By Jessica Crawford
For Maxine Elston of Forgan, Okla., and Prairie Winds Inc. of Beaver County, Okla., an upcoming contest means much more than receiving the perfect logo for their organization, it means the possibility of restoring history.
Currently, the American Legion building in Beaver, Okla., stands empty. The building, however, means quite a bit to Beaver High School alumni in the area, as the building was their former gymnasium.
“The school was just past the courthouse, on the same street as the school is now,” Elston said. “Only the grade school was just straight west of the high school and the high school was up there where the music department is now. They both looked alike.
“When I first came to high school in Beaver, it would have been my freshman year because I graduated from a country school through the eighth grade,” she said, as she explained students had to walk across town to reach the gym and several blocks for other school services. “When I first went there, we had to walk down to where the sheriff’s department is now for lunch and the library. I started up there in 1948, I think.”
The gymnasium was last used as a part of Beaver High School in 1962, Elston said, however, since then it has been utilized as a meeting place for the American Legion as well as a skating rink several years ago.
“The American Legion has had it since 1963, I think. That is about all that has been in there until we decided to do this,” she said. “The American Legion doesn’t meet there anymore, they haven’t for three years. They go to Liberal and meet up there because the utilities were too expensive for them to keep it open.”
Recently, the deed to the building was signed over to Prairie Winds Inc. As a condition of the agreement between Legion members and Prairie Winds, space will always be allotted for American Legion services. Elston said Prairie Winds would like to see the former gym serve as a community building for the entire county.
“The American Legion signed over the title to Prairie Winds,” Elston said. “We are non-profit and our purpose is to save the gym. Then we can have anything there. Any organization that is in Beaver County that wants to use it can use it. We hope that we can make it perhaps, to where the kids can play basketball in it again. Anything that anyone can come up with to tell us that might be something we can have there is great. Alumnus maybe can come there for meetings.”
Elston also has hopes of possibly storing memorabilia from past graduating classes of Beaver High School in the building.
“I know that the Beaver school, four or five years ago, said they had run out of room to put things from the past,” she said. “One of the things that I understood that they were going to do away with were the graduating pictures they put in the hall of each class. To me, that upstairs in the old gym, the balcony, would be a great place to put those, and there should be enough room along there to put them there for years to come. And then, they would always be there.”
Much discussion has been raised in the community regarding demolishing the former gymnasium altogether. That, Elston said, would be a sad day.
“To me, it is sad to have it torn down,” she said. “There is so much history there. The kids that played basketball back then, they surely can remember the Globetrotters played basketball down there two or three times. We got the Harlem Globetrotters to come down. There are just a lot of things, all of our Christmas programs used to be down there. It is important, to me it is.”
Before the building can be used again, however, Elston said there are many renovations needed.
“First of all, it is going to have to have a new roof on it or the roof will have to be repaired,” she said. “Then it is going to have to be rewired for electricity. It will have to be replumbed for water and also for gas because it does not have any heat in it now. We want to redo both bathrooms downstairs to make them bigger and better. The stage – they are going to fix it up because we hope to maybe eventually get amateur theater going and things like that.”
In order to meet the needs the building so desperately faces, Prairie Winds Inc. is seeking ways to raise money.
“We have been trying to do fundraisers. One of the things we really need to do is get it out there to the people that went there because this is something that would be for the Turpin school, the Forgan school, the Gate school – which is no more, the Knowles School – which is no more, Greenough School – just last year they quit having their alumni meetings,” she said. “The American Legion had quit having the ham and bean dinner for Veteran’s Day. We had that this past year, and we are going to try and keep that going every year.
“We have sent out letters to all businesses and are supposed to have gone out to the schools,” she added. “We are going to send it to all the alumni for the entire county to ask for donations. We have only had a few responses so far.”
Prairie Winds has a dream of providing a community building for Beaver County that is very rich in history. In order to begin the process, the organization badly needs a logo, Elston said. That is where the art contest comes in.
“The deadline is the 13th of this month,” she said. “It is for any amateur artist or anyone to print us up a logo that would be for Prairie Winds Inc. When the logo is decided on, we are going to have some sweatshirts and T-shirts made up with the logo. That will be one of the prizes, a T-shirt, but there will be money, too. Perhaps we could put the gym as a background for the logo.”
Elston urges anyone with ideas for the logo to submit them to Prairie Winds Inc. no later than Feb. 13. For further information, call Elston at (580) 487-3524 or mail entries to Prairie Winds Inc. P.O. Box 116, Beaver, Okla. 73932.
Anyone wishing to donate time or money to the cause of saving the old BHS gymnasium is also invited to call Elston or Cheley McAlister of Beaver.
“There are memories there,” Elston said as she shook her head. “A lot of memories.”