108-year-old Guthrie resident recounts her life as a UCO student in the 1930s

On New Year’s Day 1916, World War I raged on and the British Royal Army had successfully carried out the first ever blood transfusion, using blood previously stored and cooled. On the same day nearly 5,000 miles away, a baby girl was born in Uncas, Oklahoma.

Today, 108-year-old Vangie Clendenin lives at the Golden Age Nursing Facility in Guthrie. Nicknamed “Vange” by her caretakers in the nursing home, Clendenin spends her days relaxing in her big chair, eating prepared food and visiting her son Robert Clendenin. She remains sharp and retold her life story, but also said, “I believe everyone has incredible stories.”

Some time after Vangie Clendenin (previously Keele) was born, a flood struck Uncas. Then, the government replaced Uncas with Kaw Lake in 1972. The small town was demolished in order to prevent future floods from the nearby Arkansas River. 

Back in the early 1920s, her parents Jess and Hattie Keele moved the family to Perry, Oklahoma because Jess Keele began working for the Santa Fe railroad. Vangie recalled her mother Hattie being a great cook and her childhood favorites were fried okra and butter beans, which are like lima beans. Her two brothers would put butter on bread and sugar, quite a dessert for kids living during the Great Depression. From the floods that reshaped Uncas to the frequent relocation of her family, Vangie’s early years demonstrated adaptability and resilience.

Growing up in Perry in the 1920s, Vangie and her sister Lorraine, who was two years older, stumbled upon two kittens and took care of them, named “Bebe” and “Bobby.” The sisters would dress the kittens in baby clothes and stroll them around town in a wicker carriage. One day though, the cats grew tired of this and jumped out of the buggy while dressed up and ran away, never to be seen again. 

Once Jess became a railway manager, the Keele family moved to cities all over the state, like Chickasha, Noble and eventually Red Rock. After graduating from Red Rock high school, Vangie attended the Oklahoma Normal School in the 1930s, known today as the University of Central Oklahoma. 

It was established in 1890 and is one of the oldest universities in the state. The Normal School was renamed to Central State Teachers College in 1939. Decades after Vangie graduated, the school was renamed again to Central State University in 1971. Finally, it was named UCO in 1990. Before becoming one of the first girls to get a dorm in the newly built Murdaugh Hall, she would travel from Perry to Edmond by train since her father worked for the railroad and she could ride for free. 

“I’m pleased to brag that I’m from the OKC area,” Clendenin said. 

As a college student, Keele took a wide array of classes. Typing class was easy for her, she already had years of experience using her father’s typewriter. Jess Keele was ahead of his time in the sense that he knew how important teaching his children how to type would become. He also taught her how to use a telegraph. In class, she learned shorthand, which is no longer taught at universities or schools in general anymore. This is largely due to technology and the ease of recording and transcribing words, although it is used frequently in the restaurant industry and can assist journalists to this day. Vangie enjoyed math and teaching all people. 

It was during her time at UCO, she crossed paths with a young man pursuing his masters degree in agricultural economics named John Clendenin. He graduated from Oklahoma State University as a member of the farmhouse fraternity. 

After graduation, she moved up to the Mid North of the state with her sister, above Oklahoma City and about 45 miles south of the Kansas border. She taught at a grade school South of Ponca City. To make money on the side, Clendenin typed notes for professors at OSU.

John received his masters degree and the couple moved to Fort Worth, then Boston. World War II was underway, America just entered the conflict and Vangie Clendenin continued teaching all subjects, including typing. John volunteered after thinking he was going to be drafted. He became a Major paymaster while fighting for his country in the Pacific Islands. Back in Oklahoma, Vangie moved home with her parents. 

After the Axis Powers surrendered and the war was officially over, John returned home. The young John and Vangie Clendenin had a daughter, however Sue Ellen passed away at 19 months. John remained as an officer, however he mainly worked a federal job at the stockyards in Nashville first, before deciding to stay in Kansas City, on the border between Kansas and Missouri. 

Finally settled down, the lovers met with a builder and designed their dream home. The two-story red brick home had a green  yard with large trees and textured brick and dirt pathways. 

John and Vangie had two children Connie, 82, and Robert, 76. Robert went on to medical school and is a successful doctor in Northern Oklahoma today. 

The couple stayed in Kansas City and lived in the house for over 30 years. Over the years, the couple traveled the world, but Vangie’s favorite countries were Denmark and the Panama Islands. 

Clendenin was a member of the Shawnee Mission and Roeland Park Methodist Church for over 50 years.

The pair stayed in Kansas City, until John’s death in 2005. 

With over a century of historical and life experiences, Vangie Clendenin said, “I’m just thankful that everyone made my life a happy one.” 

Vangie Clendenin currently lives at the Golden Age Nursing Facility and loves her roommate, Joyce Comely. 

“I love my roommate [Joyce], she’s just great to be around. Her and Rob feel like they brought me back home,” Clendenin said. 

Vangie lights up with excitement whenever she sees her son Robert’s face. Her love must radiate because her nurses smile every time they come in, 108 years later.

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