Ottawa County’s Oldest Resident

Interesting Local Characters

Ottawa county has had some residents reach a ripe old age. Ottawa Indian Lizzie Cedar died on November 3, 1929 at Devil’s Promenade. She was 100 years old. Longtime Miami businesswoman Dena Ander is 103 years old at presstime, and is still chugging along beautifully, looking 30 years younger.

Jane Phelps at the age of 116.

But the grand champion in the age contest is an Ottawa Indian lady by the name of Jane Phelps.

Born on the Maumee River in Ohio in 1766, Jane King was the daughter of a Chippewa-French Canadian father and a French Canadian mother. Eventually she married Kenewabee, the 8th Ottawa signer of the Treaty of the Rapids of Maumee of Lake Eric in 1817. She took on the Indian name Chequah Watbee.  Kenewabee eventually took on the name of William Phelps.

In 1837, the Ottawa were forcibly relocated from Ohio to Kansas, and the Phelps’ had to move. Thirty years later, they relocated to the Ottawa reservation in northeast I.T., in an area which would someday be known as Ottawa county.

“Aunt” Jane learned the healing arts. She mastered the traditional Ottawa secrets of converting plants to medicine for healing. She acted as midwife to the tribe as well, helping bring hundreds of babies into the world. She also mastered three languages: French, English, and Algonkian.

Jane didn’t like sleeping in the dark, nor did she trust the white man’s coal-oil lamps. She slept with hand-dipped candles burning beside her bed.

Jane Phelps’ grave on the Ottawa reservation

In 1866, after an incredible 120 years of life that saw her go from living in an ancient Indian settlement to dwelling in what would eventually become Oklahoma, she passed on. Her grave lies on the Ottawa reservation.

In 1907, Oklahoma became a state, and Ottawa county was born.

So Ottawa county’s oldest resident actually died before Ottawa county was a thing. But she did live and is buried within the county confines, so she is most certainly the old age champion.

Someone tell our own beloved Dena Ander that she has a record to break!

Making Airplanes in Miami

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Edward DeChenne was born in Illinois in 1870. By 1905, he had relocated to southwest Missouri. His trades were blacksmith and machinist, and this made him valuable to the mining industry.

In 1910, he moved to Joplin. There, he became familiar with two Monett businessmen, Ulysses S. Barnsley and Judge Ludwell B. Durnil. Barnsley owned a successful cutlery factory, Durnil was likewise a blacksmith. All three men shared a passion for flying.

DeChenne’s first airplane, 1910. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Dechenne airplane engine. Water cooled, direct drive, made of aluminum. Courtesy of the Monett Times

DeChenne invented and produced an all-aluminum airplane engine. He also designed aluminum framing for a plane. Aluminum, only recently made affordable by advancement in refinement techniques, was lightweight, perfect for aviation.

In June, 1910, DeChenne and his partners built their first plane at the Joplin Machine Works. The machine used the aluminum engine with the propeller directly connected to the shaft. On July 3, it successfully flew, staying about five feet up for nearly six minutes. An August flight, with a man named E.H. Simpson at the controls, ended with a crash from which Simpson walked away.

By 1911, the men had moved their manufacturing facilities to Monett, and had a second generation plane built and ready to test. Since very few men had ever flown, nerves of steel were found acceptable in lieu of experience. They found such a brave man in Edward Wilson, formerly a trapeze artist and hot air balloonist. Wilson would shoot himself out of a cannon from a balloon 5000 feet up and parachute to the ground. On March 8 of that year, Wilson successfully piloted the DeChenne airplane in Joplin. The flight took place at present-day Shifferdecker Park, and ended with a successful crash, i.e. Wilson walked away. A few weeks later, Wilson again took the plane up, handled a stall instinctively, and landed smoothly.

Logan McKee in the second generation DeChenne, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Another test flight was scheduled for July 4 that year in Monett. This time, DeChenne went with Logan McKee as the pilot. McKee was a Monett pharmacist who had been commissioned to take photos of the plane. When he expressed a desire to pilot it, DeChenne and his partners took him up on the offer.

Logan McKee about to take off on July 4, 1911, Monett, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

The flight was successful. That was followed by more demonstrations across the four state area as well as Texas. These flights too frequently resulted in crashes, but no deaths were ever attributed to the airplane.

DeChenne airplane in flight over Miami, 1911

Included in the barnstorming tour was Miami. A three-day festival celebrating the Farmer’s Institute in July of 1911 resulted in several successful flights, often meaning walk-away crashes.

1959 article about the 1911 flying exhibition. Click to enlarge.

McKee was known for making flights of perhaps 50 feet in the air, landing, and manually turning the plane around for returns. The article above explains the unusual flight technique. But while these bunny hops were being performed, Wright and Curtiss planes were achieving altitudes of 2000 feet, maneuvering with ease.

1929 News-Record article giving history of the Robinson-DeChanne plant

The Live Wire announces an airplane factory, March 15, 1912

Later that year, DeChenne moved his factory to Miami. He teamed up with S.D. “Doc” Robinson to create the Robinson-DeChenne Aero-Plane & Motor Co., located on NW 3rd, not far from the river. The next year, in 1912, a DeChenne plane was manufactured in Miami. It flew successfully at a July 4th exhibition in town.

But the planes DeChenne made weren’t competitive with those offered by Curtiss and the Wrights. Tired of losing money, DeChenne opened up a machine shop in town, eventually settling in at 210 S Main, in a building that still stands. Robinson kept going as Robinson Aviation.

Edward DeChenne obituary, February 11, 1935

He died on February 10, 1935. Curiously, his obituary implies that he first entered the airplane building trade as a result of the 1912 aerial demonstration. Whether this was poor journalism or done to avoid lawsuits from former partners is not known.

The Robinson-DeChenne factory history, 1928

As the article above outlines, Doc Robinson went on to manufacture at least 25 more planes at a facility near Commerce. He died on March 8, 1930, and thus ended Miami’s airplane manufacturing. His field north of town continued to function for a time as the area’s only airstrip.

By the time the city airport opened in 1931, airplanes had been manufactured here for nearly 20 years. Add to that the Spartan Aviation School we had during and after WWII, and Miami can boast of a strong history of flying. But it all began in Joplin in 1910, with a man named Edward DeChenne.

Steve Owens

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

This article was originally published at I Remember JFK: A Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot in 2007. I’m recycling it here because it’s appropriate for Miami History. –the webmaster

Growing up in small-town America Miami, Oklahoma in the 60’s was a rich experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was wonderful living in a community where everyone knew who you were, where you could go anywhere you wanted as long as you were home for supper, and where civic pride was tangibly real.

The city’s pride swelled to the breaking point in 1969, the year hometown boy Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy.

Steve Owens Day celebration, December 8, 1969. Click to enlarge

Owens was a kid that, of course, everyone in town knew. I never met the man myself, but his brother (named Bill, I believe) lived on my street, and Steve’s nephew Tony, who was my age, was a familiar face in the neighborhood gang. And my schoolteacher mom was quite proud of the fact that Steve was one of her students.

I’ve always stated that Miami was Steve’s home town, but I stand corrected. He was actually born in Gore, Oklahoma, and moved to Miami at an early age. While he was a young kid, OU was in the process of compiling an incredible 47 game winning streak. Any football-inclined youngster in Oklahoma dreamed of playing for the Sooners, and Steve was no exception.

In high school, Steve shined for the Wardogs. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush and gained over 4,000 yards in his four years. He caught recruiters’ attention, and happily signed for his favorite school.

But the coaches weren’t sure what to do with him. Owens was a bit of a paradox. He was a track star who was quite speedy, but he looked slow on the field. The Sooners considered making him a tight end. But in the end, they played him at running back his freshman season.

He didn’t play much, and didn’t dazzle when he did. But the next year, he ran for 813 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also scored a TD in OU’s Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Steve Owens Day article, December 9, 1969. Click to Enlarge

In his junior year, he gained 1,536 yards and started getting attention from the press. That year, O.J. Simpson blew away everyone else for the Heisman, but he called Owens and predicted he would win it the next year.

Owens shined in 1969. His team had problems, though, and lost four games. But Steve began putting together a string of 100-yard games the previous year that continued into his senior season. Once, during a shellacking of Colorado, Owens wanted to let up on the hapless Buffaloes. He was reported to have said “Let’s just fall on the ball and forget this 100-yard stuff. It’s not that important.” Offensive guard Bill Effstrom’s response to him was “It might not be important to you, but it’s sure important to us.”

Owens ran hard and picked up 112 yards. He ended up with 17 straight 100 yard games, a record that still stands.

When Owens won the Heisman that year, a small town became ecstatic. Unfortunately, I had moved away by then, so I missed out on the fun. But I was pleased to drive down Steve Owens Boulevard during a visit there a few years ago.

Nowadays, Owens is CEO at a big insurance agency in Oklahoma City. Life turned out well for the gentleman, I’m happy to say. So here’s to a small town boy who made good, and gave perennial bragging rights to everyone from Miami, Oklahoma.

Steve Owens in a Detroit Lions uniform, 1970

George Mayer and Miami Stone

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

George Mayer was a self-made man. He was born in Rhineland, Missouri in 1915. He was fascinated with airplanes, and in the freewheeling days before FAA regulation, he was able to teach himself to fly. He was good at it, too, good enough to be hired as an instructor in 1941 at the Spartan School of Aviation. Mayer moved to Miami and would soon make a huge impact on not only the business community, but in the looks of structures in Miami and all over the US.

As Mayer would fly around, he was amazed at the mountains of chat all over Ottawa county. What potential for material there!

When the US entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Pacific theater.

In 1949, Mayer opened up a paint and wallpaper store in Miami. One day, while mixing paint, he had an epiphany: wouldn’t a custom colored building stone be quite a popular item? He set up some molds in his garage and started experimenting.

His first thought was towards the discarded chat left over from the mining industry. Virtually unlimited, and almost free. But it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t make strong enough blocks with the chat. The lead it contained would fortunately never be an issue with his new product.

You see, Mayer knew the biggest issue with manufactured stone: porosity. If water could get inside it and freeze, it would break. So Mayer strove for a ridiculously high 5,000 PSI product which would be impervious to water. And they were! Mayer’s quality control include a cycle test, where the stones were soaked in water for 24 hours, then frozen at -12 Fahrenheit for 24 hours, then thawed for 24 hours. This cycle continued for nine months.

If a stone could survive that, mere weather conditions would be a snap to overcome. Sure enough, not even a surface deterioration could be found by independent laboratories.

Miami News-Record article on George mayer and Miami Stone, 1955

He soon rented a building on the Truck Route to refine his concept. By 1955, Mayer had perfected his formula, had purchased a manufacturing site between the curves north of town, and was offering Miami Stone for sale. One of the first buildings in Miami to use it was the new dental clinic on 216 W Central. The first News-Record ad placed by Miami Stone in December, 1955 paid tribute to the new office.

Miami Stone pays homage to one of its first clients, Dr. Leon Lewis’s new office at 216 W Central. December 14, 1955

216 W Central in 2016, the Miami Stone is still in perfect shape

Besides being an inexpensive, durable, attractive building material, it had even more cachet: it looked Mid-Century Modern, the building style that was just beginning to take off across the country. Thus, Miami Stone was an instant success.

To say that Miami Stone was a brilliant design would be quite an understatement. Besides being as durable as can be imagined, its modular design leads to imaginative use. The blocks ranged in size from one to four and a half inches thick (eventually they maxed out at 3 1/2″). The sizes jumped by 1/2 inch, so use a 1/2″ mortar joint and you can create patterns with different block thicknesses.

Miami Stone yearbook ad, 1963

Miami Stone plant worker, date unknown

Miami Stone flyer, early 60’s

Miami Stone flyer, interior. Click to enlarge.

Miami Stone flyer, back cover

But Mayer didn’t stop there. He marketed Miami Stone as a franchise, and soon had locations all over the US making his stones.

By 1968, the MCM look was starting to slow down, and so was demand for the sleek building blocks. Unfazed, Mayer created another stone: the Rus-Tique Brik.

It looked like a brick, but was actually more durable, being manufactured to the same standards as Miami Stone. Mayer’s market from the get-go was franchises for this product. An entrepreneur could have a Rus-Tique facility up and running for $500,000. That’s 1/10 the cost of a clay brickmaking facility!

Rustique brick, currently available from a company in Slovakia

The response to Rus-Tique was even greater, and soon facilities were open in Europe and Australia.

In 1975, Mayer invented the Queen Air, a vented fireplace that kept the heat in the room, instead of sending it up the chimney. In 1979, he formed George Mayer Manufacturing Inc. to begin manufacturing them.  The Queen Air fireplace was a success, but not as big a success as the fireplace insert which could turn any fireplace into an efficient source of house heat. The insert was a monster hit, spawning many copycats, but most folks insisted on the original Queen Air.

Miami Stone’s longtime location, seen in the present day

By 1993, Mayer was looking to retire. He sold his businesses to outside interests. Sadly, they lacked his genius. Within five years, Miami Stone and Queen Air had vanished, and most Rustique franchises as well. But some have held on, and Mayer’s legacy continues.

His legacy also continues in dozens of structures all over Miami, and thousands more across the nation, which feature Miami Stone. And as the Mid Century Modern look has proven to be timeless, people are proudly leaving their 50-year-old and older Miami Stone installations right where they are.

George Mayer, who passed in 1998, would be happy, I’m sure.

Mushroom Horticulture, Circa 1932

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Miami currently has a thriving mushroom business, good news in times where any type of local manufacturing is becoming scarce in the US. But make no mistake: it’s not the first in the area to raise edible fungi.

Dick Wills’ Cardin mushroom farm, 1932

A grandson of Miami pioneer J.F. Robinson, Dick Wills envisioned a use for the inactive Anna Beaver mine in Cardin. Grow mushrooms! The temperature was perfect, the lack of light was perfect, and the humidity was just right.

Mushrooms weren’t Wills’ first choice. He tried growing various vegetables and flowers under artificial lighting first. He actually achieved some success with, strangely, tulips and rhubarb. But then he tried his hand at mushrooms, and the mine’s fate was set.

Popular Science article from May, 1933, telling about Dick Wills and his mine

Temperatures varied by two degrees year round in the mine. The humidity likewise remained fairly constant in certain areas. And there was already an elevator system in place, ready to go.

So Wills shipped in ten traincars full of compost material and went to work. Wills went with the dryer areas of the mine, since it was easier to add than remove moisture from the air. He strategically covered and uncovered test holes in the ceiling to provide just the right amount of ventilation.

Dick Wills wants horse manure! 1932

After much trial and error, he got the knack of setting out molded manure as a growing base and replacing it just as its nutrients were depleted. He hired a work force that eventually reached twenty, and was soon shipping 450 lbs. of top quality mushrooms a day to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Wills paid royalties to the Indian owners, just like the miners.

Dyer Bros. Grocery sells Dick Wills mushrooms, 1932

The last mention of Wills and his trade was made in the News-Record in April of 1934, when he spoke to a local businessmen’s group about mushroom farming. After that, the Wills name is only mentioned in the sense of his wife and social events. According to a recalled conversation by a local Miamian, he had to stop his operation because of a problem that they don’t have in Washington D.C.: a lack of horse manure.

The equine by-product provided the perfect base for growing, but Wills couldn’t get it in sufficient quantity to stay afloat. He attempted to create a contract with the army base at Ft. Sill, where horses were still being used for military purposes, but was unable to make it happen. Thus, he shut things down.

J-M Farms should have a photo of this fungal pioneer hanging in their office.

Bonnie and Clyde Invade Miami

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

Miami was no stranger to armed holdups in the 30’s. The newspaper has lots of accounts of grocery stores and gas stations being robbed at gunpoint during that decade. But one notorious outlaw caused havoc in Miami and more in nearby Commerce on a Friday in 1934.

Cyde Barrow and Pretty Boy Floyd involved in Joplin killings, April 19, 1933

The article above gives an account of 1933 killings of police officers in Springfield and Joplin, and Clyde Barrow’s involvement. Joplin was just 30 miles up Route 66 from Miami.

Clyde Barrow’s car found near Miami, December 7, 1933

According to gang member W.D. Jones, Camp Welcome, south of the fairgrounds, was a frequent stopping place. In December, 1933, hunters discovered a bullet-ridden car close to the Neosho River northwest of town which was identified as Barrow’s. A manhunt turned up empty, he got wind of the search and just managed to escape.

Trap set for Clyde Barrow in NE Oklahoma, April 2, 1934

On April 1, 1934, Barrow and his gang shot and killed two Texas state troopers near Grapevine, and headed to Miami. The article above tells how local cops got a tip saying that they were headed up here, and had a trap set. Evidently, they were confident that Barrow didn’t read the newspaper.

April 5, 1934 front page of the Miami News-Record detailing manhunt for Clyde Barrow. Click to enlarge.

On April 5, Barrow showed up, and the trap was sprung. Barrow took off like a rocket in his V8-powered sedan, but got stuck in the mud in Commerce. A gun battle ensued, and constable Cal Campbell was killed. Percy Boyd, Commerce police chief, was taken hostage and later released unharmed.

One Commerce family witnessed the shooting, and a young son found bullet casings and silverware with “BP” engraved on them after the fact. Here’s another good source of information, and proof that sites still survive.

Bonnie and Clyde killed, May 23, 1934. Click to enlarge.

On May 23, 1934, the law caught up with Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana. Thus ended the lives of two cold-blooded killers who had somehow become cult heroes.

In 1967, my brother took me to see Bonnie and Clyde at the Coleman. I was one of the coolest kids in class, one of a few who managed to see the adult-oriented film (thanks, Bill!). I am impressed that Miami had such a connection to the gun-toting duo, even though I was unaware of it at the time.

Miami district judge J.J. Smith provided details of Bonnie and Clyde’s Louisiana ambush for the 1967 film. Article dated May 12, 1968. Click to enlarge.

Many folks in Miami had personal remembrances of Bonnie and Clyde when the movie came out, but none more so than district judge and Miami resident J.J. Smith, who served as the defense attorney for Henry Methvin, the man tried and convicted for killing the Commerce constable. Incidentally, Methvin and W.D. Jones provided the inspiration for C.W. Moss in the movie.

So the next time you think about Bonnie and Clyde, remember that they had more than one brush with Miami and the nearby area.

L.K. Newell: Business Giant

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

L.K. Newell apparently moved to Miami in or shortly before 1954.

Miami Products, Inc. opens in June, 1954

His first mention in the News-Record is as the founder of Miami Products, Inc., which started up in June, 1954.

July 1, 1960: Crane buys Miami Products

In June, 1960, Newell sold Miami Products to Crane Company. But he wouldn’t rest on his laurels, he immediately went to work starting another company, this one would manufacture metal jerry cans for fuel, as well as other metal containers for water.

U.S. Metal Container plant under construction, would open in November, 1960.

The webmaster and a U.S. Metal Container truck, circa 1967

This company would evolve over the years. By the 80’s, it was making mainly plastic gasoline containers. In 1992, it changed its name to Blitz. In fact, there are Blitz gas cans all over the world. But no new ones since 2012. People would pour gas on fires from Blitz cans, get badly burned, then sue the company. Four lawyers were primarily responsible for the lawsuits. Blitz would usually win, but at a great financial cost. Finally, in 2012, unable to secure liability insurance, they closed their doors.

By 1967, L.K. Newell was finally starting to slow down. He purchased a Streamline motor home. But he noticed a few design flaws on it, and pointed them out to the president of the company. The reaction? “If you’re so damned smart, why don’t you buy the motorhome operation from me?”

Newell Coach announced, September 2, 1967

L.K. Newell hands A.J. Foyt the3 keys to a new coach, 1973

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the actual announcement of Newell Coach on September 2, 1967. But the company was a success out of the gate, and in 1973 Newell, his health failing, sold out to Karl Blade and some other partners. In 1979, Blade bought the business outright, and it continues to be successful today, the legacy of a man by the name of Newell who had a knack for starting successful companies.

Smoky and Mary and the KGLC Barn Dance

Interesting Local Characters

Miami has spawned many musical legends. In the 30’s and 40’s, a couple known as Smoky and Mary achieved a modest amount of fame as gospel/hillbilly singers. They were highly renowned in their home town.

Bio for Smoky and Mary from the Miami News-Record, 1948

Brand-new radio station KGLC sponsored “barn dances” on Saturday nights beginning in 1948. At first held at the Hotel Miami-located station, they were later held at the Coleman, a thirty-minute live music show between movies.

KGLC radio song album for Smoky and Mary, 1948

Albert E. Brumley testimonial to Smoky and Mary. 1948. Thanks to Connie Benedict for the images.

Gospel giant Alfred E. Brumley gave them his endorsement, that was something.

While their radio career spanned over fifteen years, Smoky and Mary’s barn dances abruptly stopped in 1949. There was no mention of this popular act in the paper after that year.

They had a child, maybe they just decided to retire from show business to raise their family. It is a tough way to make a living with kids. But one thing’s for sure: a Google search turned up absolutely zilch concerning this singing couple. At least now, we have their bio from the News-Record on record for people to find.

Ed Millner and His Stores

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Ed Millner began doing business in Miami with his two brothers Will and Sam. They opened Millner Brothers Hardware in 1902. In 1906, C.J. Fribley became a partner, and Millner-Fribley was born.

17-21 North Main looked dramatically different in the 1920’s. There were two distinct buildings occupying that stretch. Millner-Fribley sat at 19-21 N Main at the time of this photo.

19-21 N Main about 1920

In 1934, Ed Millner became sole owner of Millner-Fribley. Ed’s partner Jim passed away that year.

Millner-Fribley Ad, 1934. Click to Expand

1946 News-Record Ad Giving the History of Millner Hardware

1957 News-Record Article Telling the History of Ed Millner

Ed was elected mayor of Miami in the early 40’s.

In 1947, Ed Millner Hardware became Millner-Berkey. The original buildings were demolished, and the new two-story stretching from 17 to 21 North Main was constructed. Here’s a News-Record article telling the details about the August 15 opening.

A year later, tragedy struck. A massive fire consumed the building, leaving a burnt-out shell.

August 19 Article from the News-Record Detailing the Fire

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

The Burnt-Out Millner-Berkey Building in 1948

Less than a month later, on September 18, 1948, Millner-Berkey reopened at 14-16 South Main. Not a bad recovery, huh?

In January 1949, Walter Schmidt was selected to begin rebuilding the store.

On Friday, August 19, the brand new building had its grand opening.


Millner-Berkey reopens at 19 N Main.

The long history of Ed Millner’s stores came to a close on January 27, 1966, when it was announced that Millner-Berkey had been purchased by the Belk’s corporation.

The Belk’s in Miami is gone, but the chain continues to thrive, as opposed to so many others in the post-Wal Mart era.

Ed Millner’s gravestone

Ed rests in the GAR cemetery, not too far from his friend and businesses associate Jim Fribley. In fact, that part of the memorial park is marked by a sign that says “Millner-Fribley.” He bequeathed $10,000 gifts to the chamber of commerce, Miami Baptist Hospital, and the Presbyterian church that he attended.

Mark Peterson

Interesting Local Characters

Two-year-old Mark Peterson on his Arkansas sharecropper farm.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a home that was just across the alley from that most Americana of institutions: the neighborhood grocery store. From the time that I was allowed to go over there by myself, probably age 5, my mom would give me two nickels a day to spend. Those nickels would buy a handful of candy, or maybe a Shasta pop, or I could pool them and spring for a luxurious bottle of Coke.

The man running the store was a big teddy bear. That was my impression of him. A warm, friendly, loving individual who filled the air with old songs while he cut meat in the butcher area, stocked the shelves, or ran the register. He was tolerant of kids who read the comics without buying them. He’d even let them have the occasional piece of candy “on credit,” knowing that it would probably never be settled. His name was Mark Peterson, and it turns out he had a pretty darned interesting life.

1937 Wardogs team. Mark was #34, third from the left in row 2.

Mark was born in Booneville, Arkansas in 1919. His parents were sharecroppers, so it was lean living, the kind of living that builds character. Eventually, the family relocated to the mining boom town of Miami sometime after 1925.

There was a depression on, so Mark did what he could do for spare change. This included hanging around the Coleman rear entrance and scoring tips for handling performers’ luggage and equipment. He shook hands with Will Rogers as a result, and received a nice gratuity as well. He met other famous personalities, and his own easygoing, friendly style meant that he could talk to anyone, including the rich and famous.

Mark was a big kid who excelled in sports, becoming a member of the Wardogs football team.

The News-Record announces that Sergeant Peterson was taking a surgery course

World War II started soon after Mark got out of school, and he enlisted in 1941. Mark landed in Normandy with the First and Third Armies and went on to survive the Battle of the Bulge.  He found himself working as a medic. Among the injured soldiers he treated was the son-in-law of General George Patton, whom he ended up observing meeting with the soldier. He came home safe and sound to his own wife and child when the conflict was over.

Safeway in Miami robbed at gunpoint on March 18, 1956.

Mark went to work at the newly-opened Goodrich plant. But it wasn’t long before he got into retail store management. Safeway hired him, and he ended up managing stores in Tulsa, Pryor, Miami, and Picher.

His life remained interesting during those years. He was robbed at gunpoint five times in stores he managed. His wife never got used to that, and this caused her to wonder, when he wasn’t home on time, if he was tied up in the cooler yet again.

After leaving Safeway and returning permanently to Miami, Mark spent some time selling ads for KGLC radio. He also practiced the butcher trade over at Brandon’s Food Center when they were on NW 1st Street. In the early 60’s, he purchased Moonwink Grocery at NW J and 9th. Moonwink had opened in 1950, and it was actually a shopping center, with spaces for other businesses besides the grocery. I remember a barber by the name of Paul Buffington who was there. It was at Moonwink Grocery where I met the man who was such an influence on me.

The webmaster in his back yard in 1960, with Moonwink Grocery in the background

Moonwink had opened in 1950, and had changed hands a couple of times afterwards. It was a good match for Mark, who had spent more time in the grocery trade than any other over the years. He ran a booming business there until around 1972, when he sold out. By 1975, Moonwink was demolished. Two multi-family dwellings were put up in its place.

Mark Peterson with his wife and sons at his 50th wedding anniversary celebration

I’m glad I’d moved away by then. That would have been a sad thing to see.

Mark ran for Ottawa county clerk in 1972, and the well-loved candidate won. He served until 1981. After that, he worked in the District Attorney’s office until he retired.

He passed away on April 4, 2008, at the age of 88. He was surrounded by friends and family, and it was the end of a life well lived.

The last time I saw Mark was about 1970. We had returned to town from where we had moved in SW Missouri. We were at the Gibson’s store, and I spotted him from a distance and ran up to him. He shook my hand like an adult (I was ten), and we had a nice little conversation. Having researched his life with the help of his son Robert, I can say that Mark Peterson typified an interesting local Miami character, and anyone who was lucky enough to know him personally will testify that he was one of the warmest, friendliest individuals to ever call this wonderful town home.