Collecting memories in Cleveland County Betty Bellis: Home in Norman, heart in Stillwater

Story by Anna McDougal, OSU Library intern

The Cowboys in Every County team took the short trip down to Norman to hear the memories of Betty Douglas Bellis, an Oklahoma A&M College alumna who was born and raised in Stillwater. Betty was an involved and dedicated student who never wanted to be pigeonholed into just one area of study. (Why would she, when she could learn a little of everything instead?!) During our chat, Betty shared recollections of her youth, her time at OAMC, and what she’s done since then.

About Cleveland County and Norman

Cleveland County is rich in history. Old, OLD history. In fact, its prehistory includes a whopping fifty-eight sites, one of which being the Thunderbird Dam Site (of popular Lake Thunderbird), dating as far back as 500 BC. Items found at that location include arrowheads, darts, and pottery. Also, the county courthouse, built in 1939, is one of twenty county spots listed in the National Register of Historic Places and worth seeing if you’re a fan of Oklahoma history.

The town of Norman is home to an assorted variety of attractions, including numerous lakes, parks, museums, and of course the lovely University of Oklahoma campus, but one place in particular that you may not know about that’s definitely worth consideration is the Jacobson House Native Art Center. Located on the edge of the OU campus, the Jacobson House is a beautiful and fascinating place, from its 1916 origin (followed by its near-demise and rescue) and its Swedish artist founder/builder, Oscar Jacobson, up to its current collection of spectacular Native American art and events. If you’re a collector, or lover of fine Native art and culture, this place is right up your alley.

About Betty

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Betty Bellis

Betty Bellis was born in Stillwater in 1932, and she grew up working in her father’s grocery store at 824 South Main Street. Now the Stillwater Martial Arts building, the outside south wall of the structure still displays a beautiful mural commissioned by Betty’s family, displaying the history of Cooksey’s Corner.

Fun family fact: Before she became a mother of four, Betty’s mom was a semi-pro basketball player in the 1920s!

Betty’s childhood was strongly tied to the grocery store as she spent many hours working, as did the rest of her family. She recalls the impact of wartime, specifically World War II, on the grocery business and in the surrounding community. Her allowance during that time was twenty-five cents for Sunday school, twenty-five cents for war stamps, and twenty-five cents to spend however she pleased. Every Sunday she counted her nickels and dimes, keeping a watchful eye on her savings.

In 1950, Betty graduated from Stillwater High School, and she couldn’t think of anyplace she’d rather go to school than Oklahoma A&M College. She wasn’t sure what she wanted as a career, so she took any class her heart desired. Every semester, Betty took a physical education course and eventually made her way through all of the school’s PE classes. She pledged with Chi Omega because she didn’t want to live at home, and she made many lifelong friends in the sorority. Since she had a later curfew than women in the dorms, she spent late evenings at the library and enjoyed the quiet time to herself. Outside of class, she was sure to remain active in the Methodist Church, and she still worked every Saturday at the grocery store.

Ultimately, Betty was required to choose a major, and she finally graduated with a degree in business education in 1954. Not long after graduating, she married, and in 1956 moved to Norman where she began typing theses and dissertations for students. That developed into a small typing business she ran for nearly fifteen years. With that experience under her belt, she then went to work for the Oklahoma Geological Survey as a technical typist where she stayed until her retirement in 2009.

Betty has since remarried and still lives in Norman, and because her children were born and raised there, she considers the town her home. She still treasures her original hometown and the OSU campus, however, and fondly remembers her time in Stillwater and the people she met along the way.

Here are a few more images from our trip to Cleveland County:

We’ve wrapped up interviewing for Cowboys in Every County, but we’ll continue to highlight our adventures on this blog. Check back often for more stories from the road.

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