Alva Review-Courier -

Dixie Stansberry is 2020 Old Cowhand


August 6, 2020

Bruce and Dixie Stansberry stand in their front yard in front of a welded structure, made by Bruce, that displays their family cattle brand.

Dixie (McCammon) Stansberry is Freedom's 2020 Cimarron Cowboy's auxiliary Old Cowhand.

"I am pleasantly surprised," Stansberry said. "It is an honor."

Dixie Stanberry will be honored all three nights of the 83rd Freedom Rodeo on Aug. 13, 14 and 15. The annual Old Cowhand Reunion will be held Saturday (Aug. 15) starting at 11 a.m. at the Freedom Park. All are welcome to come and celebrate.

Sandy Wimmer is quick to attribute much of the success of the Freedom Museum to Dixie's efforts as a board member. "We shared many, many good times serving together on the board, where we lovingly gave Dixie the title of Cookie Chairman, and she planned many social activities quite successfully," Wimmer said. "Following in the footsteps of her Aunt Hildred (McCammon), Dixie's love for the Freedom community has been a huge contribution to making sure the history of Freedom is preserved for future generations. The choice of Dixie as the Honored Cowhand is a perfect one!"

Stansberry Family History

Stansberry's success dates back two generations (to the early 1900s) when the roots were established with her grandparents, George and Mary Louise McCammon, who homesteaded the property in a hand-built sod house on a property known by the locals as the Stansberry Ranch. In 1904 Mary Louise birthed twin boys, Willard John and Wilford Chris. Both boys graduated Freedom High School in 1927.

Willard married his high school sweetheart, Margaret Stout, in 1930. The couple built a house on the homestead property close to the Cimarron River. Margaret taught school in a country setting for a few years while going to Northwestern Oklahoma Teachers College; in 1933 Margaret and Willard welcomed their firstborn baby girl, Carol Jo, and two years later their second baby girl, Dixie.

Stanberry remembers the story of her birth. It was a cold stormy day, and it had snowed so heavily that the doctor that came to their house to deliver her couldn't make it outside. The drifts were so high that the doctor had to stay a few days before he could leave to go home.

People were resourceful during the Great Depression and when they could the family traveled to Mooreland to make the final payment to the doctor for her delivery – a whole cured ham.

In the late '30s when the Depression hit hard for most Oklahomans, the McCammons had to leave their homestead. Willard had to find work where he could. He had construction and carpentry skills, and it didn't take long to find a job. The family moved to Ft. Supply and he worked on the construction of the dam.

In the early '40s in the state of Missouri, the family found themselves living in a tent while Willard worked on the construction of the army base – Ft. Leonard Wood. Hopping from one place to another takes its toll on a family and so Willard found a way to build a trailer for the family to live.

Stansberry has a young memory of riding on the US Navy Ship the USS Admiral. The day-long trip went down the Mississippi river and Dixie remembers thinking she'd like to travel and see more of the USA.

It wasn't long after that that the family packed up and was headed to Camp Gruber in Braggs, Oklahoma. When he was finished there Willard moved his family to Wichita, Kansas, and built employee housing for Boeing near the factory that assembled B-29 bombers during World War II.

Finally the effects of the Depression were lessening and longings for home were calling. Willard found work in Norman working at the Norman Naval Air Station. After his job ended and after being on the move for four years, the family returned home to Freedom.

The homestead was there, just like they had left it. The family bought their first cows in the early '40s and the McCammon family grew from there. The entire family had to work and Dixie and Carol Jo grew up close. They were taught that hard work was necessary and everyone did their share.

The sisters had chores that were completed daily like milking the cows and gathering eggs. Stansberry's job was gathering eggs. "I hated that chore!" she said. "It wasn't because of the chickens but there was this (one) nest. It was located in a dark corner of the hen house and at least once a year when I stuck my hand in the nest looking for eggs I'd pull out not eggs, but a huge bull snake. After the first time that happened I knew I did not like snakes," she said. "I'll admit there were times when I would forget to check that nest for eggs."

Education was always important to Stansberry. She graduated from Freedom High School in 1953, and attended NWOSU for two years before transferring to OSU where she majored in education. She graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in home economics in 1957.

Meeting Her Husband

Stansberry's first teaching job was in Satanta, Kansas, where she taught home economics at the local high school for eight years. It was there that she met the love of her life, Bruce Stansberry. Bruce was working as a hired hand with Panhandle Eastern.

Their first date involved dinner and a movie in Ulysses, Kansas, Stansberry remembers. They saw the drama "Wine and Roses" staring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

According to Bruce it was fate or God's blessing that brought the two together. "It almost didn't happen," Bruce said. "I was desperate to find a place to stay in Satanta because of my job and the boarding house was the only place that had a vacancy."

The owner, a widow, was hesitant to rent to a young gentleman since she had two young, single ladies who were schoolteachers residing there. Bruce convinced her that he would be on the road with his job four days a week, and he promised not to be any trouble. His charm won over. Bruce had a place to stay. He was gone four to five days a week for work; Mondays he was out playing cards, and Wednesday he went to Liberal to party. He never had dinner at the house.

Bruce and Dixie met by chance one day. Dixie was packed up and ready to return to Freedom for the summer break. Bruce, by chance, opened the door and there they met. "I saw her and immediately said to myself 'She's been here! Why have I been going to Liberal?" he said.

Bruce asked her out for a date that evening and Dixie left the next day. Bruce remembers telling his parents he met someone special. "Dad,' I said, 'I met the woman I'm going to marry,'" he said. "Dad said, 'It's about time!'"

"He tried to call me a few times over that summer, but I was never home to answer the phone," Dixie said. "He did write a couple of nice letters though. So we dated some more when I moved back to Satanta." There were many more dates and after a year of dating they married at the Freedom Methodist Church. They celebrate 60 years of their blessed union on Aug. 7.

In December 1965 Bruce and Dixie welcomed their first child, Jon Chris. Two years later the couple was propelled to move back to Freedom after Willard injured his right arm in a hay baler accident. Bruce continued working with Panhandle Eastern and was transferred to an Alva location. He worked 22 years before becoming an independent welding contractor.

Bruce believes it was Dixie's and his work ethic that kept the ranch successful. "What's worked for us all these years is she had a job teaching in town and I had a job and that's what held the ranch together. That's about the size of it," he said.

After moving to Freedom, Stansberry didn't know if teaching would be plausible. However, after hearing that such a fine home economics teacher had moved into Freedom, Norman Heneke, FPS superintendent at the time, began petitioning Dixie to come to FHS.

"I didn't go out looking for a job; I remember him bugging me and I'd say I'll think about it. He just never gave up until I finally said yes," Stansberry said. She spent 22 years teaching and remembers it as being fulfilling, rewarding and satisfying.

Life in Freedom

Sue Reed, life-long Freedom resident, remembers Mrs. Stansberry as her teacher, mentor and friend.

"My first recollection of my friend, Dixie, was when I entered my junior year at (Freedom) high school. She was my home economics teacher. (...) She taught me that the most important thing was to always try to present myself well. She taught me to sew a two-piece wool suit, bound buttonholes and all, which I wore proudly for my senior year style show," Reed said.

"We became great friends as our husbands worked together for Panhandle Eastern for many years. I worked alongside her in church work, Chamber of Commerce work, and countless school events. For example she helped young girls sew projects for the 4-H 'Make It with Wool" contest."

"I admire the true friendship Dixie and Bruce always show our family, especially at the loss of our daughter. And most of all, I admire her dedication to her Lord and Savior. She is a lovely woman," Reed said.

In the fall of '67 the Stansberrys built and moved into their current home on US-64 and a couple years later the couple welcomed a pleasant surprise. Bruce and Dixie had been on a waiting list to adopt a baby and one day an unexpected call changed their lives.

"I had just arrived at the dentist office and the receptionist there told me to call Darlien Kamas who then advised me to call the Oklahoma Department of Human Services about an infant that needed a home. I was so excited I canceled my root canal. I went and told Bruce while he was at work and rushed home to prepare for our daughter," she said. "We drove to Oklahoma City the next day and picked up Lori Lynn and brought her home."

As a contract welder, Bruce took many jobs that would send him out-of-state for months at a time. "It was good money, and Bruce was really good at it (welding)," Stansbery said. "I wasn't going to ask him to give up something that he loved doing." Because Bruce was on the road often, Dixie spent her time raising the kids and managing the farm by herself. As the children grew, they worked side-by-side with their mother. "Chris and Lori helped immensely with managing the work that comes with ranching," she said.

In 1970 they expanded the farm by leasing land and buying cattle from her Aunt Hildred and Uncle Willford. As of today the ranch spans nearly 1,400 acres of owned and leased land.

Dixie has always been an active community member who has sponsored many events and organizations. She has taught many students as well as her own children how to keep a household running smoothly. "When raising my kids and being a teacher all those years, I'd like to think I could destroy a steel anvil with a rubber mallet," she said.

Idle is not a word that would describe Stansberry. Even after retiring from teaching she worked at Share Medical Center as a filing clerk for 16 years. She made countless pajamas and quilts for her five grandchildren: Cheyenne, Shelby and Cooper Stanberry from their son Chris and his wife, Susan; Brianna (Louthan) Carver (who married Jeremy Carver) and Sydnee Louthan from their daughter, Lori Louthan.

As any loving grandmother she would watch her grandkids from time to time. There are countless stories where Grandma saved the day; for instance, there was one time that a granddaughter was stuck in a lock-down at an Alva school after the Woods County Jail reported an escapee. Stansberry grabbed her handgun and went after her granddaughter.

These days Dixie sticks to running the farm and her hobbies include yard work, gardening, hunting and being active in her church and community. She is known for making some of the best jams and jellies, especially from Sandhill plums and lime pickles.

Phyllis Brown and Stanberry have been friends for more than half a century.

"Down memory lane with Dixie Stansberry and Phyllis Brown has been a smooth ride but not on horseback. She and I were definitely helpers to our husbands when they left home seeking income due to a slow ag economy. But beyond feeding our cattle, we stayed closely connected through our small community, church and school activities. Dixie is an excellent cook and that put us together for the last 50-plus years," Brown said. "I couldn't begin to tell you how many funeral dinners, church pot-lucks, feeding a team after home ballgames, showers and weddings, including my daughter's, adding her special touch with homemade chocolates! Dixie, it has been years of you doing good and it brings you honor and recognition in Freedom."

Stansberry volunteers for several organizations including serving on the committee that remodeled the Freedom Methodist Church a few years ago and has served for many years on the Freedom Museum board. "I found my time on the museum board rewarding," she said. "I think the history of a community is important at any age. You are never too old to learn something new. I think studying the things of the past gives us a new appreciation for the things of the present."

In the past, Stansberry has also served as president of the Cimarron Cowboy's auxiliary that plans the meal and program for each year's honored Old Cowhand. She was also involved with the county 4-H chapter and the FFA organization. Currently, she also enjoys organizing the Christmas Brunch with Judy DeVine for many Freedom community women.

"I was so happy when I heard Dixie Stansberry was the Old Cowhand this year. Although she is not the typical 'Cowhand,' her roots and heart are deep in her ancestry and in the land and cattle industry," DeVine said. "Our friendship goes back many, many years from working cattle together to the ever so many 4-H and FFA events and social activities.

"During all these times we discovered our favorite thing to do was plan, cook and create those events. Ten years ago we hosted our first Ladies Christmas Brunch as a way to give our friends a fun, festive, pre-holiday event. We always include a little country flare, a few new recipes, several old favorites and a lot of fun and laughter! Congratulations Dixie and Bruce on this coveted honor and may you enjoy many more happy trails together!"

Being 80 years young, there are many things that Stansberry fondly remembers about Freedom and community. "Freedom was a bustling town when I was young. You could go to the movies for 10 cents and enjoy a hamburger, fries and a coke for a quarter," she said.

Dixie Stansberry stands with her plants in an outdoor gazebo.

Being a lifelong member of the Freedom Methodist Church and growing up in a God-fearing family, Dixie's faith is strong. She has learned that to stand against the obstacles of life one must trust in God. "There has been many times during my life that all I could do is pray," she said. "When I was beside myself with worry or just little things that you can't control, I put my trust in God and know that He is good and faithful."

Stansberry's granddaughter, Brianna Carver, wrote it best: Throughout her life, Dixie Lu McCammon Stansberry has been a resourceful, hardworking and loving member of any community lucky enough to have her. She has taught literally hundreds of children, including her own, many life skills and has always been willing to help someone in need. The newest in a long list of accolades, is the 2020 Freedom Honored Old Cowhand.


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