Heroes, legends honored

Mike Erwin Journal – Capital
The 2017 “Heroes and Legends” honorees recognized Thursday night included, left to right: Dr. James R. Priest, Joe Gilbert, Lynn Elsberry (accepting for her late father, Robert Clark), Barbara Strahm and John Reber.

Mike Erwin/Journal Capital

Five of the Pawhuska-area’s most distinguished citizens were honored Thursday night at the Osage County Historical Society’s second-annual “Heroes and Legends” event.

Approximately 150 persons were in attendance at the nonprofit organization’s banquet/auction in the Agriculture Building at the Osage County Fairgrounds.

This year’s honorees included three Pawhuskans — family physician Dr. James R. Priest, retired music instructer John Reber and cattlewoman/educator Barbara Strahm. Joe Gilbert, the longtime coach of the Barnsdall Panthers, also was recognized.

In his introduction of Gilbert, Barnsdall resident Bill Bell offered the coach’s high school varsity record of victories, per sport — adding: “We won’t tell you how many he’s lost.” From the start of Gilbert’s coaching stint with the Panthers in 1954 through the end of the Spring 2017 slowpitch softball season of the Lady Panthers, the legendary mentor has chalked up 1,115 victories in fastpitch softball and 907 in girls’ basketball. Add to that 801 triumphs in baseball, 649 for boys’ basketball, 379 in slowpitch softball and five more from the season he served as the emergency football coach.

That puts Gilbert’s grand total for victories, thus far (after 62 years), at 3,856. Bell said the number represents (as best he can ascertain) the most varsity wins by any coach in U.S. history.

Dr. James Priest

Priest was introduced by museum board member Joyce Lyons, who worked 35 years as a nurse in his office. Lyons pointed out that this year marked Priest’s 50th serving the Pawhuska community.

“He’s given life to babies, made us well and helped us when we lost a family member,” she said.

Born in Mississippi in 1939, Priest came to Oklahoma seven years later. As a youth growing up in Tahlequah, Priest recalled getting to know Gilbert, who was attending college at Northeastern State.

“We would be sitting on the corner and he was always nice enough to stop and talk to us,” Dr. Priest recalled.

After graduating from high school, Priest attended the University of Oklahoma, completed OU Med School in 1964 and interned at St. John’s Medical Center in Tulsa — which also is the hospital his clinic is now associated with. Her served in the Air Force as a flight surgeon in California.

Upon returning to Oklahoma, Priest married his childhood sweetheart (Linda) and the two remain together today. In addition to his work as a doctor, Priest has served 27 years as a school board member. Members of his family who have also joined the medical profession, include his late son, Dr. Michael Priest, and his grandsons, Matt and Taylor. His granddaughter, 2017 PHS valedictorian Madelyn Priest, also is considering a medical career.

Priest said it has always been a pleasure to work in Osage County, adding: “My health is great and I have no intention of retiring.”


John Reber

Following previous stops in Barnsdall and Skiatook, music instructor John Reber arrived in Pawhuska in 1964. He continued teaching here until 1987, when he retired. In the interim, Reber’s “Pride of Pawhuska” bands — also called, when appropriate, “The Marching 100,” were called to perform in the Cotton Bowl and twice made trips to Mexico City. Retirement brought continued activity for Reber, who became a tour bus driver. He drove buses for professional bands as well as University of Arkansas football teams under former coach Houston Nutt.

Reber, according to his friends, can now usually be found either at the Mercantile or at home baking pies and cakes. Shortly after reaching the podium Thursday, Reber told the audience: “By the way, my speech is 45 minutes long.”

Reber said his first trips to Pawhuska were to spend summers with his relatives (Dr.Glen and May Fair), although he moved here permanently in 1950 from his home in South Dakota. Eventually, he attended Oklahoma A&M in order to become a band director.

The fifth of the OCHSM-designated “heroes,” Robert Clark, was honored posthumously. At the time of his death, in 2006, Clark had been a Fairfax banker for more than 70 years. His abundance of good deeds are most notably associated with Fairfax Hospital and the community’s health-care facilities. He also is renowned for a spur collection he amassed and which remains on display in the downtown Fairfax lobby of the Security State Bank.

An auction of 11 donated items raised more than $3,200 for projects at the OCHS Museum, located at 700 Lynn Ave.

OCHSM donated a bronze mini-replica of the Boy Scouts’ statue “What It’s All About” as well as a framed Heroes and Legends certificate signed by this year’s honorees.

Other auctioned items included a carrot cake baked by H&L honoree John Reber, a coconut cream pie made by Debbie Reed and a donated copy (from Bob and Shirley Roberts) of the book “Killers of the Flower Moon,” autographed by author David Grann. Also auctioned was: Sherlette White’s original oil painting of the round service station, a Johnny Tiger framed print (contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Butterbaugh), two Joyce Lyons’ photos of bison on canvas, a Cha’ Tullis print that was donated by the artist, a Cha’ Tullis signed print donated by Mr. and Mrs. Jimmie Ratliff, and a framed and matted antique picture donated by Mr. and Mrs. Alan Brown.