About a month ago there was a picture in my hometown newspaper, THE KIOWA COUNTY DEMOCRAT, of the building that houses the Becker Funeral Home in Snyder, Oklahoma. The picture and accompanying article were celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the refurbishing of the building and the commencement of the operation of the new mortuary in town.
As soon as I saw the picture, vivid memories started flashing through my mind since members of my family had owned the building for a period of about sixty years. In the mid 1980’s, it left family ownership. Shortly after the town was founded in 1903 it was built to house a bank. I think that it has a certain beauty and charm that the five other two story buildings in town don’t have. It is a corner building with red brick exterior and white concrete trim. The windows of the lower floor are arched which gives it some distinction.
The building was not very old when it was acquired by my granddad, Jim Otwell and his partner, Charlie Portwood. Their office occupied two spaces at the rear of the building facing the side street. Granddad lost his eyesight when he was 33 years old and later took a partner and continued his insurance and real estate business. When I would visit their office, they would always be sitting opposite each other at their giant partnership desk. I was intrigued by the maps and pictures on the office walls and the big stamping machine which Granddad used to notarize instruments.
The two business spaces on the front of the building facing Main Street were occupied by a dry goods store and a hardware store. In front of Mr. Smith’s Hardware was an old shiny wooden bench, which was usually occupied by elderly men sitting, whittling, chewing tobacco, and passing the time of day. I am sure that they scrutinized everyone who approached the stairwell to the second floor and speculated as to the reason for their climbing up the stairs. For many years, the dry goods store was operated as the F & M Dry Goods Store by Mother’s cousins Sis Fulps and Pauline McCorkle. My dad could often be found there visiting and kidding with Sis’ husband, Bill.
When I returned home from military service in the occupation of Japan, Mr. Smith’s Hardware was gone. In its place was an auto supply store operated for a few years by my dad. I helped out in the store for a short while before returning to college.
On the second floor were the offices of a doctor, a dentist, the telephone company and the gathering hall for the Rebecca Lodge. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Dr. Bryce was a schoolteacher. He decided to become a doctor, studied medical textbooks and passed the requirements of the state medical board. When I was about 12 years old, Dr. Bryce removed my tonsils and adenoids in return for a month’s free office rent from Granddad. I think that the rent amounted to about $20.00 a month. I remember my dad’s carrying me down the stairs and taking me home as soon as the ether had worn off. My first visit to a dentist was in the upstairs office of Dr. Ryan but I don’t know how that payment was made.
The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company office was occupied 24 hours a day by a female telephone operator. Everyone called her “Central.” Central would connect all calls including long distant ones, collect payments during office hours and was in charge of the siren. The siren was blown when a fire was reported and the volunteer firemen would rush to the fire station at the City Hall for action. The siren was also blown as a warning of a sighted or suspected tornado and at noon to remind people of lunchtime.
After Granddad’s death, Grandmother took over operation of the building and I remember her going to each tenant on the first of the month to collect the rent as many did in those days. After Grandmother died, Uncle Jay owned the building and he and his wife lived on the second floor since all of the upstairs tenants were gone. I was home for one weekend and watched the paramedics carry Uncle Jay out of the building to the hospital. He never returned.
It was a surprise to see the picture of the old Otwell Building, It was a joy to refresh so many memories of my family and its association with the building. It was also a delight to see that it has a new life and will be a part of other people’s lives for many more years.