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A VOW TO REMENBER

By Bill Keith


The post-Depression year of 1941 was a memorable year for the world, the Unites States and my family.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor forcing this country into the maelstrom of the War in the Pacific, Citizen Kane with Orson Wells was the top movie that year, followed by The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart.

The federal government issued ration stamps on food products such as sugar and flour and asked the American people to observe "Meatless Monday" so that our troops would have the food they needed to fight the Axis powers -- Germany, Italy and Japan.

That was the year that a virtually unknown sculptor by the name of Gutzon Borgium completed his sculpture of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore and the U. S. Congress declared the fourth Thursday in November as the day for the annual Thanksgiving celebration.

However, that was also the year of a dramatic yet very painful event in the life of the Keith family.

Here's what happened. My mother Hattie Keith, a school teacher, lived in Delaware County -- in far northeastern Oklahoma -- but had been promised a teaching position near Tahlequah, 47 miles away.

So she and my brother Ricel, 15, and my sister Isabel,13, caught a ride to Tahlequah (they didn't have a car) to look for a home to rent.

When they arrived, they began walking the streets looking for a home. As they walked past 515 South College Street, they saw a For Rest sign in the front yard. So my mother knocked on the door and a man appeared. She introduced herself. "I'm Hattie Keith and these are my children. I will be teaching her in Cherokee County this year and am looking for a house to rent."

The man, a scowl on his face, answered curtly: "I don’t rent to Indians" and closed the door.

Of course my mother was devastated since Tahlequah was the capital of the Cherokee Indian Nation and most everyone in the area was at least part Indian.

My sister Isabel -- who was quite vocal for a 13-year-old --was furious and thought it quite unfair that the man refused to rent the house to them. And she made a vow that day: "Someday I'm going to buy this house and property and live at 515 South College."

My mother found another house to rent and continued her teaching career that spanned 43 years.

What about my sister? She graduated from high school and enrolled at Northeastern State College where she majored in speech and drama. One year she received the award for the best actress in the school along with Clu Gulager, the best actor, who had a long movie and television career in Hollywood.

But my sister also excelled and became one of the best-known women in Oklahoma.

She married Tim Baker and they raised three sons who have become quite successful. Tim Keith and Donn are attorneys and Bill John is the principal chief of the Cherokee Indian Nation. One year she was the Mother of the Year in Oklahoma.

Both she and her husband earned doctorate degrees from Oklahoma State University and some years later the governor of Oklahoma named her to the university's Board of Regents where she served eight years, one year as chair.

She returned to Northeastern where she was a professor education at her alma mater where she completed her 42-year teaching career.

They were quite prosperous and lived in one of the finest homes in an elite subdivision in Tahlequah. However, when Tim passed away in 2005, she purchased another property and guess where -- at 515 South College where built a beautiful new home and she lives there today. "Some people never understood why my mom moved out of one of the most fashionable homes in Tahlequah to move to a low-income neighborhood in the south part of town," her son Bill John says. "But I understand."

She never forgot the vow she had made 64 years earlier.

Note: Please check out The Bill Keith Report, a news behind the news column that appears once each week.

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