OCHS heroes and legends
Editor’s Note: Last week the JC presented an overview of the Osage County Historical Society’s annual dinner and auction. Today, we are sharing some insight into what made the first five inductees Osage County heroes and legends.
The mission of the Osage County Historical Society is to create educational opportunities for all ages by collecting, preserving and sharing materials that reflect the rich history of Osage County. Museum displays reflect six basic categories — oil, Native Americans, pioneer, military, western and the First Boy Scout Troop in America.
Recently, the OCHS added a seventh category – Osage County Heroes and Legends to recognize individuals who demonstrate and/or create a legacy of true Osage County spirit. The first five inductees (Janet Holcombe, Harvey Payne, Arthur Shoemaker, Strat Tolson and George Wayman) represent a cross-section of Osage County leadership, strength, determination and resolution.
There was an underlying common thread that existed amongst the honorees. Basically, they each profess an unbreakable bond for the love of Osage County and her people. “There is something magical about living in Osage County,” remarked OCHS Director and Emcee Garrett Hartness. “Not only is our county full of exquisite beauty, it is truly the best place in the world to live, to create lasting memories and forever friends.”
JANET THEIS HOLCOMBE (1935-2013)
“Janet’s love for Osage County and Pawhuska may have developed from her family’s deep roots in Pawhuska,” said Lee Holcombe. “In the early 1920s, her mother, Jesse Mae Theis, was a Pawhuska school teacher. Her dad, Virgil Theis, was Pawhuska’s last Justice of the Peace.
“Janet was a visionary who could turn dreams into reality. She would rather fail than not try. The (Constantine) theater is here today because of her. After our sons graduated in the early 1980s, Janet decided to save Pawhuska. This was at a time when Pawhuska was not the most robust.” She became involved in a group called Pawhuska Downtown Revitalization and Preservation Association (PDRPA) which was later renamed Preserve Pawhuska. Their first project was the bandstand (gazebo) located just north of the Historical Society Museum. This bandstand was used for a number of community concerts and events. In 1990, the City officially named the bandstand the ‘Janet Theis Holcombe Bandstand.’
Through her involvement with the PDRPA, 89 of Pawhuska’s 101 downtown buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Janet also spearheaded the renovation of the former Kihekah Theater and development of the Constantine Arts Council Trust for the restoration and management of the Constantine Center. Because of PDRPA efforts, Pawhuska was declared a Main Street Town in 1987.
Holcombe had the honor of being the second woman to serve as Pawhuska Mayor. Former U.S. Assistant Treasurer Maybelle Kennedy was the first.
Sh attended the University of Oklahoma where she was a member of the Tri Delta sorority. She shared her amazing singing voice in the choir of the Presbyterian Church of which she was a member and Elder. An Osage County CowBelle (Cattlewomen), she was state president in 1974. She served on the Pawhuska Hospital Board from 2002-2007. From 1990-2000, Janet was executive secretary to the Bartlesville based Yokagawa Corp. “Janet was a wife, mother and friend to many and a true hero,” Lee Holcombe said.
“Harvey Payne is probably more widely known outside of Osage County,” said OCHS Director Frederick F. Drummond. “A world-class nature and wildlife photographer, 104 of Harvey’s photos are included in a permanent prairie exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in hundreds of newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Harvey’s photos have been published in numerous magazines, such as Oklahoma Today, Alaska Magazine, The New Yorker, Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, Sierra Magazine, Outside Natural History and Nature Conservancy. The Audubon Engagement and Wild Bird, Alaska and Nature Conservancy have published his photos in calendars. Books featuring Harvey’s work include American On My Mind, Nature Travel, The Walker’s Companion, Oklahoma and Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie.“
Born and raised in the Shidler area, Harvey graduated from Shidler High School in 1965. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 1969 and juris doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1972. He was Osage County Assistant District Attorney from 1973-1975 and in private law practice from 1975-2012. He served as director of the Nature Conservancy’s Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve from 1990-2008 when he became the Preserve’s Community Relations Coordinator, a position he currently holds. He is also residing municipal judge for Pawhuska, Hominy and Barnsdall.
In 1986, Harvey received an “At Large Conservation Award” from the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation for his work in advocating the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. In 1991, he was recognized with the “Chevron Conservation Award” for his work in helping to establish the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Earlier this year, Harvey Payne was selected for the 2016 “NatureWorks Wildlife Stewardship Award.”
“George Wayman was born on his family’s farm southwest of Burbank on Aug. 5, 1923, said longtime friend and Osage County rancher Gary Weyl. “He attended school at North Doga and Burbank, leaving his senior year to join the U.S. Army during World War II. His military service began in Kentucky, followed by North Africa and Italy. George attained the rank of Buck Sargent (Tank Commander). He received four Battalion Stars, a Bronze Star, an Arrowhead and Good Conduct Ribbon before he was honorably discharged in October of 1945.”
Returning home to Osage County, Wayman began ranching while also attending agricultural school. He also married and had a daughter, Denta, who became a Fairfax school teacher.
Wayman was called back into active duty in September 1950 for the Korean Conflict. He returned to the Osage in April of 1951 after receiving a hardship discharge and resumed his ranching and working in the oil fields.
In January 1955, George was hired as a deputy sheriff by Sheriff Dick Streetman. He was promoted to undersheriff in 1959 and served in that capacity until Streetman’s sudden death in 1965 when he was appointed sheriff.
A year later, in 1966, George was officially elected to that position and was re-elected for eight consecutive terms, drawing only one opponent. In addition to being the longest serving sheriff, he has the distinction of being the youngest and only sheriff to be born in Osage County. The Osage County jail facility is named “The George Wayman Correctional Detention Center” in his honor. Sheriff Wayman was inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame on Dec. 12, 2015.
Osage County Hero and Legend Strat Tolson was introduced by nephew Mike Tolson who said, “Stratford B. Tolson is a lifelong resident of Pawhuska. Born on March 1, 1922, he went through the entire Pawhuska school system, graduating in 1940. Tolson graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a business degree and was a member of the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and eight-year Trustee.
Tolson spent five years with the U.S. Army during WWII in the artillery unit. He enlisted as a private and attained the rank of captain. Tolson was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service against an armed enemy and four campaign stars. As a part of the Oklahoma 45th Thunderbird Division, this war hero re-enlisted for the Korean War.
In 1949, Tolson married Eleanor Ann (Bobbie) McCoy. The couple has two children, Lynn Berry Fuente of Tulsa and Lance S. of Houston, Texas. Tolson and Bobbie have beautified Pawhuska with numerous bronzes, including one in front of the public library honoring his late mother Ruth, an early Pawhuska librarian.
Tolson has been co-owner of the Tolson Agency for the past 60 years and is still active in the company. After more than 60 years, he continues to be an active member of the Pawhuska Rotary Club, is a Rotary past president and a Paul Harris Scholar recipient. He is a past senior warden and 90-year member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Tolson is director emeritus of Citizens Bank (National Bank of Commerce) and served 25 years as a director.
Tolson’s belief in the value of a good education is evident by his dedicated service. He is past chairman and current director of the Pawhuska Educational Trust which has given over $600,000 to PHS graduates. He is a senior member of the Tolson Family Foundation which assists needy organizations in Osage County. He and his wife also established the Stratford B. and Eleanor Tolson Scholarship at the University of Oklahoma for graduates from small communities.
Tolson is a 70-year member and past commander of American Legion Post #97. In addition, he is a life member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, VFW, Nature Conservancy, OU Alumni Association and OU Price Business School.
“It is such an honor to introduce Art Shoemaker, a man whose tireless efforts to promote and preserve history have stretched far beyond the bounds of Hominy, Oklahoma,” said newest OCHS Director Jimmie Ratliff.
“History is in Art’s blood. He’ll tell you he was born in an alley across the street from the Alamo in 1922. (Chuckling) It was actually a hospital, but that doesn’t make for good story telling, a knack which Art Shoemaker has perfected over the years.”
Growing up in Laredo, Shoemaker was captivated by the stories of Poncho Villa, the Wild West and the railroad. Having a father and maternal grandfather working for the railroad fueled his fascination for the ‘iron horse’ and his eventual publication “Railroading through the Osage Hills,’ that portrays the history of the railroad in Osage County.
Shoemaker was attending college when WWII broke out. He served with the 8th Air Force 339th Fighter Group in England. During this time, his father passed and the family relocated to Oklahoma where Shoemaker met the 57-year love of his wife, Peggy. Settling in Hominy, the couple raised two children while Shoemaker worked for the Texas Co. (Texaco).
A devout researcher, Shoemaker is perhaps best known for his work on the Hominy Indians, a professional football team that was active in the 1920s and early 1930s. He was able to visit with original players about their experience in playing for the all-Indian team that would defeat the New York Giants which had recently been crowned world champions.
Art’s account of this historic event was published by the Oklahoma Today magazine in the fall of 1967. His descriptive story and meticulous research aided other writers for articles that appeared in the “Hidden History of Tulsa” collection and “This Land Press.” Most notably was last year’s release of the docudrama film, “Playground of the Native Son.”
Recognizing Shoemakers gift of weaving history through a good story, dozens of magazines have featured his work. In addition, he has contributed hundreds of book reviews to the Tulsa World. Shoemaker was instrumental in having a historic marker placed at the Civil War site of the Battle of Chustenalah near Skiatook. His research on Henry Grammer, champion roper and ranchman, resulted in the publication of ‘The Road to Marble Halls,” a biography detailing the cowboy’s life.
Shoemaker is a past president of the Osage County Historical Society and of the Hominy Heritage Association where he is extremely active. “He has fostered my growing love for history and has been a mentor. I am honored to be able to call him my friend,” said Ratliff.