would years later own Beaver Grocery in Jay, Oklahoma. This store was be er known to the locals, for obvious reasons, as the Old Maids Store.

Vern and Ida Mae had one daughter, Rhonda. A er a li le more digging, I was pleased to discover that Rhonda and husband Carl currently reside in the Topsy community, where Carl owns and operates Sloan’s Body Shop. Rhonda works for the Northeast Oklahoma Community Ac on Agency.

Rhonda added great insight to the story of her father and was more than happy to help us further decipher the mystery of the pictures.

“Daddy and his family, and even mother—they were all entrepreneurs,” she explained. Of her father, she added: “He loved working with his hands. I remember he paid fair market prices and was very honest with the way he measured  mber, which wasn’t always the case in those days.”

By the late 1950s,  mber was becoming an issue once again for the handle factory. Rhonda said the inevitability of a  mber shortage may have been what prompted her father to construct a commercial egg house at the family home in 1963. He was simply seeking fi nancial security.

“He built it. He constructed it all,” Rhonda said of the egg opera on. “We had caged layers, which was something I don’t think anyone else was doing around here at the  me.”

Rhonda said the opera on was churning out 15 cases of Grade A eggs per day at 30 dozen eggs per case.

Willhite ini ally inked a one-year, exclusive wholesale contract with Safeway stores but later regre ed signing the deal, which severely limited his distribu on capabili es. Once the contract expired, the egg opera on took off .

“Daddy didn’t get anywhere doing that Safeway deal, so he created his own egg route,” Rhonda said. “He sold to all the restaurants and grocery stores around here. We sold them out of our home. People would drive out here to buy eggs. That’s how he kept the egg business going and that’s how he and mother made most of their money.

Added Rhonda: “We would gather eggs by hand. We did all the candling and processing ourselves in one night and they would ship out the next day. The eggs would go on a conveyor, go through a wash and dry cycle, then to a table where we would roll them back and forth across a black light to make sure there were no

cracks or deformi es. Then, they would go off to another table and they would be weighed and sized. We produced a lot of eggs.”

Rhonda said a local Purina Feeds fi eld rep named Gene Dillon helped coach her parents through the early stages of the egg opera on.

“He walked my parents through the feeding process. He was a wonderful guy. He helped them out un l they knew what they were doing.”

It wasn’t un l later in life that Rhonda realized that her parents’ work ethic was uncommon.

“Daddy would get up early every morning and go feed. He’d come back to the house and we’d all eat breakfast. I didn’t realize for years how much he’d already done before breakfast. Then he’d go to work at the handle factory. He’d come home and eat lunch, then off he’d go again. He’d leave the handle factory at 4:30 in the a ernoon, get cleaned up, change clothes and then run the egg route. It’d be late at night by the  me he got home. In the midst of

worked all the way up un l they turned the businesses over. I was about 15 then.”

She also helped out in the handle factory.

“I made a lot of my money in the summer me,” she said. “Daddy would let me dip handles or tumble them. One summer I made boxes and fi lled them with hickory chips and chunks of wood. We had a market for those. People would use them for grilling and smoking.”

As one might expect, Willhite family vaca ons weren’t typical either.

“Daddy would close down the handle factory for a week for the Fourth of July every year. I’ll never forget that because we would spend that week cleaning out the chicken house and spreading new li er,” Rhonda chuckled.

Vern was 56 when he stepped away from the handle company in 1978. The egg opera on would con nue several more years. He and Ida Mae opened the Disney Island RV Park in 1984. He also stayed busy as a chairman of the board for Bank of the Lakes in Langley. He was one of the founding members of the bank and served on the bank board un l just a few years before he passed away.

Ida Mae preceded Vern in death. He would later remarry. He met and married Mary Adams on June 14, 2003 in the Topsy community. They moved to Claremore and were married almost eight years before his passing in 2012.

Several news ar cles featured the hard work of the Willhites.

all this, my parents had rental property and a ca le opera on. They also put in a big garden every year. They were both very hard-working people and very frugal. Just to take all of that on—I think today about how scary all that must have been.”

Rhonda said she always no ced how well her parents worked together.

“My mother and father were excellent business partners,” she said. “They would talk about things and work through them together.”

There was always plenty of work for Rhonda, too.

“Mom would run the egg business through the day. She and a friend would gather eggs. I had to gather eggs on the weekends. I remember star ng to help out when I was about fi ve. I

October 2015

October 2015 - March 2016 -

7 7

In the years that followed his passing, Rhonda would receive constant reminders of her father’s excep onal character.

“A er daddy died, I talked to so many people that he helped in his life me. He’d help someone fi nance a house

or start a business or go to school. So many diff erent people shared how he had helped them. He was such a giving man. He had lots of wisdom and lots of love for people.”

Rhonda said she recalls her father dona ng sacks of bats to the Whitaker Orphanage in Pryor. Not wan ng any credit for the dona on, he would simply toss the sacks over the fence. “I o en wondered if they ever knew where they came from,” she said.

“He lived by the Golden Rule. He was just a very gentle, very kind man.”

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