95 years of Vance memories

  • Published
  • By Terri Schaefer
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Seventy-six years ago Mary Ruth (Baker) Cooper’s father sold the family farm she was raised on to the Army.

Ernest Baker was the first in the region to sell his acreage for what would later become Enid Army Flying School, and eventually Vance Air Force Base.

When asked why he sold the land, Baker was fond of saying, “Well, I’ll just tell you why. I had four girls to get rid of. There was a war on and all the men were leaving town. So I was going to do anything in my power to get ‘em married.”

Mary Ruth and her sisters always hoped he was joking.

The family farm, once located near the corner of Fox Drive and Cleveland Street, was sited about where Vance Air Force Base currently parks their T-38s training jets.

Ninety-five years young and still living in Enid, Mary Ruth used the occasion of her birthday to recount her childhood on the farm, and her friendship with her older brother, Ralph, who went on to become a distinguished military pilot himself. He is the namesake of Vance's west entry, the Baker Gate.

With four girls and a boy, someone had to be another ‘boy.’ “Mom just didn’t need four girls in the house,” said Mary Ruth. “My brother came up with a fun name for me -- Toots.” Family members suspect it was because he couldn’t pronounce Mary Ruth when he was younger. The name stuck.

Mary Beth and Ralph did everything from harvest the farm’s grain to milking cows to herding horses. “All during the summer time I was out in the field…chopping wheat or scooping wheat or making hay. And I wore my brother’s hand me downs, cut my hair short. You would have thought I was a boy, and I loved every minute of it.”

When Mary Beth and Ralph weren’t tending the farm, they kept the other on their toes by trading lines of Bible verse back and forth, in a game that became known as dueling verse.

When the time came to leave the farm for a house in downtown Enid, Mary Beth’s father dug a big hole behind the big red barn and the family put all the things they couldn’t move into it. No one knows what became of the treasures buried there.

The same barn was used as a visual aid by Woodring Airport for navigation purposes before World War II.

Mary Ruth attended business school in Enid and left at the beginning of World War II to work in Washington D.C. Part of her duties included ferrying paychecks to the White House.

When asked what it was like to come back from a year and a half working for the Treasury Department and see a base where her farm used to be, Mary Ruth said, “I miss my old farm…all of us were born on that farm.”

There was a small lake on the farm that they filled in. It sits under the current runways. In the winter the lake would freeze over and the kids would ice skate on it.

After her return to Enid, Mary Ruth came to work on Enid Army Air Field.

Mary Ruth remembers seeing a picture of Ralph in the Enid News & Eagle with the caption “Cadet flies plane in old back yard.” “It was a really nice article,” she said. “Then a week or two later they had a tiny picture of me with the caption, ‘Secretary working in her old back yard.’”

Mary Ruth and her younger sister later married cadets stationed at Enid Army Training School.