Elliot's Furniture. The sign in the window is an ad for this 4-day event with horse races and old fiddlers contest, the 19th annual Pioneer Day Celebration.
This became “the place” to go at the peak of rock’n’roll.
The teenagers flocked there from Watonga, Greenfield, Fay, Hitchcock, and Oakwood to hear the hottest tunes on the Juke Box and dance the bop on the provided hardwood floor. Saturday night was an event! Shorty sold it in about three years but it was never the same after that and soon closed.
As a child, I was crazy about collecting. I collected sea shells from our yearly trip to the Gulf. I collected unusual rocks and postage stamps. I was quite a “tomboy” and was especially fond of my cowboy boots. I too, liked the western wear with guns and holsters, and horses. I could never quite understand why Shorty wouldn’t allow me to keep a horse in the backyard.
Lou in the County Talent Show singing "I'm looking over a Four Leaf Clover". She placed third.
|My Aunt Nina, did her best to bring refinement to my life by providing me with voice/expression lessons from Mrs. Dan Crider and dance from Cozette Harris. I was entered in talent contests and was placed before various audiences to “do my thing” throughout my childhood.
I would have much preferred to ride a horse, go fishing, ride my bike, and raise and show my exotic show chickens.
|I believe my growing-up years were the best of times. I was very involved in school activities and was a high school cheerleader.||
starting at the left side of the circle: Lynda Greer, Ann Bush, Joy Wills, DeeAnn Washmon, Lou, Janice Kohl, Donna Davis
As a teenager we looked forward to a snow so we could be drug behind Charlotte and Tim Curtin's jeep on an old car hood.
For more fun we “drug” main, drove to other towns to scope out the boys, frequented Jerry and Roberta House and Herman and Eunice Justice’s Hi-De-Ho Drive-in, and then to the Watonga Drive-in to see the latest movie and socialize. Just occasionally, we would get by Norman Terry and sneak someone into the drive-in inside the trunk. You had to be quick to get them out before he got to the back row.
My family’s roots were in the Methodist Church and I grew-up actively involved in Sunday School (my Aunt Nina usually taught the class) and I always participated in Vacation Bible School, which I thought was a lot more fun. I won an Award Bible for top performance in the Membership class and I still treasure it. Throughout Jr.& Sr. High I actively participated in M Y F and many of those friendships continue in my life today. After many years, we again attend the Methodist Church.
My relationship with the Lord has played an important role in my adult life. I have taught numerous Bible Studies, adult Sunday School classes and spoken over a five state area to the faithfulness of the Lord God in my life. I especially enjoy studying God’s Word and continue to be amazed when He unfolds a new level of understanding to me. Knowing Him as “the Living Word” is my life’s passion. Mine is a life that is lived on the wings of grace.
My formal education began at Mrs. Olsen’s private kindergarten. She was Cowboy Curtin’s sister. Kindergarten was not yet a part of the public school system. After that, I didn’t much care for school until my 5th grade year, with Mrs. Alice Kline as my teacher. School then became tolerable for me.
Other teachers I had a fondness for were Jack Ware, Bob Jones, and Cecile Peterson. After graduating from W.H.S., I attended Oklahoma University and transferred to Southwestern State College where I completed my degree in Elementary Education.
| I taught 2nd grade and P.E. through 6th grade in El Reno, before returning to the Watonga community to marry my husband, John H. “Jack” Rother, who had a ranching/farming/dairy operation northwest of town.
That will be forty-two years ago this coming August. Jack is originally from the Okarche community.
|We are the parents of two sons: Our oldest son, John Elliott (named after my aunt and uncle) lives in Deltaville, Virginia, where his family owns and operates a NAPA Auto and Marine Parts Store/mechanic shop.|
|Together, he and his wife Michelle, have four children. Cameron graduates from high school this year, Kelsey is 16, Austin is 14 and Preston is 13.|
Jarrod lives in Dallas
Jarrod graduated from SWOSU which is the alma Marta of my brother, Dick, and myself.
I have tried to impress on my grandchildren when we sit around the dining room table for a Thanksgiving meal, that they are at least the fourth generation in this family to sit around this table in this home. They may not be impressed, but they should be!
Due to financial straights we sold out and left our farming operation, in 1980. The death blow to our survival was when President Nixon, placed a freeze on cattle prices in 1974. We had sold our dairy operation the year before and loaded ourselves to the hilt with feeder calves. We tried to hold on until the price freeze lifted but became forced to sell due to a shortage of grass and hay. We lost right at a half of million dollars and never were able to recoup the loss.
Jack soon went to work in the oil/gas business, only for that to go bust by 1985. During this time I was working as Advertising Manager at the Watonga Republican, but had quit in 1984 to help Jack in his oil/gas leasing business. I then managed Stevens Carpet of Kingfisher for a year before returning to college to work on a Master’s degree.
It was soon after I began a new profession as a counselor at Opportunities Drug/Alcohol Treatment Center. Less than two years later I went to work as a counselor for Valley Hope Association, in the Thomas Hospital. This was “my dream job”. Valley Hope was renown in the drug/alcohol treatment field. Eleven of their facilities over a five state area were rated in the “100 Best Treatment Centers” in the nation and as the most frequently recommended. I spent three months at their Norton, Kansas Headquarters training in the VH philosophy of treatment. Ten months later I was promoted to Program Director. Thomas Hospital was a first for them, in the fact that treatment was offered in a hospital setting with medical detox. To say the least, this was a challenging field to work; but yet it offered great rewards. A number of former patients continue to stay in touch with me, yet. That career ended abruptly with an unexpected health issue. Then I had a new challenge dealing with a permanent disability.
It is a tremendous blessing having grown-up myself and then rearing my own children in the Watonga community. Nothing compares to the small town atmosphere that only comes with living here.
As far as I'm concerned Watonga’s greatest asset is bar none it’s people!
It gives me great pleasure knowing and visiting with friends and acquaintances wherever I see them. We are fortunate to have a vibrant Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Program, Blaine County Free Fair, and Cheese Festival that keeps us moving forward. I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to be involved, at one time or another, in all the above mentioned. No doubt “the sun shines brighter over Watonga.”
If you would like to comment on this story, send your email to email@example.com
You look so sweet! Of course you were and still are---and always "young at heart". I'm proud of you and happy that I am your friend.
Wilda Spain Scott
Loved your story! It brought back fond memories of Aunt Nina. Can't wait to get together again. Hugs,
Lou, This was like reading a history book! So very interesting! You know that every time we need to remember a name or a detail about someone or something from Watonga, we always say "We'll ask Lou...she'll know!" Thank you for sharing the wonderful memories and bringing them back for us all!
Sharon Ann Stockton
I thoroughly enjoyed the article written about my Aunt Lou. I too had wonderful childhood memories in Watonga. My Aunt Lou was much younger than my Dad, Dick Gray, and so she was a very cool Aunt; especially during her teenage years. We looked quite a bit alike and she would drag me around with her to all the "cool" places in Watonga. We also had wonderful Christmas memories at Uncle Shorty and Aunt Nina's house and were truly blessed to have such a close family. During the summer months, we always went to the lake for skiing and fishing. What a delight! I seemed to remember many fourth of July's at the lake shooting off fireworks.
Both Aunt Lou and myself have been on similar spiritual journeys and although my Dad has passed away,and we are separated by many miles, our families remain very close. My husband of 30 years, Marlin, along with our three children, Josiah, Micaiah and Maleshah, reside in Denver, CO.
Watonga is a place where many of my childhood memories were formed. They are fond reflections that will be in my heart forever. Thank you for the beautiful article.
Sincerely, Charlotte Gray Bender Niece of Mary Lou Gray/Rother Denver, CO
What a truly fabulous piece of hometown! Lou your transparency and willingness to share your blessings and joy with the community is a testimony in itself. The pictures and story are a treasure. Few people know who they are, much less where they came from and you have a pictorial genealogy. Your children and grandchildren will know where they came from and what kind of people their ancestors were. You did a wonderful job of weaving personal with community to share how they work together. All of us that grew up in the Watonga area carry it with us where ever we go.
I also want to take this time to thank you for using these same talents to create wonderful scrapbooks for our family of the "Glory Barn" and all of the events that were held there. Thank you and Jack for being close personal friends to our Family through thick and thin. I know that the doors of your home are always open to us. The giving spirit of Shorty and Nina live on through You and Jack. May Gods blessings continue to flow in your lives.
Mary Lou, your life story sure brought back a lot of childhood memories
of mine. Dick(ie) and I, who were the same age, grew up together for
many years, until we moved to California. Almost every weekend, we
drove to Watonga. We ate lunch at the Nickel Inn, then Dick and I went
to the 2 feature movie, always with an added serial of The Green Hornet
or Captain Marvel, etc. Dick had told some of his friends that I was
some kind of beauty queen in Oklahoma City so I always had a great
time. Then after the movie we all adjourned to what was then Hooper's
drug store, where we'd hang out until my parents would come get me to
go back home. We never had to pay for candy bars at the Nickel Inn.
Consequently Dick got sick with something called "Bright's Disease".
which was probably the beginnings of Diabetes and had to stop eating
Then later when I moved back to Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma A&M,
which is now Okla. State in Stillwater, Dick visited me there several
times and was a real hit with all my girl friends.
Your mother was my very favorite aunt and my mother's best friend. It
was a shock to me when I received a telegram in Pasadena, where I was
living with my grandmother and attending Pasadena City College, that
Aunt Edna had died. My mom was devastated and we all worried about you
and Dick. Your dad was always my mom's favorite brother too.
When Dick and I were about 8, our dads were building a new house for
gramma and grampa on their farm. We spent many days just playing there
while the men were working. One day, we ran into the smoke house where
grampa kept the milk separator on a shelf above an old buggy seat.
Dick threw himself onto the buggy seat and the separator fell on his
head. The middle spindle hit him on top of his head and made a hole
that bled profusely and knocked him out. I ran to the house and our
dads grabbed him up and drove into Watonga to the hospital where they
put a metal plate into Dick's head and patched him up. I just knew he
was dead, and cried and cried. He survived, as you know, and lived for
a long time, playing football and teaching. After we both got married,
we seldom saw each other but he did visit Ken and I in Seattle once
when he was there on business for Boeing.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Thanks. Love,
I remember the days when you were young and involved in all the Watonga activities. I was a bit older but still hard to miss your vivacious life and great friendship------even with a Greenfield guy. I wondered why but now I understand as your Dad was from there so you had be have some it rub off on you. I still consider you a wonderful friend and always wish you and Jack the best of everything. You have a nice story and super family.
Wow! I enjoyed reading about Lou's life so much! Lou was one of my best friends when I moved to Watonga in 1970 after marrying Les Scott. Lou and Jack lived on the Wild Goose Ranch, and Les and I lived a few miles closer in to town on the Sky Ranch. I cannot count the many times Lou and Jack were there for me. Lou is the type of gal that once you are her friend, you are always her friend. I live in Charlotte, NC, now and Lou and I e-mail all of the time. My life has been richly blessed to have Lou and Jack Rother in it. They are genuinely fine people!
That was super! You held my interest completely!! The pictures made it compelling. You are a gifted writer. I learned so much about your background too.
Pam Cox Shotts
What a great story. I also enjoyed the story of Betty Chapman and
family. I used to baby sit for the kids. Sure brought back some memories.
Thanks for sharing.
What a precious story!! I had no idea! I am definitely going to file this one!!
Thank you for sharing!!!
What a wonderful story. I am printing it off so I can save it and read it more often. Love you and treasure our life long friendship. Love bunches,
Lou, what a wonderful story as only you could compose. Loved the many pictures and the
openness of your heart in writing about your life story.
You were such a gad about as a little girl. :) You knew everyone on Main Street and then some. You never met a stranger, did you?
The highlight of your story was all the benefits of growing up in a small community, and how fortunate one would be to be able to be raised in that atmosphere. Neighbor looking after neighbor, etc.
We are truly blessed, aren't we?
love to my forever friend,
Debbie Cox Marsh
Lou-I loved this! It brought back a lot of memories of you and the special person you are. Thanks for sharing
Harolene Meier Schneider
Lou, I woke up early this AM and decided to read your article – What an amazing little story you have given all of us. Many things I didn’t know and I’m glad to learn
The details – I think I’m going to read it again… Many of the things you mentioned affected all of us growing up…. Later
I really loved this story about your life. It was really well written and quite interesting. You are truly an amazing lady. I am very proud to be your daughter-in-law. Jarrod said there was probably a good reason Shorty did not let you have a horse in the backyard...all he said was something about high school, a chicken, and a possible gender change. He was unclear of the details but was certain Shorty knew what he was doing.
Lou this is so neat. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed it.
It was wonderfully done, Lou. I know parts and pieces of it, but very much enjoyed reading all your history. thanks for sharing. Dave thinks its great too. I'm sending it to Mom.
Your friends, Dave and Tracie Dunkin
Hi Lou, Your story brought back a lot of
memories and it was interesting
to read all of the different vocations that you have followed. It
sounds like you had some fulfilling experiences
as you served others. I did not realize that the Tastee Freeze was only open for 3 years. I
just thought about it recently and how much
I enjoyed my ice cream with peppermint topping on it. (That was my
favorite!) Shorty and Nina were such special people. How lucky you were
to have had them. All of the places that you mention visiting were
really neat places, Babbs, Veatch's, TG&Y, Hi-De Ho, The Drive-In (I
still feel guilty about sneaking into the Drive In). I think the main
reason we did it was because we were trying to irritate Norman and he
did get wound up! He made such a game out of it for us. I enjoyed all of your pictures. We had a wonderful childhood. I always
thought that it was the best, even as
I was growing up I knew we were very fortunate. No one could have had
any more fun than we did. Life was really simple then. Kids growing up
now will never have what we were blessed with. Mrs. Kline was a very special person. You and I were lucky to have had
her. I will never forget her reading the story of the snakes in the
Amazon. I don't think that we ever finished that book, but I sure did
enjoy it. Jack Ware, Jonsey, and Mrs. Peterson were all really fun and
unique. Another teacher that I really like was our Latin teacher. I
can't remember his name, but he was lots of fun too. It may have been Schimmels
- he was a lot of fun as well. The two people that you didn't mention (and this wasn't really the place
to-were Scott and Russell!) They were
one of a kind-what fun they were. I didn't know where the Nickel Inn was. This is the first time I have
heard of it. Anyway, I loved reading Lou's life story.
My goodness that article brought back so many memories. When I left Greenfield school and went to Watonga I ate most of my meals (especially lunch) at the Nickel Inn. I knew her parents real well. In fact, I had a charge account there and my Mom would pay it weekly. Of course I knew Shorty and Nina too. My sister Dot lived next door to them during the war when Mike was a baby. I remember Mary Lou as a child and that Nina and Shorty
raised her. They were great people and she was a lucky little girl to have them
In Him Phyllis
Lou!! what a wonderful story !!
I love you !!!
Thank YOU for your precious friendship thru all these years !!
Thank YOU for opening your home to Kaci !!! I am so grateful to you and Jack for all you are still doing for me !!!
Great to read the article and to see all the photos online this am. Congratulations of a lifetime of achievement, Lou. Glad I got to know you before you were famous online:)))
How wonderful, Lou! Wow--you obviously put so much work and love into this.
I was especially touched by how thoroughly you described and immortalized the special people in your life. The photos were a fabulous addition too.
This is also an amazing chronicle of Watonga's history! It should be archived somehow. Are they planning to produce some type of commemorative album of the town's citizens and history? That would be a great fundraiser for some worthy civic cause.....
Great work, dear friend. It helped me get to know you so much better.
Bravo!! Love, Rita
I love it Lou! good job
Thanks for sending your life story. Wonderful memories for us all to reflect upon. All of us that grew up in Watonga should realize what a wonderful place it is to call home. We were
Take care, Keithi
Oh what good times we had in our cheer leading days. Your story brought back so many memories of the day. I so remember your Aunt Nina and Uncle Shorty and what wonderful and kind people they were. Thanks for sharing the memories Mary Lou.
Ann (Bush) Prather
What wonderful memories this story has revived. I enjoyed many
days & nights over the years with Mary Lou at Shorty & Aunt Nina's,
great times at the Tastee Freeze and the Rook. But the best were
our high school days at Roman Nose and the "drive-in".
Bravo to Mary Lou, what a great story, a dear friend she will always be.
Donna Davis Patterson
What a wonderful story....
It brought back special memories to me, because I worked at the Nickel Inn for Press and Edna Gray, about 1945-46.
I especially enjoyed seeing pictures of them and of Lou's brother Dick, who was a young teen-ager as I remember him at that time.
The story is great and the pictures are such an addition to it...
Thank you, Lou for sharing your life...
Thank you, Anita for such a great arrangement of pictures and story.
|check out the drapes in these
Granny Nina with John and Jarrod
Lou's first Christmas with Nina and Shorty
|Aunt Nina bought these drapes in 1950
Lou's last Christmas to get a new bicycle
|The drapes are just as bright and beautiful
today as when they were brand new!
Lou has a beautiful home with many family pictures on the walls.......
|a picture of Lou|
picture showing the original house that had a patio
area out front and
later showing the patio area closed in.
|this melodian holds family pictures of Nina and Shorty, Lou's parents and brother and Jack's parents' wedding picture|
|this is an original photograph of Lou's great grandfather, William Bradford in his Civil War Uniform along with three other soldiers.|
Living Legends Series: