||visited with Clemon
and Rita Clewell about this town,
the weather and the Hardware
|| Clemon Clewell was born in 1924 in Watonga, maybe in the Hopkins Hotel.
(actually, Clemon really thinks that he was born at the hospital; Dr. Leisure delivered him)
He was the only child of
Mary Susan (Molly) and
Arthur George (Art) Clewell.
At the time of Clemon’s birth, his mother was 40 and his father was 50 years of age.
Clemon was a spoiled baby……..
so said the 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Kline, who was a good friend of his mother’s.
Mrs. Kline and Mrs. Clewell had to drive him around in the car just to get him to go to sleep.
His father bought the Hopkins Hotel in 1920. Nancy Hopkins had built the Hopkins Hotel, a two story wooden structure, in the 100 block of Main, north side, between Noble and Prouty in 1901.
The family used the second floor as their home while half of the bottom floor was A.G.’s real estate office and the west half was for Molly’s used clothing store.
The Hopkins Hotel is known as one of the first buildings built in Watonga.
The building took up only half the lot; so
there was a nice-size yard with a swing behind their home.
picture shows Clemon, about 4 years old, with his mother's mother,
Clemon’s mother’s parents made the land
run from Kingfisher and homesteaded on 160 acres near Omega.
His father’s parents lived in Iowa; Clemon
never knew his father’s parents.
Clemon’s mother had two boys from a
previous marriage: Bee Smith, who died at age 17 from the flu
epidemic that occurred during World War I and Glen Smith, who became
a dentist and set up shop in Pauls Valley. Of course, they were
both much older than Clemon; Glen’s son was 6 months younger
| One of Clemon’s earliest memories is looking across the street south from his house and seeing the ‘National Recovery Act’ sign in the door of the Allison
Some of the other stores around him that he recalls were Bixler’s
Clothing Store, Jimmie Minor’s Café and the Russell Barber Shop where Nick Kline and Sy Russell worked,
(Sy was Shaver’s father and Mike’s grandfather)
Watonga State Bank was on the corner, Veatch
Drug was next to that and then Garvey Dry Goods, and then Tyler’s
Dry Goods. When they tore the Ann Theatre down, Tyler bought that lot and made his store bigger.
(the stores named were stores that
were in Watonga when Clemon Clewell was growing up, not necessarily
all there at the same time)
Clemon, Rita, Molly, A.G.
Other stores were
Philips, C.R. Drug, T.G.&Y. and O.D. Sargent’s store was west
of the barber shop. There was another grocery store on Main
Street called Blakesley Grocery. On the south side was the
Cream Station, Safeway, Shawver & Justice Grocery and Dewey Shoe
Shop. Next door to Allison’s two-story store was
Tune Furniture. It burned down years later. It was where the
bowling alley is now.
An upscale clothing
store owned by Stewart was where the H & R Block is now. The
Stewart’s had a two-story brick home on Noble. Their daughter
was in the same grade as Clemon.
(maybe even a girlfriend!)
W.F. Griffin had his
optometrist's office in the block to the east, north side.
He shared an office with A.G. Clewell. He had a sign in
his office that read,
"See Me, See Better!"
Dr. Griffin grew up in Watonga. When A.G. lost his
eyesight, he sold his business to Mr. Haralson.
click on the button to the
story you want to read
A painting of the home that Rita's Grandpa Boyd built near Fay
built two theaters in Watonga. One he called 'The Rook' and the second he
called 'The Ann Theater' after his daughter. His wife taught Sunday
School at the Methodist Church. Clemon remembers that he was so
anxious to graduate up to her class because Mrs. Rook would give away movie
passes to her Sunday School students. It so happened that she quit
teaching as soon as he was old enough for her class!
When Charles Rook bought the Hopkins in 1931 to tear it down and build the
Ann Theatre, Clemon’s family moved to the 400 block of N. Leach, just
across the street north from where he would attend grade school (where the
library is now).
He had two really good friends, Don Hursh and Buck Pierce (Frank Wheeler’s
grandson). Frank’s daughter had died and they were taking care of Buck who
lived a block south.
Clemon remembers that when they were outside playing, they would
stand and watch the monstrous dust storms as they would roll
into town. It was hard for him to take his eyes off of the
cloud and that sight impressed him immensely.
few years later, they moved to 803 N. Noble. Clemon had lots of friends
there: Jack Barrett, Earl Goerke, and all three of the Fitzwater girls.
They used to play baseball in the lot next door. After that location,
they lived at 415 N. Prouty.
While he was living
there, he had a bad bicycle wreck which injured his leg so badly
that a bone infection occurred. There was not an x-ray machine
in Watonga, so he went to Pauls Valley to have surgery. It so
happened that the doctor that operated on him had had the same
kind of infection. He had two surgeries and missed a year of
school; but because of Dr. Al Harris, the superintendent and
Mrs. B. F. Neil, the Engish teacher, he was able to graduate to
the next grade. They helped him make up his schoolwork.
When Clemon and
Rita got married they lived with his folks for a year. They
had their own little apartment in the back of the house. Then
they moved to N. Prouty into a garage apartment where their first
son, David was born.
Then they moved across from Clemon's parents into a
little two-story house that Don Johnson's parents owned. He owns it
still. Then they moved up on Noble. There are two houses that look
just alike. One has a red door and the other has a yellow door.
They lived in the south one. Mrs. Rose had owned those houses.
Then they moved to
the Circle. There was a group of people that got together and got
the Circle Drive construction going. This is when they bought their
first home. They lived at 611 Circle Drive. They moved in a week
before Paul was born in 1952. He was born on Rita's birthday,
February 9th. At that time, he was the biggest baby
every born at Watonga Hospital.
Marcia and Don were
also born when they lived on the circle. In 1963, they built a house
on N. Noble where they live now.
| The very first job Clemon remembers having is passing out grocery store hand bills for Mr. O.D. Sargent. He was to go only as far as the railroad tracks to the west and then turn around and go only as far as the railroad tracks to the east. He was not to cross the tracks. Mr. Sargent paid him twenty-five cents for this job.
Clemon worked at the Safeway store the summer before his junior year in high school. Clemon still remembers how good the coffee smelled that was being freshly ground. He didn’t drink coffee; but he sure thought it smelled good. The summer before his senior year, was his first time to work at Rice Hardware.
The summer before he went to college, he worked at the Philips Grocery. On Saturday nights, the grocery stores would stay open until after the preview let out. People would either go shopping then or pick up their bag of groceries that they had purchased earlier.
He remembers once trying to pick up an 80 pound
sack of feed when he just weighed 125.
He counted to three and heaved the sack up in the air,
but not on his shoulder.
The sack landed on the ground behind him
and busted open.
It was a regular chore of his to fill and deliver the order that Mrs. Philips took over the phone. He did just fine except for not knowing one item on the list……..’xxx’. He had to ask Mrs. Philips what the ‘xxx’ stood for. She was surprised that he didn’t know that it stood for peppermint candy because the candy had an x impression on it.
Clemon graduated from Hill’s Business College in Oklahoma City in 1943. He worked at a restaurant east of the Big Red Warehouse which turned into Evans Furniture. He peeled potatoes for hours during the evening with another boy from Watonga, W. D. McPherson.
Another job was downtown on the
corner of Katz Drug. (The Criterion Theatre
famous for its big theater organ, was half of a block east of there;
he saw Casablanca there!) This job was selling tokens to
people getting on the street cars on Saturday.
Somehow, some way, in the middle of a busy street,
the bottom fell out of his pockets and quarters and
half-dollars fell everywhere.
People scrambled to help him pick up the money.
He doesn’t think he lost
any revenue that day!
After he graduated business college and moved back home, he worked for
Ivan Kelley (he was an accountant), he also worked at the county clerks office for A. A. Spiece, and he worked at Watonga State Bank using shorthand and typing preparing correspondence for L. J. Barret and
D.P. Karns. He eventually moved to the teller position. He remembers the day that Jack Barrett came home from the service. He was serving overseas as an Air Force pilot. Jack had prepared the visit as a surprise for his dad.
At Watonga State Bank, Clemon worked with
one of the Compton twins, Marie Dixon. Both the Compton girls were
very talented twirlers in the Watonga High School Marching Band;
they went on to OU and performed in the OU Band.
He also worked with Snooky Snyder, the
daughter of Allan Faulkenstein, and he worked with Ben Shuber. He
was working at the bank when Mr. Rice came over, and wanted him to
come and work at the hardware. He did. This was in 1946 before
Rita and Clemon were married.
He received $25 a week
and Clemon remembers thinking
the very first Saturday
when he was cutting a 2-inch galvanized pipe for Jess Butler,
“I could be back at the bank,
sitting at a desk,
instead of doing all this manual labor!”
When Clemon was in school, Mr. Rice was the
football coach under the superintendent, Al Harris. He was quite famous for
the winning teams that he put together. When he quit teaching in 1941, he
bought the Rose building and the hardware business. Mr. Rice is described
as a gruff man, but with a warm heart. He would do anything for anybody if
he saw a need. Clemon remembers him to be a forgiving man because one time
he had asked Clemon to put oil in his car which was parked just outside the
store. Clemon just hand-tightened the plug under the oil pan and then oil
went all over the street.
How embarrassing; but he still had a job the next day.
Rice's Business Card
Evidently Clemon was very important to the
store. The one time that he and Rita took the kids for a two
week vacation, he had two weeks’ worth of posting to do
when he got home! He also remembers the bales of aspen wood that
they would order in to pad the huge air conditioner units that
cooled people’s homes.
When Mr. Rice died in 1967, there were a
great number of employees at the store; a plumber, Harold Wilhite,
two refrigeration men, Earl Pettit and S. Jay Tomlinson, a Maytag
repairman, Earnest Shaw, a t.v. repair man, Tom Oler and an
electrician, Dick Oler. Ira Green worked at Rice’s also. One by
one they left the store to start their own businesses.
One day Clemon slipped on the ice in front
of the Post Office and suffered a concussion; he was in the hospital
for a week. During this time Neil Haight was helping Rita at the
store. They had bought a new cash register then and Rita decided
that the old cash register needed to be taken to the back to make
room for the new one. The old cash register was made of lead and
Neil got on one side and Rita on the
other side and they lifted the cash register and began walking
it through the west store, then through the middle store.
By now, they knew that they should not have even
started the project,
but they did not dare set it down.
They walked it through the door of the third building and all
the way toward the back. It was a very strenuous project; but
now there was a place for the new cash register!
Rita did a lot of the bookwork. In fact,
Clemon says that she is a better bookkeeper than he. She fell on
the sidewalk one day outside Hoberecht Insurance; fell on her face
and really banged herself up. She even broke her right wrist.
After getting medical
she continued on with the records
And that was when you posted each sale by hand with pencil and
In 1980, Clemon and Rita began talking
about buying the store from Mrs. Rice. Don had just graduated from
OCU. Their second son Paul was teaching band at the Junior High
School in Kingfisher. Don said that he would like to move back
and work with his parents if Paul would come too. They bought the
store and ran it for four years under the name of Rice Hardware.
(Even after they changed the name to Clewell’s Family Hardware,
people still made checks out to ‘Rice Hardware’ and a few people
still called Clemon, Mr. Rice.)
After four years and a newly remodeled
building on west main, they had a ‘name contest’ to see what the new
store’s name should be and ‘Clewell’s Family Hardware’ was
When they moved from the old location to
the new location on West Main, Rita wanted her own corner of the
store for her restaurant. Clemon thought that would be too much
work on her, but Rita insisted, so the boys enabled the remodeling
Rita decided that she would stay in the kitchen and hire one person
to wait the tables so she hired Jane Gonzalez.
There was seating for thirty. After the first day, they knew they
needed more help. Jane’s mother, Aurora, started working and by the
time they closed the store, they had nine full time or part-time
people helping run Rita’s Kitchen.
The restaurant was a lot of work! She started cooking every morning
by 5:00 a.m. making 12 pies and 3 dozen cinnamon rolls along with
soup and chili.
She became really famous for her cinnamon rolls and many times at noon the
lunch tables spread out into the store aisles making it a little difficult
to sell hardware. She closed the restaurant in 1990 but still continued
to bake cinnamon rolls every Friday for several years so her customers could
wean themselves from her delicious pastries a little at a time.
She uses this gift for the Lord by cooking lunch at the Methodist Church
every Friday for the Watonga High School students where lunch is only a
dollar. Her helpers are Anna Lou Harris and Jeanette Eichling, Barbara
Duncan and Trina Caldwell.
Rita spends Wednesday and Thursday preparing for the Friday
meal. They serve spaghetti
bread sticks as wide as the cookie sheet),
vegetables, fruit and dessert. The kids love to have chicken and noodles
noodles) with mashed
potatoes, or pork loin with potatoes and gravy. One week might be a big
meal and the next, sandwiches, burgers or sloppy Joes, or cold cuts. Rita
has started buying more canned biscuits for the kids since she noticed how
well they like them. They often choose a biscuit in place of a cookie or a
Having a hardware store requires going to market to see what new products
you can offer your customers.
Of course, at market there are drawings to
enter and prizes to be won. Clemon and Rita were just back from market one
day when one of the Weyth Hardware sales managers flew into Watonga to visit
Rita and Clemon.
He asked Rita for a cinnamon roll and when she served him,
he handed her a $1000 check and said he would use that to pay for the
cinnamon roll. He flew in from St. Joseph, Missouri to give Rita the prize
that she had won from the drawing while at market.
This was a surprise to
her only as she noticed later that the boys had cleaned up the store
a little shinier than usual anticipating this gentleman’s arrival.
the oil boom waned in the late eighties, David decided to go
back into the ministry and went to Arnett, David is now at
He has built new church buildings
in just about every town that he has served in: Shawnee
added on a big addition, Sayre built a new education wing
and fellowship hall. He has also been at Ponca City and
(Clemon calls him the I-40
David’s wife name is Kay; his
children’s names are Shannon, Nathan, Carrie, Michael and
Michelle. His grandchildren’s names are Simone, Jeremiah,
Oscar, Lauren, Kyle.
went to work for Wyeth Hardware Company in Kansas. Wyeth
was an old company; they used to be ‘wagon outfitters’. The
son of the man who began the company began running with the
bulls in Spain and left the business unattended, so Don left
and went to Amarillo Hardware. He works for LexisNexis
today as a sales information person with an office in the
top floor of 50 Penn Place. With this job Don travels some
overseas. He has also earned some trips by helping his
company reach certain goals. One trip was to London where
his place of stay was right across the way from Windsor
castle, He’s also been to Italy twice and Portugal once.
Don married Karen and their
children are Macy, Jordan, Jae and Jake.
Clemon and Rita have a daughter,
Marcia. She hasn’t worked for Clewell’s Family Hardware;
but she did work for Rice Hardware when she was growing up
In fact one day in 1975 before
Christmas, Marcia was watching the store with Paul for her
parents who were gone to Pauls Valley for Glen’s funeral,
when someone came running into the store yelling her name,
“Marcia, Marcia, you won the car!”
She had entered the Christmas
drawing at Tyler’s and she won a light green Ford Maverick
coupe. She and Paul were in college without a car, so
this was quite a blessing.
Paul stayed a number of years longer than Don and David.
After 17 years of working in the hardware, he, too, went to
work in the city.
He now works for Cornerstone Bank of
Paul married Jeanne and they have 2
children: Aaron (who runs the store now)
They have 2 grandchildren: Miles and Rita Jane.
Rita says that she loves to visit Marci’s
farm; yet Clemon doesn’t care for all
those trees that prevent him from seeing for miles and miles!
All the boys got their degrees from
Oklahoma City University. Marcia went to school at SWOSU in
Weatherford. She taught school first at Rush Springs, then at
Wilburton. She came back to Southwestern to get her master’s degree
in vocal music. She now lives on a farm near Wilburton with her
husband, Ben, and many horses, cows, goats, chickens and guineas. Clemon
can’t believe that his daughter loves the farm life so much since he
has always been a city boy. She even helps her husband cook the
sorghum in the fall to make molasses. First the horses walk around
a contraption that squeezes the juice from the sorghum. Marci’s
husband is a very talented welder; he seems to be able to build
anything! He created the equipment that turns the sorghum into
molasses. He has also created a device that will pick up eight
bales of hay at a time.
Clemon played the clarinet in high school. He has always had a love for music; but all four of his children are especially talented in music. All of his children received the John Philip Sousa award their Senior year and 3 of the 4 children were drum majors at Watonga. They had a really good band director, Tom Hutchinson, and they all sang in the choir.
When their youngest son Don, was asked how all the kids happened to be so musical, he answered, “Dad made us watch Lawrence Welk every Saturday night!”
(Clemon will admit to still watching Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights and he is no stranger to the Lawrence Welk Theatre in Branson) All their kids and most of their grandkids are accomplished musicians.
David (being the oldest child in a young family where dollars are needed in many different places) had always played a cheaper trumpet.
When David was a sophomore in high school he told his parents that he needed a new horn. Clemon told him that they couldn’t afford it, but David was persistent. When Rita presented him with this new trumpet, she said, “You’ll never play it after you get out of high school.”
But that was not the case. David played the trumpet all through high school and college. And David plays the trumpet every Sunday morning in worship and he has even been involved with the Ft.
Smith Community Symphony. One Sunday morning, to celebrate a new building that the church had just finish, he had a ‘Clewell’s Family Praise Band’ where several of the brothers and nieces and nephews performed.
David attended OCU. There was a time when the OCU band was in desperate need of a baritone player. David’s little brother Paul was still in high school, but he was an exceptional baritone player. Paul was asked to fill that spot, even though it meant making 2 or 3 trips a week for practices and performances. At least, when he arrived on campus as a freshman, he already had a place in the OCU band!
Marcia played the bassoon and was an all-stater her senior year. Don played the trumpet; also in the OCU band. As far as the grandkids go, Jake plays the viola, Megan is getting her master’s degree in ‘piano performance and accompaniment’, Macy is in the praise group where she worships, Jordan plays drums in his high school band, Nathan has his own band (he plays guitar and writes songs) and Aaron plays trumpet, keyboard and drums.
With the interview almost over; I ask
Clemon about his community service in Watonga. I find out that he has
served on the Chamber of Commerce several times. When he was president
of the Chamber is when the dangerous curve in the road south of 4-corners
was straightened and a new river bridge was built. He served on the
School Board for 7 years. That is when Dr. Weber was the
superintendent and the new gym at the high school was built in the early
seventies. He didn't tell me this, but I know that Clewell's Family
Hardware, like other businesses in town, is called upon multiple times in a
year to donate merchandise for community causes. And they always have.
Oh, one more thing!
Clemon is the longest-serving Cooperative Weather Observer in the state of
June 9th, 1955
|Clemon began his duties of an
Official Weather Observer for Watonga on July 24th, 1953 by
recording rainfall amounts.
The caption in the paper to the left dated June 9th, 1955 tells
that recording daily temperature highs and lows for this area was a
process just then getting started.
Before equipment was installed,
Clemon would have to measure the depth of the North Canadian River.
He would reel a weight down until it touched the water. He did
this on the narrow bridge west of town.
"It was quite
difficult and a little scary to get the reading and hurry back to
the roadside and off of the bridge!"
Caption of this paper says:
"Silver Iodide Generators like the one being
inspected by Clemon Clewell, local weather observer, was produced by
Dr. Irving Krick of Denver, who does not lay any claim to making
rain but does believe his generators will increase the amount of
rain above that which would normally be received under certain
The headline implies that it
Rita told me that
they lived in the circle during this experiment of 'cloud seeding'.
They had to go outside when it was raining and light the fire that
would release the iodized crystals. She said that it was very
difficult getting the fire to stay lit!
1957 Watonga Republican
The problem with the old weather
shelters is you had to open
the door to get at the thermometers. When the ice would freeze
on the door, he would have to take an ice pick and clean it up.
It was time-consuming and cold.
He would then record the high
and low and spin the thermometers down to a normal reading.
That was the old way of
getting the high temperature and low temperature.
Now, this beehive-looking
instrument records the temperature.
Clemon looks at
this device in the house and records the high and low for
This is the rain
gauge. Inside the large container is a graduated cylinder, and
inside that is a funnel. If there is more than 2" of rain, the
funnel overflows into the cylinder. In that case, they have to
empty out the funnel and then pour what overflowed into the funnel
and measure that.
temperature data provided by Clemon is used extensively by the
National Weather Service and other agencies in weather forecasting,
river flow analysis, storm water management, and long term climate
Clemon is one of 11,000 weather
observers nationwide that give generously of their time and energy
because of their interest in weather and dedication to our country.
The network provides daily air and soil temperature data, hourly and
daily precipitation amounts, pan evaporation, and river height
Clemon received the Thomas
Jefferson Award in 2001. The Thomas Jefferson Award was created in 1959 to recognize weather observers for outstanding achievements in the field of
meteorological observation. Only five observers out of over one hundred nominees nationwide, receive an award of this stature each year.
Clemon received the Benjamin Franklin Award commemorating
the 55 years of service as the official Cooperative Weather
Observer for Watonga.
if you would like to comment on this interview, send comments to
This is a fabulous story.
The Clewells are in my memory book of Watonga and the good things that small communities produce.
Hope to hear from some of the folks in the future,
Jim Swiggart, former band director
19 S. Hills Loop, Holiday Island, AR 72631 479-253-8369
I don’t often get out to Oklahoma for Memorial Day and the Wilson family
reunion, and I didn’t make it this year, but thanks to my cousin, Susan
Earnheart Terrell, I was able to read this article today. What a
wonderful piece of family history! We always love seeing Clemon and
Rita, and they are very special to all of us! Great article and loved
the pictures as well! God Bless
Verda and Clyde Earnheart’s granddaughter (Waukomis)
and Buck and Elaine (Earnheart) Bloomfield’s daughter
As a Watonga native and graduating in 1982 I
thoroughly enjoyed this webpage on Clemon Clewell. Having lived in OKC
for nearly 25 plus years, it sure was nice having a local expert in the
hardware business. It sure beats going to Lowes and Home Depot in the
city. The customer service Clemon and the family gave the community of
Watonga is immeasurable. Kudos to the article and I learned alot about
a great man.
Thanks for posting.
Robert G. Teply 1982 Grad
Technical Training Specialist
National Center for Employee Development
Norman, OK 73069
I believe one of the owners of Phillips
Grocery Store was Ted LeGate. and if memory serves me, Ted Legate was
Barbara LeGate's father. In 1947 that grocery store was called Phillips
and LeGate Grocery Store. Or LeGate and Phillips Grocery Store. Don't
remember just which way it was.
Mina Haworth Green
I have so enjoyed this series about Watonga
people's lives and I hope this is the first of many.
What a wonderful idea !
Betty Chapman gave us a view of growing
up in the Greenfield area and how it was many years ago. Clemon gave us
a first hand version of growing up in a great time of Watonga's earlier
history when it was a thriving town and a bustling community. It
brought back memories of this town's many stores, some I confess I
didn't know about, busy streets and lots of people milling around.
Especially on Saturday nights. Hey, I was
one of those walking around the streets and I wish I had a nickel for
I'm sending your page to Barbara LeGate
Mohler whose Grandmother owned Phillip's Grocery Store in those days so
she can enjoy this also.
Clemon, you made me nostalgic ! I'm sure a
lot of younger people find all of this info unbelievable in this day
and time . Thanks go to both you and Rita for sharing your family
history with us.
Behind every good man is a woman and yours
happened to make wonderful cinnamon rolls and is a great cook. You
lucky man !
From a former fellow dweller at 621 Circle
Drive, and a Clewell's customer,
WOW! WOW! Double Wow!
I thought that I knew Clemon Clewell pretty well. I didn't know the
half of it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his family...
My girls, Rennaye and Jammaye were in school
with Marcia. In fact, I think she may have played basketball with
them... However, I might be mistaken.
I remembered some of the things that Clemon
recalled. Everyone was excited when Rita's Restaurant was opened in
the Hardware Store. That was kinda unusual to say, "I'm going to the
hardware store to get a cinnamon roll".
Of course, we all love and appreciate all of
the Clewell family....What an asset to our city and community...All are such
people of integrity...