CHANDLER — Only the names on the telegrams were different.
Otherwise, the six were exactly the same: Same date. Same place. Even the same wording.
“It must’ve been gut-wrenching,” said Paul Vassar, who still has a hard time grasping what it was like for his hometown — losing six of its young men on the same day in World War I.
“Chandler was an even smaller community then, where all the families knew each other,” he said.
Although the deaths occurred on Oct. 8, 1918, it was three weeks before the news arrived in Chandler and telegrams were sent to the families.
Making the loss even harder to swallow, just a week later that same telegraph relayed another big news item: An armistice had been signed.
The war was over.
“How terribly bittersweet that must’ve been,” Vassar said.
A retired district judge for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, Vassar has written a book about this tragic chapter in his hometown’s history. It’s called “The Boys: The Story of a Town and War.”
The men were part of a Chandler-area National Guard unit sent to France to fight.
“Sadly, the story was lost to time,” Vassar said. “I wasn’t aware of most of it until I started researching.”
Vassar’s first vague awareness of the story came as a boy in Chandler, where he attended First United Methodist Church.
At the church, which is still there, are two stained-glass windows dedicated to Lt. Arthur Matheny and Sgt. Charlie Bouse.
The pair, who had ties to the church, were among the six guardsmen slain in 1918.
Vassar recalls pondering the windows as a boy, but it would be a long time before he learned more — that the two men had died on the same day, along with four others from the town.
Members of the local National Guard unit were known around town as “The Boys,” Vassar said, adding they were all friends.
In 1917, with the U.S. entry into WWI, the unit was called to federal service, and with other Oklahoma and Texas guards formed the new 142nd Infantry Regiment. The Chandler “Boys” were made part of the unit’s Company B.
The fateful day would come many months later near the village of St.-Etienne-a-Arnes in France.
Company B, which numbered 150 members, suffered 32 casualties in the fighting of Oct. 8, 1918, including 13 killed.
Among them from Chandler were Matheny, Bouse, Forest Cox, Ulus Dunn, Samuel Pidcock and Cleason Dale.
That the deaths were so unnecessary is hard to take.
“The disgusting thing is that peace talks were already going on at the time,” Vassar said, adding that the battle accomplished nothing.
But while it was a tragic day, he said, it was also a day of heroism.
Vassar especially enjoys telling the story of Lee Gilstrap.
Gilstrap, 15, of Chandler had lied about his age to join the unit and go overseas.
“His father, Harry, was the company commander. So I’m not sure how the lying thing worked,” Vassar chuckled.
At one point on the day of the battle, Gilstrap decided to grab a stretcher and run to the aid of fallen comrades under fire.
What started as a rash move turned into something much more.
After nearly being killed when a bullet ricocheted off his helmet, Gilstrap grabbed a rifle at hand and before he was done, had singlehandedly captured several of the enemy.
Gilstrap would receive a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for his actions.
Chandler had a population of around 2,500 at the time of the war.
As one local newspaper put it, the news of the deaths cast “a pall of gloom (over the town) — every citizen, man, woman, and child grieve with the stricken ones … broken-hearted wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.”
The surviving troops arrived home the following summer. As sad as many townsfolk still were over the deaths, they celebrated.
It would be 1921 before the remains of those slain were returned. Five are buried at Oak Park Cemetery there, another at Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
Since he began researching the book, Vassar has twice visited St.-Etienne.
He couldn’t help thinking, he said, “what a long way the Boys had come to die.”
Vassar was both surprised and touched, he said, to find that a church there honors two fallen French soldiers in the same way as First Methodist: with commemorative stained-glass windows.
Vassar was district judge from 1995 to 2010. Although officially retired, he keeps an office in Chandler across the street from the Lincoln County Courthouse.
It was after he retired that Vassar’s wife suggested he write about the town’s history for the local paper.
“There’s no way a lawyer can say anything in 1,500 words,” he joked, adding that it quickly turned into a book-length project.
When his initial efforts read more like the legal briefs and opinions he used to write, he told himself to “just tell the story.”
Vassar’s book starts with Chandler’s founding and details its early years, including it being wiped out by a tornado in 1897 and other events, leading up to WWI.
Vassar said he marvels at the courage of those early townsfolk.
“It took courage to come here in 1891, took courage to stay and build the community.”
And it would take courage for the surviving families of the soldiers to carry on.
It’s that history of resilience that makes Vassar proud to be from Chandler.
“My roots are deep in the red dirt of this place,” he said.
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On two separate occasions Kolby Webster has been hit by a car in Tulsa. The first, and notably the most traumatic, was while in the arms of his mother.
Now, the 25-year-old is one of Tulsa’s most outspoken activists for biking and pedestrian infrastructure.
Both instances ignited something in Webster.
“Whenever I was a baby, my mom was crossing the street ... she got hit while holding me and told me a story about how I flew out into the next lane,” Webster said.
Years later, Webster was hit again as a teen while biking to work near 71st Street and Memorial Drive.
An older couple pulled over to call 911. When police officers arrived, Webster said he was shocked when an officer told him he was at fault.
“Technically I was in the wrong because it is apparently a city ordinance that you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk,” he recalls an officer explaining.
After graduating high school, Webster said he found a Facebook group of over 100,000 advocates for accessible transportation options. In it, he found that a portion of the users were young voices.
Shortly after, Webster said he began posting memes as an outlet for activism.
“I knew that using Instagram and Facebook were gonna have to be my primary tools,” Webster said. “I started with Facebook and Instagram because I wanted to share memes that have that humor element and make this more digestible, because infrastructure has never been a sexy topic.”
Childhood experiences, coupled with the fear he has for other residents trying to navigate a city that was built for cars, is what motivates him today, he said.
While urging city leaders to initiate change, he also wants to include young adults in the conversation.
At the Tulsa Hub, a nonprofit that works to change the habits of the next generation through active-transportation programs, Webster said he taught summer bike program students how to safely navigate the streets.
“We teach them how to get from home to school to work safely,” Webster said. “Even though we’re giving them all the information they need — the tools, helmets, locks, lights — they still are liable to get hit in some way.”
Webster said it’s important to share how different types of infrastructure will impact them earlier than later.
From hosting panel discussions on housing and gentrification to publicly addressing pedestrian infrastructure issues online, Webster is trying to ignite a conversation among young adults about how to make Tulsa more friendly to those in need.
He has been hosting events where locals are invited to learn more about what it means to build a city with residents’ interests in mind.
Becky Gilgo, housing policy director for the city of Tulsa, was invited to speak at one of his events.
She and two other panelists spoke about the state of Tulsa’s housing industry.
“We were all just pleasantly surprised with the turnout,” Gilgo said. “The idea that this was a group of people who might not normally be involved typically through things like a city council meeting or a public hearing, but were still very enthusiastic about learning and contributing to the civic process, I thought was incredibly unique and very exciting.”
Kolby said bringing people together inevitably brings up conversations about how to bring about positive change.
“I’m trying to provide space in a city where we are dedicating so much to parking spaces instead,” Webster said.
In the future, Webster said he will plan other events to give residents the opportunity to put their ideas into action.
“I think that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “Address problems with the resources I have to make it a more worthwhile venture to invest in your local needs and necessities.”
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A local lodging association is encouraging hotels to continue charging customers a tourism assessment despite the fact that a Tulsa County judge issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the city of Tulsa from assessing or collecting it.
The letter sent July 1 by James Cunningham, president of the Metro Tulsa Hotel & Lodging Association, warns hotels within the Tourism Improvement District that they could be asked to pay back-assessments should the injunction be overturned.
“In other words, a hotel could be responsible for paying the assessments to the city — regardless of whether the hotel actually collected that money from its guests,” Cunningham wrote. “To protect themselves, hotels should continue to collect the assessment and retain those funds pending resolution of this legal issue.”
The city stopped collecting the 3% assessment on hotel stays after Tulsa County District Court Judge Linda Morrissey issued the temporary injunction on June 25. The city has estimated the assessment would raise approximately $2.5 million a year.
Cunningham told the Tulsa World last week that he sent the letter to hoteliers after they asked the lodging and hotel association what it thought about the injunction.
The organization recommended that hotels continue collecting the assessment because “it is likely the Tourism District will be upheld and the property owners will need to pay the assessments out of their own funds if the hotels did not collect the assessments,” Cunningham said.
If what Cunningham described as the “unlikely event that the tourism district is struck down,” each hotel would have to address the question of refunds for customers who paid the assessment.
A July 9 letter from city Finance Director James Wagner to affected hoteliers states that the city plans to fight the injunction and cautions that if the city prevails, and the injunction is lifted, “the city may collect past months’ assessments pursuant to the ordinance adopting the Assessment Role.”
The city of Tulsa and the Tulsa Regional Chamber worked for years to establish the Tourism Improvement District. It was approved by the City Council late last year and signed by the Mayor’s Office in December 2018. The assessment took effect April 1, 2019.
The TID comprises 33 hotels, each with 110 rooms or more. Under state law, the funds raised through the assessment can be used solely to market the city and participating hotels.
The assessment was immediately challenged in court by a group of hoteliers that had presented letters to the City Council and Mayor’s Office they argued showed a majority of affected hotels opposed the TID.
Under state law, if “a majority of the owners of record of property in the assessment area protest, in writing, the creation of the district, the district shall not be created.”
In her ruling, Morrissey found that “17 of the 33 — or 51% — affected hotels still object to the creation of the TID, which is a majority of those affected.”
The case heads back to court Tuesday when Morrissey will consider arguments to increase the bond amount the plaintiff, TOCH LLC, was ordered to pay as part of the terms of the temporary injunction.
The bond was set at $100,000, but the defendants in the case, the city of Tulsa and Tulsa Hotel Partners LLC, have argued in court filings that it should be no less than $1.5 million.
The bond is intended to cover the city’s potential damages should it ultimately prevail in the case.
Morrissey is scheduled to hear the plaintiff’s request for summary judgment on Sept. 5.
TOCH is made up of Brickhugger LLC and investors Neal Bhow, Lee Levinson and Bruce Taylor. Brickhugger principals John and Tori Snyder, along with their daughter, Macy Snyder-Amatucci, redeveloped the historic Mayo Hotel and the Detroit Lofts.
John Snyder was one of the most vocal opponents of the assessment district.
Michelle Brooks, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, said the city collected $217,513 in assessments before the temporary injunction was issued.
“We haven’t billed since and the city hasn’t made any other attempts at collection,” she said.
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Monday afternoon could bring Tulsa’s first official triple-digit temperature of the summer, and officials are urging residents to take precautions amid sweltering heat indices.
Tulsa officially reached a high of 99 degrees at Tulsa International Airport and a maximum heat index of 113 on Sunday, and Monday’s high is forecast to reach near 100 degrees with a heat index between 110 and 115, according to the National Weather Service.
Tulsa has only hit 99 one other day this summer, which was about a week ago on Aug. 6.
Although triple-digit temperatures would be a milestone for the season, Mike Lacy, a forecaster with NWS Tulsa, said heat indices are what really matter, and they’ve been tip-toeing above 100 for a while.
The weather service issued excessive heat warnings for Saturday, Sunday and Monday for much of northeastern Oklahoma as heat indices were forecast to peak between 110-120 degrees. Heat indices combine the effects of high temperatures and humidity relative to human comfort.
Highs Tuesday are expected to drop to near 90, offering some relief for the rest of the week, forecasters said.
Despite the tangibility of the stifling heat, Lacy said this summer is considered normal or even a bit cooler compared to those in the past.
Historical flooding in May brought enough precipitation to keep the ground and air saturated for most of the summer, making it more difficult for temperatures to climb, Lacy said.
“That set the tone for the summer,” he said.
He compared the effect to boiling green beans; once the water boils off, the beans will burn.
June’s precipitation level was 2.2 points above a 30-year climatological average, and August’s, as of Friday, was 1.23 points above normal.
Since 1980, Tulsa’s average temperature for the summer months has been 94 degrees.
Lacy said the NWS considers summer to be June through August, and the hottest spell for the state is typically mid-July through mid-August.
Summer highs typically peak in August, and Lacy compared this summer to worse in the past, such as in 2011 and 2012, when max temperatures reached 113 and 112 degrees, respectively.
Highs in the six summers since have bounced around 101 degrees, save for this past summer, when temperatures peaked in July 2018 at 106.
Although the humidity is helpful for keeping overall temperatures down, it can be especially oppressive to people, Lacy said.
High humidity hinders people’s natural temperature-regulating process, evaporative cooling, and it essentially suffocates the body, Lacy said.
“All that sweat that’s on your body, it doesn’t go away,” he said.
In the coming days, it’s important for residents to take precautions, Adam Paluka, a spokesman for EMSA, said.
EMSA issued heat alerts Saturday and Sunday, which are issued every time medics respond to five or more suspected heat-related illness calls in 24 hours.
Since May, medics have responded to about 275 heat-related illness calls. More than 45 of those occurred this past week, Paluka said.
Although those are fine figures in perspective of Tulsa’s overall population, each could have been avoided, Paluka said.
“It’s mostly people who haven’t adequately prepared for the conditions and don’t have resources to take care of themselves once they get outside,“ Paluka said.
Anyone who is outside in the heat should pay attention to their body, remaining watchful for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, he said.
If someone is past the point of self-correction, Paluka said not to hesitate to call for help.
“Heat stroke can be fatal,” he added.
In typical Oklahoma fashion, Lacy said a cool front is expected to bring down overall temperatures come Tuesday for a short relief.
Until then, EMSA offered the following tips for staying healthy in the heat:
• Prehydration is key to preventing heat-related illnesses. Drink plenty of water or electrolyte replacement drinks several hours prior to and during long exposure to the summer heat.
• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat if working outdoors, and take plenty of shade breaks.
• Consume no alcohol or caffeine.
• If you don’t have air conditioning, find a cooling station or public space (such as a library or mall) during the day.
• Don’t limit your air conditioning. If you are concerned about your electric bill, call PSO or 211. They have programs that could possibly help you.
• Check on elderly neighbors.
• Use the buddy system if working outdoors.
• Keep a cellphone on you at all times when outdoors, including while walking, running errands, doing yard work or taking part in sports and physical activity.
The following cooling stations are open for business until further notice:
The Salvation Army Center of Hope, 102 N. Denver Ave.; 24/7
John 3:16 Mission, 506 N. Cheyenne Ave.; 24/7
Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St.; noon–9 p.m.
Tulsa County Social Services, 2401 Charles Page Blvd.; 8:30 a.m.–8 p.m.
Dial 211 for locations, hours and other information. Dial 211 for information on applying for a window unit air conditioner or other resources.
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