By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part column. The second part will be published Jan. 14.
Back on Sunday, Nov. 5, I wrote a column about the 1924 Clovis Schools All-Band, made up of elementary, junior and senior students, and listed some of the students in a photo of this band conducted by Verdi Croft on the front steps of CHS. I was writing about Selecta “Midget” Cumpton, the band’s mascot. One of the students was 16-year-old Otis Kelley.
That same day my column was published Kelley sent me an e-mail from Albuquerque:
“This morning at church a member gave me a computer printout of your article about the 1924 Clovis Schools All-Band. Yes, I was in the 9th grade. Mr. Verdi Croft, needing a trombone player, asked if I would take some lessons from him. I did, so my name is in your article along with others whose names I recognize. I wonder how many are still alive? I am 98 and still able to move a bit — but not playing the trombone.
“During the spring of my senior year at CHS I worked part-time for the Clovis Journal. I remember one time when Jack Hull, the editor, sent me to write an article about a terrible murder on a farm northeast of Texico (the Hassell killings). I did and received a bad introduction into journalism. Oh yes, I remember the little lady band mascot, and especially the visit of Buster Brown.”
So I got in touch with Otis Kelley and asked him if he’d tell me how he got to be 98.
He said, “I am just a nobody, but if you can find something to make an article I have no objection. I will write some things and send to you by mail.”
Since I like history, I collect lots of it, and found in my stuff an article in the Thursday, Nov. 22, 1923, Clovis News, published by Arthur Curren, entitled “High School Honor Roll.” The article gave the names of pupils making grades of 90 or above in four subjects, and listed Wilma Crawford, May Holifield, Bessie Waits, Agnes Brown, Coleman Lish, Harry Dickey, Anna B. Farris, Nolan McLain, Vita Foreman, Thelda Mickey, Ina Mickey, Ella Quante, Louise Robinson and Otis Kelley.
The rest of Kelley’s story is of his own telling and follows:
“My father was William Oliver Kelley who worked in the store department of the Santa Fe Railroad there in Clovis. Mother was an excellent homemaker for her husband and three boys. Onetia May’s father was a barber in a shop on 5th Street just west of Main. He used to cut my hair, and then when I offered him the 35 cents, he would say, ‘No, you take my daughter May to the Lyceum movie on weekends, so keep your money.’
“My oldest brother, Clifford, deceased, also worked in the store department of the railroad. My younger brother, Glenn, was born in Texas in 1915. He now lives in Lubbock, retired after a long career with General Electric Supply Corp.
“I was born 1908 in a village called Newport, Texas, 15 miles southwest of Bowie. We had a small farm that just barely kept our family alive. My father and mother learned about homesteading in New Mexico and decided to move to one located eight miles from Clovis, near to a homestead of my uncle, Lory Kelley.
“We arrived on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, and started a life about one mile west of the railroad siding called Cameo. Living was difficult. My parents did not have enough money to stock the 640 acres. We had some cattle, so I did become a 10-year-old cowboy, riding the fences, cutting cows from the herd, etc.
“Soon after arrival on the homestead I enrolled in the 4th grade at the Sunrise school, a one-room school three miles north. I enjoyed the 4th and 5th grades there very much. We had good teachers. During the first year I walked the three miles to and from school. I remember one bad day, the infamous 1918 blizzard when I had to leave school at 4 p.m. and walk through that blizzard to my home. During my second year at Sunrise, I rode a pony.”
(The second part of this story will be published next Sunday.)