By ROB W. ANDERSON
When Fern Girdner arrived in Hulbert with her family 79 years ago, the streets were covered with dirt, and the town consisted of a post office, a drug store and two grocery stores.
She graduated from high school in Tahlequah in 1933 because secondary schooling wasn’t available in Hulbert, where her father owned a business, three lots, and an 80-acre farm.
Girdner, now 97, has called the rural community home for 80 years. She’s been asked by Hulbert Mayor Shirley Teague to serve as grand marshal for the community’s inaugural Christmas parade, set for Saturday, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.
Folks growing up in Hulbert may remember Girdner from Sunday school at First Baptist Church or a class at the school, where she taught and worked as a substitute teacher.
“She’s been a fixture down here at the First Baptist Church as long as I can remember. She taught my kids. She’s just an icon in the community,” said Teague. “She really has touched a lot of people’s lives. She still gets around and is active in the church.”
The role of grand marshal is traditionally bestowed on someone who shows exceptional leadership qualities. Aside from time spent with school children in Hulbert and Norwood, Girdner was a Sunday school teacher for 48 years, taught Bible school 35 years, and was the Woman’s Missionary Union president, leading a group of 25 Sunbeams.
“I’ve worked in the church. I worked for the Lord for a long time,” Girdner said.
“I just don’t know why they chose me. I taught [Mayor Teague’s] children in Sunday school years and years ago. I was so surprised. I thanked her. It is a privilege to [be grand marshal of Hulbert’s first Christmas parade] and I don’t know whether it’s because of my age or what. I’ve lived long enough.”
Girdner attended school in her earlier years in Sherman, Texas, and after graduating from high school in Tahlequah, traveled back to East Texas State to start college before returning to Oklahoma to attend what is now known as Northeastern State University.
“And you know what? [NSU] just had three buildings. They had an educational building, an agricultural building and the old Seminary [Hall], and look at Northeastern now,” she said. “When we came [to Hulbert], there were dirt roads everywhere – just dirt roads. We had a drug store, a post office, two grocery stores – Wilson’s and Squyres. They had benches on the sidewalk that people would sit on, and oh, my goodness, Hulbert didn’t have a high school when I came in. I was a senior when I came here.”
Regardless of whether she leads the processional, Girdner’s glad Hulbert is hosting a holiday parade.
“I think it’s great. It’ll bring the town out. They’re going to have quite a bit of stuff. We might as well have something like this,” she said.
“If it’s pretty, [my son Dean and I are] going to ride the motorcycle – something called a [Can-Am] Spyder [Roadster]. I would rather ride the motorcycle [than ride in his Hummer]. This is his third motorcycle, and I’ve ridden all of them. It’ll be fun, if it’s not raining or too cold, but of coursem I guess we could just put on extra clothes if it’s cold.”