August 8, 2007

By Chuck Hall

If you've ever been asked to perform a duty or task that seemed difficult, monumental or emotionally compelling then you'll have some understanding of my responsibility today as I attempt to pay homage to our departed friend: Fred Beers.

In his eulogy, Pro Rodeo Announcer Clem McSpadden said of the late Jim Shoulders, "The tallest tree in the forest has fallen."

I simply can not imagine a more fitting collection of words to better describe the recent passing of Perry native and local historian Frederick Gordon Beers. Today, in his honor, we will (for the last time) publish the "Northwest Corner" banner and (for the first time) write about the father of this historic column.

Beers began writing the Northwest Corner in 1946, when he returned to work at the Perry Daily Journal after three years of Army service during World War II. The column continued twice weekly until 1969 when Fred accepted a position as a member of the advertising and public relations staff at The Charles Machine Works, Inc.

Following two decades with the Ditch Witch® Company, Fred retired from his position as Corporate Communications manager and at the request of publisher Milo Watson, resumed his column in The Journal.

At the time of his retirement, Fred said, "After 20 happy years I just retired, but the itch to write a column remained unscratched. The column is fun to do and folks generally seem to enjoy the bits of nostalgia, history, and even the occasional commentary."

In my research, I ran across an article printed in the Journal back in May of 1943. W.K. Leatherock, the Journal publisher at the time, shared with readers his thoughts of Fred Beers who was leaving his position as city editor for military service: "He didn't know anything about newspapering but he had a keen intellect, an inquiring mind, a lot of horse sense for a kid and he was no stranger to work," Leatherock wrote, "I can only hope when this Army business is over, the day he gets his discharge he will find his way right back to Perry and stay. Fellows like him will be valuable in Noble County in the years to come." Fred was just 18 years old when his boss wrote those words about him in the local paper.

Well, thankfully, Fred did in fact return to Perry and the rest is quite literally HISTORY and lots of it. Over the years, he would use his God-given natural ability to write hundreds of pieces documenting Perry from its infancy to the modern era. Readers both young and old would find themselves wrapped in weekly exploits of Noble County people and events which make up the personality and character of this small Oklahoma community.

Fred's soothing smile, quick wit and unwavering passion for Perry helped him to make friends with everyone he came in contact with.

He was a story teller pure and simple. I would often find myself wishing I were part of his family so that I might enjoy the freedom of climbing onto his lap and being rocked asleep with visions of days gone by. Most of us will work our entire lives in the hopes of providing for our families and to leave some small mark on society. Fred, ironically left volumes of marks and his social impact will never be surpassed.

A passion for local history is not taught in any school, nor can you purchase a "how-to" book on the subject. Historians are special breeds who evolve to a position of respect. No one just becomes an Historian. Certainly there are history buffs who will continue to dig and prod around for pieces of information about our past, but few (if any) will make it part of their life's wait — documented for our children's children to see. Fred did that for us.

Fred Beers researched and documented this community from the mid 1800s up to 2006 and was a plethora of information. He continued to research, study and write until his eyes no longer allowed him to see the words on the paper. We can only hope that someone or some group will surface and the torch can be passed down to a new generation of selfless and creative writers with the same love and passion for Perry and its people that our neighbor Fred Beers has shown us.

In all his accomplishments: Army service, his years at Ditch Witch, writing for The Stars and Stripes, editing The Journal, becoming a published author and a decorated historian, Fred never lost his focus on life's most important offering — family. "My life has been truly enriched and made far happier than I deserve by three particular ladies", he once wrote, "and so I'm dedicating this, with heartfelt thanks and great love, to Laura, Kathy and Susan. (November 1995) This was, of course, a dedication of his collection of Northwest Corner articles published as Perry Tales. Knowing Fred as I did, I think that dedication went far deeper. This was a man full of dignity, who had garnered the respect of peers across the prairie and who without question would have traded it all for just one more moment with his beautiful girls. He saw his family as irreplaceably important and that is a piece of history worth saving.

So here we are on the last chapter of a book we never really wanted to close. Over the past few months, I've remained in relatively close contact with the family and was honored that Laura allowed me to visit the bed side only days before his passing. As I held his hand that day, Fred looked up at me as if to say: "it's up to you now". Not that I'm to carry the torch to continue his work but rather it is our generation's responsibility to carry on with historic documentation.

I have met few people who have touched me as Fred Beers did. He was a friend and a mentor. I enjoy writing and feel it to be the last pure form of communication. When Fred took pen in hand, he used it like a magic wand taking us back in time. I've worked hard to develop my skills, but no matter how hard I try, I just don't have the magic.

As the gates of heaven open to receive another faithful servant, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will certainly take note that Fred G. Beers is now "in the house". We should expect to see a new edited version of the Bible out very soon.

Fred, this community owes you a tremendous amount of gratitude for your private and public service. You blessed us with your presence and have left us with a library of priceless treasures. Your words have touched our souls. Welcome to the history books. You've become a BEST 1 SELLER!

I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment; that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and will fill their treasures. Proverbs 8v20,21