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Small Town Matters: Calumet – where everybody knows your name

Kristi Brooks / Red Dirt Report
Mural in downtown Calumet.
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CALUMET, Okla. – It was an overcast and sticky day when I headed into Calumet. The town was not hard to find. It was a direct line off of the exit on I-40, but once I was there I drove right through it without even realizing I had gone through the town in its entirety. And that is probably how I found myself first seeing the town through its cemetery.

A mailbox for the cemetery

At first I was just planning on pulling in and turning around, but once I drove up into the cemetery I noticed two things that gave me pause. The first was a mailbox right at the entrance. There was no other caretaker residence on site and nothing else there to indicate why the people interred at the cemetery would be receiving mail. The second was what appeared to be a family plot that was covered in small concrete domes that reminded me of tornado shelters.

Mailbox at Calumet Cemetery. (Kristi Brooks / Red Dirt Report)

Both of these things intrigued me enough that I had to get out to explore this area. As I walked among the headstones and saw that even though a good number of the graves were close to a hundred years old, the cemetery still looked in good condition. To me, this speaks volumes about the tightness of the community and how they look after each other even after they have passed on.

One word to describe Calumet: Community

Turning around, I moved back into the town and drove back and forth on a couple of streets in order to get a better look at the town. After my second pass through town I noticed that I was being followed by an SUV that was labeled Calumet Police. It wasn’t until I pulled off the road and into the Town Hall that he pulled up behind my car and motioned to me. I approached the vehicle and he asked me if I needed help. I told him that I was writing an article about Calumet and was hoping to talk to people about the town.

He smiled a slow smile and nodded to the Town Hall building as if indicating that would be where I could find some answers. “I just saw your vehicle driving through town and wanted to make sure you weren’t lost.”

I smiled, “Not today.”

As I approached the small Town Hall I could see that the police station shared the building with a door just to the side of the main entrance. Upon entering I noticed that the building had the unmistakable scent of fresh paint, and it looked very recently remodeled.  Behind the glass sat two ladies who were busy putting together the water bills.

Arnelda Hall and Kelly Hobbs at the Calumet Town Hall. (Kristi Brooks / Red Dirt Report)

When I introduced myself and asked if anyone there knew anything about the town and its history that they might want to share with me I met Arnelda Hall. She was a lovely woman who showed me some pages of town information that she’d compiled about the town. So many interesting facts that had been compiled throughout the years of how the town had come to be and what happened along the way as the community developed. (Some of this information can also be found at www.townofcalumetok.com).

With a smile she proceeded to tell me that she was assembling this to pass on to her co-worker, Kelly Hobbs, who would be taking over for her when she retired soon. She also confirmed that the office had been recently renovated by saying that after 30 years she finally got a new office, just in time for her to retire. She chuckled and offered to make me copies of the information so that I could learn more about Calumet. As she does this, I tell her about the police officer checking on us.

For a moment her face gets serious and she tells me that the community is mainly older residents and if they noticed a strange car driving around with someone taking photographs of the town that they probably called him out of concern. Hall also informs me that the main reason for this was that three years ago they had a murder. A man burned a house with a woman and her child inside. Since then people have been far more vigilant of their surroundings. I nod and once again find myself amazed at how tightly knit this small community is.

I ask her about lunch and she tells me that I need to go see Maxine Evans at the 270 Charcoal Grill. I thank her again for the information and head back out to the car, looking over the packet of papers she gave me while simultaneously shielding my eyes from the newly emerged sun and cursing the back and forth Oklahoma spring weather.

Inside 270 Charcoal Grill. (Kristi Brooks / Red Dirt Report)

An overlapping of energy resources and lunchtime discussions

Before going to lunch I decided to drive around outside of town so I could get a better view of the windmills that dotted the horizon. They may have looked like small windmills from a distance, but up close they were giants on the landscape. A little while later I went to lunch and I walked in to find the front part of the place to be set up like a convenience store with coolers and a shelf of candy bars. However, just around the corner were the tables and chairs.

The place was bustling and was far busier than I would have imagined. The restaurant was very busy during the entire time we were there, a constant movement of high school students, workers, and town members as they went in and out of the doors. When I found myself sharing a table with a group of men who worked for Sod by Sherry I told them about how many of the windmills I had noticed and I asked about the collection of rigs that I saw sitting in a lot a few blocks over.

They told me those were the rigs that had been stacked down and were being stored there until further notice. They also told me about the natural gas pumps that were currently operating at capacity. I thought about this for a moment as I looked around the diner. This little town was an epicenter of energy resources: oil, gas, wind. It was as if in this corner of Oklahoma the energy demands of the past decade were crossing over to the energy needs of future decades.

When our food arrived our plates were garnished with a Tootsie Roll sucker and I smiled. I looked around once again and saw clusters of people talking and moving through the building in harmony. This was a place were people grew up knowing one another. A friendly slice of Oklahoma where neighbors looked out for each other and the entire community was excited about events like the newly built school and the energy prospects of their town.

Oil pumps and windmills outside Calumet. (Kristi Brooks / Red Dirt Report)

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About the Author

Kristi Brooks is an Oklahoma native, born and raised. Even though she’s traveled around the...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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