While this column is a “Yesterday” column, the story I’m about to tell also takes place “Today.” Last night, I did a program for the Grayson County Historical Society out at Frontier Village. Topic of the program was “Archie Gibbs and other Denisonians who made names for themselves.”
Most of them I have talked about in past columns so I was busy last week finding information for the 31 people I discussed, some more than others.
Some readers may remember Gibbs, who left Denison to become a Merchant seaman aboard a freighter that was torpedoed by the Germans, only to be rescued before being torpedoed a second time that same day. Then he was “rescued” by a German u-boat that had just torpedoed both ships. I say he was “rescued” because he found himself a prisoner of war and was held for four days aboard the submarine before being released with a promise never to sail in those waters again.
Gibbs’ story was taken from a biographical book he wrote in 1943. The book definitely was not a best seller. When Joe and Jerry Bassett told me about the unusual experience of a former Denisonian, I went to Amazon and purchased the last copy — a used one — that was available.
Gibbs’ picture is on the cover and he was a nice-looking man, not that that has anything to do with the story.
I feel sure that most readers at least have heard of the second Denisonian who made his mark in the air and on the water. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, whose dad, C.B., was a Denison dentist, his mom, Pauline, was a Denison ISD teacher and his grandparents, the Hannas, were prominent in Denison’s earlier days.
Sully, as he is now called, is Denison’s newest hero, having successfully landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board.
As luck would have it for Denison, Sully’s 1969 Denison High School class was planning its 40th reunion in June and Denison schools were quick to invite Sully to give the graduation address that same weekend of June 6. Since Sully preferred to share the spotlight, Denison planned a gigantic “Heroes Day” placing the light on Five Star General and 34th President of the U.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the internationally known horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, who saved the grapes of France.
For a little change of pace, we jazzed up the program just a little by talking about Tommy Loy, a Denison High School graduate who gained fame as the trumpeter who played the National Anthem at all home games for the Dallas Cowboys for many years.
A couple of months ago, Tommy’s memory was spotlighted at the Sherman Jazz Museum with a special exhibit of his musical instruments, awards and even his Cell Block uniform he wore when he played with that popular jazz band.
A name that probably is better known today among Denisonians than they were in his day is Edward S. O’Reilly, a colorful internationally famous soldier of fortune, writer and lecturer was introduced to the Denison Herald 50 years after he was born in 1880.
Tex is said to have ridden a mule from Texarkana to El Paso in 1898, was a drill instructor in the Chinese Imperial Army in 1901 and served as an officer in the Mexican Army in 1913 and 1914. He was a policeman in Shanghai, a soldier in the Philippine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion, and in 1911 was one of Madero’s Foreign Legionnaires. It was said that he also fought with Poncho Villa and in North Africa. That’s a pretty good record for one person. Lowell Thomas wrote “Born to Raise Hell” was about O’Reilly.
I hope some remember Mary Elizabeth Lease, the wife of a Denison druggist, who addressed the newly formed Denison Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the 1880s as one of her first moves down the road to national fame as the Populist Party’s Joan of Arc.
Phil McDade was born in Denison in 1901 and while he never had a music lesson, became a well-known bandleader in the era when swing was king.
Clora Bryant, Helen Cole and Margarite Bradshaw all graduated from Terrell High School, where they developed a taste for music. Clora played her trumpet with music greats such as Louis Armstrong, Carl Perkins and Dexter Gordon. Helen, a drummer had her own band and travelled all over the world and Margarite, who later taught school in the north, played with the Prairie View Coeds.
Bob Boatright did his first serious fiddle player with the Texas Playboys and in 2002 his name was added to the Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest’s Hall of Fame.
At least three or more Denisonians have been recipients of Carnegie Hero Medals and that is a great record for a town the size of Denison.
Hartley Edwards, while in the Army during World War I, was called on to play “Taps” to signal the end of the war. He also played at both President Truman’s and President Kennedy’s funerals.
The list goes on and on and we may work up another column on some of the other hometown folks who made a name for themselves. I still have a pretty good list that we talked about at the Historical meeting and I am sure there are many more that I either forgot or didn’t know about. I would appreciate suggestions to add to my list for my next column. We’ve had a lot of talented individuals and I’m sure there are more to come.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.