Learning the history of Sand Springs left a lasting impression on Patty Dixon.
"I don't know of any other community that was founded purely on generosity," said Dixon, chairwoman for the Sand Springs Museum Association.
The town just west of Tulsa celebrates its centennial anniversary this year. It came to exist only after wealthy businessman Charles Page purchased land to establish a children's home, according to historical accounts.
After a Tulsa orphanage abruptly shut down, Page began his effort with tents to house the children.
"Everyone called him a fool," said Dixon, who grew up in an area known as Prattville that eventually became part of Sand Springs.
Page's singular vision guided him to successfully create not only a home for orphaned children and later a "widows colony" offering housing to women and children, but also much needed support for these ventures through the town itself.
"Everything started for the care of those children, and then it just grew into a town," Dixon said. Driven to create jobs for the women staying in the colony, Page worked to attract industry to the area and provide jobs, Dixon said. Along with other efforts that included bringing rail to the area, Page established the basis for a town and a few other touches that made the area unique, like a large park that at one time featured a petting zoo, amusement rides and a high dive.
Dixon said his drive to help others likely came from a childhood spent in poverty after his father died when Page was 11, leaving Page to support his mother and siblings.
A Wisconsin native, Page found some business success in Colorado before coming to Oklahoma and building his fortune in oil-related ventures. He died in 1926 at age 66, Dixon said. His second wife, Lucile, remained active in the community until her death in 1973. Page was also survived by a daughter, Mary, whom the couple had adopted.
But Page also thought of the many children he helped as part of an extended family, according to Dixon.
"He didn't like them to be called orphans. They were his kids," Dixon said.
Artifacts like a gossamer dress once belonging to Lucile Page and black-and-white photographs of Page and others fill display cases in the Sand Springs Museum, the building itself a part of the Page legacy. The art deco design was erected to serve as the town's library through the generosity of Lucile Page.
One of Nixon's favorite photographs shows Charles Page with his young daughter. It would almost be a profile, but Page twists his torso to face the camera while his hand rests on his hip. Like in every other photograph, he seems unsmiling, his thick moustache and stout frame prominent.
Page may not have been too fond of cameras, and his best known motto, "Think Right," seems a bit stern. In his youth, he worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency during a decidedly rough-and-tumble era.
Yet the images and fragments from his life don't do justice to his kind spirit, as described eloquently in the book A Fool's Enterprise: The Life of Charles Page by Opal Clark, a former resident of the children's home.
"I shall never forget that day (of his funeral). Church bells rang and factory sirens gave a mournful wail as the wheels of industry in both Sand Springs and Tulsa came to a halt for ten minutes in his honor. As my sister and I stood weeping, strangers around us spoke in hushed whispers of his greatness. We had never thought of him as they pictured him. We knew him only as Daddy Page," wrote Clark, who celebrated her own centennial this year.
It's not just a tale from the past for those who still benefit from Page's generosity. Two charities entirely funded by Page's wealth continue to operate: the Sand Springs Children's Home, which houses youth anywhere from age 4 to 18, and the Charles Page Family Village, 109 units in duplex-style homes for single mothers raising two or more children.
"We don't advertise at all, and even without having to advertise, there's always a pool of people wanting to gain admittance or get residence within the Charles Page Family Village," said Erik Stuckey, trustee for the charities.
Stuckey works out of Page's old office, and speak of him with reverence.
"It's amazing to think of a person so long ago that had such foresight into developing a town and into developing a community that was built around giving and care for people that were in need," Stuckey said.
Dixon said that when she was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, oral history served as a way to keep the memory alive.
Now, she said the museum hopes to provide that pathway. A carnival and concert in May celebrated the town's beginning. With a population of roughly 19,000 people, much of the manufacturing work has faded from a town once known as an industrial capital for the region.
Still, Dixon and other volunteers -- she credits her husband Tim with much of the glass and framing in the museum exhibits - keep working to showcase a story that remains remarkably enduring. In the works is a play that would bring the town's story to life, Dixon said.
Dixon said the museum hopes to preserve the memories now fading from the town's oldest residents, while also reinvigorating the tale for the town's current youth.
"Our whole purpose here at the museum with the centennial exhibit is to keep that story alive, have it be a resource for the schools to come in and so our children know the unique history of their community that they're growing up in," Dixon said, adding that she is soliciting "stories that we don't have" to further enhance the museum.
The Sand Springs Museum, 9 E. Broadway St., is open from 1-5pm Tuesday through Friday. Donations are accepted.
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