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Ethridge’s great nephew, Lawson Elliot; great niece, Piper Grace Jenkins; and great niece, Presley Elliot enjoy learning about the history of Sunny Side School. Photos by Gail Banzet-Ellis


According to Ethridge, the building plays a part in rural electric history. It is believed Sunny Side School was the birthplace of Central Electric Cooperative, which now is headquartered in Stillwater, Okla. “Several farmers met here in the spring of 1936 to discuss the possibility of forming an electric cooperative,” he says. “Sunny Side School was one of the first to receive electric service in the area, and the same electric lights installed in 1936 are in use today.” At that time, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) required two electric customers per mile of line and a $5 membership fee. Members were required to pay a minimum of $3.50 worth of electricity per month. “Many of the farmers weren’t sure they could afford to pay this much, but their wives thought differently,” Ethridge says. The Ponca Club, the area’s home demonstration group comprised of more than 50 women, also met in Sunny Side School. The ladies wanted electricity in their homes and soon convinced their husbands to change their minds and pay the $5 membership fee. Both of his parents later served on the Central Electric Cooperative Board, and Ethridge has devoted the past 23 years of his professional career to leadership roles in the rural electric co-op industry. He and his wife, Kay, have four children who have all pitched in to help with Sunny Side School projects.


Although the building remains without indoor plumbing, the family has made several improvements and repairs to maintain the building’s structural integrity such as a new roof and posts for the porch. Ethridge’s son, Cameron, recruited the help of his youth group to paint the interior a pale green color, a basic hue commonly used in army surplus projects of the late 1940s. “It was a challenge reaching these tall ceilings, and we had to go over it probably three or four times,” Cameron says. “But it was a lot of fun getting to do it together with friends and family.”


A fun history lesson for the Ethridge family and the state, Sunny Side


School, on its original location, is one of the few remaining single-room schoolhouses in the country and a landmark for rural electricity. Although its old bell may never signal the start of another class, it still rings for Ke- wah-ko-me and the others who follow in her footsteps.


Vintage items displayed inside Sunny Side School remind visitors of a simpler time.


MAY 2016


27


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