Oklahoma Panhandle State University
When Virginia Frantz looked around at all her students, she had to chuckle as all the plans she had teasingly predicted for her future has come true—well mostly so. When she was growing up she was asked, as all kids are, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and she would reply, “I want to be an old maid schoolteacher.” Now here she was in the fall of 1968 in the classroom and a teacher in the Guymon Schools—but she was not an old maid but a newly single person with the youngest four of her seven kids to support. It was a 44-year journey to get to this point.
Her father, William (Bill) Kerns, a widower with three small children met a young lady, Virgie Cherry, who was teaching in a country school near Two Buttes Co, They married when school was out and after Virginia was born the next year, the couple and their four children moved to Beaver County Oklahoma, to make their home. The older children, Dorine, Robert, and Wilma attended the Union School southeast of Gray, Ok. In 1929, the year that Virginia started to school the family moved to the Fulton School District, four and a half miles SW of the place now known as Bryans’ Corner. Fulton was a two-room school and Virginia attended the eight grades there. Sisters June and Ruby were born by that time, and her brother Roy, was born the year she was in the third grade.
Miss Gladys Prater, later to become Mrs. Clyde Key of Guymon, was her teacher in the first three years. Miss Mildred Todd taught her in the forth and when she entered the “big room” as the 5th through 8th grade room was called, Mr. Robert Cowan was her teacher and he and Miss Todd had married that summer. Mr. Cowan taught her in 5th and 6th grade. Because of the dust storms and the economic conditions many families had moved away and Fulton became a one-room school and Miss Eilene Winfrey was the teacher. Lynn Hamilton was the last teacher of the Fulton School in 1937 as the next year all students in Fulton were transferred to Bethany, a country school which had a high school, and was located three miles northeast of Bryans Corner. A bus route was established and all students traveled by bus—27 miles of travel but the school was seven miles away.
High school was fun. There was the glee club, the basketball and softball teams, and the class plays—for which there were not enough kids, so freshmen and sophomores were involved too. The school only had an outdoor basketball court, so all games against other schools had to be played at the opponents’ courts. Not only outside courts but outside “bathrooms” or out houses were in use. They were sturdy buildings with accommodations for eight.
Ten seniors graduated from Bethany High School in 1941. All had been saving for a senior trip, but when the time came 5 decided they had other things to do so five students and their sponsors, James and Ruby Blair, drove to Chattanooga TN. This was a very exciting and enjoyable trip for a bunch of green country kids. Among the places they visited was Look Out Mountain Battle Field where two o Virginia’s great grandfathers had fought during the Civil War.
The summer after her high school graduation, Virginia took a job cooking on a ranch near Gruver TX. She saved as much of her four dollar weekly salary as possible to apply towards college expenses. Virginia entered PAM.C. and was given a job working in the cafeteria. She was paid 19 cents an hour and her job earned her twelve dollars a month. Her parents sent less than ten dollars a month to finish paying college costs. The year of 1941-42 was an unsettling one. World War 11 was raging in Europe and the United States seemed to be drawn closer and closer to being involved in the struggle. Very few students on campus had cars, so many on-campus activities took place, and the students seemed to have a camaraderie and feeling of family not found on most campuses. A rare school-sponsored bus trip to Guymon to see a movie was a very special treat.
Virginia met and started dating a young man from Perryton Texas, C J Frantz. On December 7, 1941, he took her to Perryton to meet his parents for the first time. That afternoon the radio was full of news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor that day and they knew the USA was now at war. C J’s older brother, Leland, a Sergeant in the army, was home—having been given what was to temporary discharge as all these enlisted men were immediately called back into the Army. So the brother left, leaving CJ’s father to run a sizable farming operation by himself.
At that time the college cafeteria was located in the basement of the Sewell-Loofbourrow building, and the students were walking down the stairs to lunch, tears streaming down their faces, as they heard President Roosevelt give his message to congress, declaring war on the Japanese and berating them for their “dastardly deed” which would live forever “in infamy”. Several young men left at the end of the semester at PAMC. A somber atmosphere fell over the campus. The students felt then, as many have since, when faced with war—that there was no tomorrow. Decisions were made, which would not have been, had there not been the uncertainty, confusion, and chaos of a nation gearing up for war.
The following year in October 1942 Virginia married CJ Frantz, and they went to work on the ranch with CJ’s father, trying to feed the troupes and others involved in the war effort. Their daughter Jeanene was born in 1944, their daughter Cheryl, in 1947, Nayoma was the third daughter, and Pat was born in 1952.
Later Rocky, Kara Sue, and Clay joined the family. The family was busy with school, church, 4-H, and FFA activities as well as work on the farm raising wheat and various grain crops for the cattle.
Virginia also belonged to the Waka Home Demonstration Club, and was active in trying to improve living conditions for those in her community, attending meetings to bring electricity and telephones to the isolated ranches. One year she wrote letters to the Texas Post Master General telling him of the plight of some of ranchers, some of which had to drive 14 miles to pick up their mail, She was happily surprised one day when the local post master knocked on her door and introduced her to the man with him—the Texas Post Master General, who had come in person to see what the “squeaking wheel” was talking about and as a result some existing mail routes were extended, and people were able to have mail delivered to their homes in the country for the first time. In the summer of 1966 Virginia left the farm and her marriage and took the children to Goodwell where she enrolled in the summer session of college at Panhandle State. It had been 24 years since her last college class, and to put it mildly, she was somewhat intimidated. She only had enough money in her saving account to cover school expenses and family living expenses for the summer, but trusted that she would find a way to finance her education. Shortly after she arrived, she visited with the president of the college, Dr. Marvin McKee, to see how soon she would be eligible for in-state tuition. Dr. McKee offered her a job as supervisor of single student housing The College was expanding what was known then as the girls’ dorm, and would be allowing selected students to live independently in duplexes. That fall, Virginia was given the job and Nayoma went back to Perryton to attend her senior year, moving back to Goodwell and college the next spring. Virginia also worked part time in the college bakery. In exchange she and the four youngest kids were given an apartment to live in, local telephone service and utilities, plus a small stipend. Virginia considered all 32 girls in the apartments “her girls” and still feels a special bond when she meets one. “No other college could have had so many caring teachers who took such a personal interest in each student.” Virginia was to tell people many times. “Doors seemed to open, and each time there was some snag there would be a way to solve it. We managed to pay costs with student loans and somehow got through.
The final semester of her senior year found Virginia with the dilemma of having a conflict in scheduling of two courses needed to graduate in the fields she was studying Speech and Psychology. The courses would not be offered again for some time. Dr Royal Bowers, Psychology, and Mr. Jim Roach, solved the problem by allowing her to attend the Psychology class and to do an independent writing seminar, “Planning a Course of Study Teaching First Year Speech.”
She took the necessary courses in preparation for student teaching that summer, and in the fall of 1968 she did her teaching in the Guymon Schools. At that time eight weeks of student teaching were required, and at the end of that time Guymon Schools offered her a job. In October of 1968 she received her first paycheck. She really was a teacher, as she had said she would be!
The first three years, Virginia taught one-half day speech in junior high and one half day taught Psychology and Sociology classes in high school. The schools were across the street from each other then. The year the high school was moved to its present location, she was given the job of supervisor of Work Study Program. This was a job working with both the school and Vocational Rehabilitation. Virginia states that working with a small bunch of kids for four years make for some very strong ties and she feels extra pride for “her kids” who successfully run their own businesses, and who are an important part in the community.
Virginia took additional college courses during her teaching years. She attended one summer at WTA&M, took some night courses under OSU held on the campus of OPSU, received her Masters in Education from Northwest Oklahoma State College at Alva with emphasis on Counseling. She attended three summers at OSU in Stillwater, receiving her certification in Vocational Education.
Until the electronic age made encyclopedias outdated, she sold World Books Encyclopedias to supplement the family income. (She confesses, however, that she never did get over her fear of rejection!) The summer of 1987, in anticipation of a cool summer in the Rockies, she took a job cooking for the Fun Valley Resort in South Fork, Colorado. She left for Colorado the day school was out for the summer and returned three days before it started again. She still remembers that as a very special summer, with lots of hard work, lots of fun and lots of new friends and with activities provided free to the workers and that guests had to pay “ big bucks” to participate in. She also enjoyed painting some of the local scenery around South Fork. Earlier she had taken writing courses under Dord Fitz, Herald Scott, Jo Dunham, and later studied under Mac Stewart.
She retired from the Guymon School System in December of 1987. The following year she accepted a job with OPSU as a student supervisor under the Satterfields in the Education department. She had students in the five-state area. She did this for four years. Soon after that she began substituting or the Guymon Schools and worked at this until 2009 when she realized if she was ever going to finish the book she was writing, she had to quit giving herself the excuse of working and quit substituting in order to write.
Her older children had been quite small when she dashed off a letter to Redbook Magazine. She received an answer asking if they could print it and gave her $15 --which was a nice sum back in the early 1950’s. But even though she loved writing, she was too busy raising her family and helping on the ranch to pursue it, but always in the back of her mind she dreamed of becoming a writer someday. Katherine Sexton was her first writing instructor for a night writing course at OPSU. Mrs. Sexton encouraged her writing and in the years that followed, Virginia studied two summers at the University of Iowa in their Elder Hostel writing programs. She took creative writing classes at Amarillo College, under Ivon Cecil, two classes from Dr Pauline Hodges, two from Marsha Preston, editor of Byline magazine, and various workshops at Eureka Springs, AK, as well as two in Mead KS and Guymon, from Charley Kempthorne, editor of LifeStories, who has made it his mission to help each person write their own story. One of her submissions, The “Come-Uppance” was the featured story in one issue of LifeStories.
Her first article published after her retirement was in Reminisce Magazine called “Doin’ The Turkey Trot,” a story about what one might encounter in trying to prove to a turkey that he is smarter than the turkey. (Impossible!)
In the year 2000, she became brave enough to submit a story to Guideposts, and it was accepted for publication. Four months later a story “The Last Word” which had won the “Stranger than Fiction’ category in the Ozark Writers Festival, was published in Angels on Earth Magazine. The next few years her writing was put aside as she worked as a substitute teacher in the Guymon Schools, She had already written several chapters in her book but found all kinds of excuses not to get it out and finish it.
Virginia became more serious about her book when Dr. Pauline Hodges taught a course in novel writing. It met once a month and the first assignment was to bring the first and last chapter of one’s novel the next month. The first chapter was already written and in her files, and she had a vague notion where the story was going, so concentrated in the ending of the story. That accomplished and handed in the next class, she was prompted to write the chapters in between which she did and Virginia’s book Keepin’ It Together was published in April 2012. This book focuses on life in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the time of the depression and dirt storms. It is written for upper middle school students to give them a glimpse of what life was like for their parents before electricity and indoor plumbing became commonplace in everyone’s home.
Receiving a copy of her book from the publisher was a doubly exciting time, as she was also a participant in the Ken Burns documentary, Dust Bowl, and the next day, April 14, 2012 a sneak preview at OPSU was hosted by the production company and attended by Ken Burns, himself. Also Dayton Duncan, writer for the documentary, and many other people who had worked to produce the documentary attend the event. All dust bowl survivor-interviewees were honored, and families and guests were included in the celebration. Some of the activities and organizations Virginia has been involved with are AAUW, Kappa Kappa Iota, and she served as Texas County certified court mediator. She was an actress in several Guymon Community Theatre productions, and is no longer active in, but a lifetime member of, Guymon Hospital Auxiliary.
Some of her present organizations and activities are Texas, Cimarron County Retired Educators, where she served as president for two terms and was given the VIM award in 1997.She is a lifetime member of Oklahoma Panhandle State Alumni Association, is a member of the Northwestern Oklahoma University Alumni Association. She belongs to the No man’s Land Historical Society, and has been active in a Readers’ Theatre Group, which have affectionately dubbed “The Beer City Gals” that have given programs in the area dealing with pre-statehood history. In addition, she helped start, and gave its name to, the Word Weavers, a club which encourages fledgling writers and helps critique seasoned ones.
Virginia feels her family is her most worthwhile accomplishment .She has seven children, all worthwhile citizens in their communities. Jeanene Seaton lives in Pampa, Texas; Cheryl OQuin, in Guymon and Amarillo; Nayoma Cooper and Pat Barton, both in Guymon. Rocky Frantz lives in Perryton, Texas: Kara Sue Lawrence, of Midland, Texa; and Clay Frantz of Hardesty, Oklahoma.
She has sixteen grandchildren scattered in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and California. There are 28 great grandchildren, all of who call her “Ginna” and who will be expecting a sack of homemade peanut brittle at Christmas time.
Virginia expresses her thanks and appreciation to Oklahoma Panhandle State University, with its many wonderful people, first for making it possible for her to receive her education degree, and last for the privilege of being selected one of your honored alumni.