Soldier, Scholar, Oklahoman

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Dr. Clarence G. Oliver, Jr.,  has a record of honors and achievements that is nothing short of extraordinary, but is genuinely a great person to simply enjoy a cup of coffee with.  With many stories to tell, he shares why Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.

By, Macy Goodnight; He is an iconic Oklahoman and well-known and respected for an infinite number of reasons. Dr. Clarence G. Oliver, Jr.’s list of accomplishments is extensive, and the level of integrity in which he has lived his life is that of a remarkable role model and inspiration to all. In his lifetime, he has accomplished a great many things, including careers as a journalist, photographer, newspaper editor and publisher, author, Army officer, teacher, and school administrator. For 60 years, he worked in education. He has written numerous books based on his own memories, as well as local history. Some of his awards include Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1975 and 1992, the Broken Arrow Chamber Legacy Award in 2011. In February 2015, he was recognized again by the Chamber with the first Dr. Clarence G. Oliver Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, newly created in his honor. Above all else, at 91 years old, he is one of the most highly respected leaders in the community. His record of honors and endowments is nothing short of extraordinary.

Many people have heard him speak, read his books, and know of his work and accolades, but there is something about Dr. Oliver some might not know: His favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Week, 1951; Soldiers of Company C, 180th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, pictured in close quarters onboard the USS Henrico, en route from Japan to Korea.  Master Sergeant Clarence G. Oliver, Jr. is at far left in the photo.  Five or six days after Thanksgiving Day, these soldiers were in combat in North Korea.

Born in July of 1929, Clarence arrived just as the Great Depression was beginning. In his book ‘One from the Least and Disappearing Generation: A Memoir of a Depression-Era Kid,’ Dr. Oliver wrote, “Childhood experiences of life during the nation’s time of massive economic difficulties, followed immediately by a world-wide war, which impacted every family in the land, left indelible impressions which, even in adulthood, affect the beliefs and behaviors of those of us who lived through those years.” Young Clarence wasn’t aware of how financially poor his family was until later in life, after becoming more aware of other people’s circumstances outside of his own. His mother, Jewel Dyer, who had been orphaned after her parents passed away as a child, grew up as a ward of a kindly family. Clarence knew the Roberts family as his own, even though there was no blood relation. With a memory that is as sharp as a tack, Dr. Oliver recalls, beginning at around eight years old, escorting Mr. M.D.L (Marquis de Lafayette) Roberts, who was blind, on walks around the neighborhood each day. Clarence would then read the bible to him in the evenings. Mr. Roberts would ask young Clarence to walk him to church each Sunday evening; in fact, visiting every church in Ada’s old-town neighborhood, exposing him to many different denominations as a child. Mr. Roberts was the very definition of a grandfather to Clarence, despite their lack of ancestry. There was an indelible bond within this unique family. They didn’t have much, but what they did have was an immense love for each other.

Clarence’s Mother and Father, Clarence Oliver, Sr., worked very hard during these times to provide for their family. For about eight years, his father struggled to find work, doing whatever he could. “My father walked 20 miles once, for 50 cents that a man owed him for some work he had done, so he would have money to buy food,” said Dr. Oliver. “People now can’t quite comprehend that kind of desperation.” Thanksgiving holidays looked very different for most people during those years. “There were times you didn’t have meat, but you put together whatever you had.”

One of the most memorable Thanksgivings Dr. Oliver remembers was in 1949, and as he recalls, the economy was getting better. He was home for the holiday from his studies at Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater, where he was a student in the School of Journalism. Along with his mother, father, and younger sister, Jane Alice, they would join at the home of Delia and Chester Mathis, together with Delia’s father, Mr. Roberts, the patriarch of the family. Clarence’s “Uncle” Chester was an engineer by trade, and at retirement age, started a concrete products company. “They had a nice home at the end of town, and obviously had a good deal more money than the rest of us,” said Dr. Oliver. “They invited my family to share Thanksgiving with them.”

Thanksgiving Day with Family, 1949.  One of Dr. Oliver’s most memorable Thanksgiving Days, pictures left to right; Delia and Chester Mathis, Mr. MDL (Marquis de Lafayette) Roberts, Jewel A. (Dyer) Oliver, Jane Alice Oliver, and Clarence G. Oliver, Sr.  (Not pictured:  Clarence G. Oliver, Jr., who was taking the picture.)

It was not an elaborate meal, but as Dr. Oliver recalls, there was a meat- ham, to be exact. The plates and glasses were very nice, and the silverware all matched. “It was all nicer than what my family was accustomed to,” he said. It was a special day, but not because of the finery. It wasn’t fancy. “I wasn’t related to them, except in my heart,” Dr. Oliver said. “It was a close-knit family filled with a lot of love, and we felt very welcome.” Their day was spent around a table talking and sharing time together.

At the age of 17, Clarence enlisted in the military. In 1951, he would spend Thanksgiving on board the troopship USS Henrico, serving as Master Sergeant, of Company C, 180th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, in the Korean War. On the ship, soldier’s bunks were stacked six-deep, and everything each soldier possessed was kept in the bunk with them. On Thanksgiving Day, Soldiers ate their dinner quickly and while standing at a counter, as the long lines of soldiers were pushed through the mess hall and back out on deck or to troop quarters. Five or six days after Thanksgiving that year, he would be in combat in North Korea. His wife, Vinita, and their newborn son were at home during his deployment. “I missed being with my family during that year,” he said. “I sent and received letters from home, but I missed being there.”

There would be many wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations and memories to follow, and Dr. Oliver and Vinita would create many holiday memories with their children and grandchildren. He even has a secret special turkey recipe.

Since Vinita’s passing, he shares the warmth of the holiday with his children and their families. To this day, the best part of the celebration for Dr. Oliver is the time shared with the ones you love. “There’s no pressure, no gifts to buy,” he said, “just time to sit around and talk, and spend time with the family.”

Dr. Clarence G. Oliver knows a thing or two about gratitude, and those who are fortunate enough to spend time talking with him are thankful for the wisdom he has to share.

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