Oletha Bennett was an influential Christian who lived in Claremore in the last century. While researching the story of this highly esteemed African-American matron, Paula Davis, co-ordinator of the Claremore History Museum, graciously put me in touch with Cora Brown Ross, a woman who knew Ms. Bennett well.
Cora delightfully shared fond memories that gave personal insight into Ms. Bennett’s story. In honor of Women’s History Month, we share this insight into the life of Oletha Bennett.
Ms. Bennett has had a positive impact on the Claremore community. Cora was young when she first met Mrs. Bennett whom she affectionately calls Aunt Letha.
“She and mom were like sisters.”
When Cora’s mother, Mable Lee Brown, went to work, Aunt Letha often cared for Cora and her many siblings.
“You would call it glamorous,” Cora recalled. “She was always well maintained and looked successful. She was a good woman, a respected woman, a helpful woman.
And, “Aunt Letha had a car!” She would drive us to see Woolaroc or bring a group from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Tulsa to go to Mohawk Park and the zoo because we didn’t have opportunities like that. When there was something educational to help us, she was the one leading us.
Also, “Mrs. Bennett had a piano…When our house was full of noise and I couldn’t practice my piano lesson, Mrs. Bennett always allowed me to practice on her piano. It was a win for all of us because my sisters and brothers hated to hear me practice my lessons. Mrs. Bennett understood, and she loved to hear me play on her beautiful piano. These acts of kindness made a big impression on young Cora.
When Cora applied for a scholarship to attend Lincoln College, Mrs. Bennett kindly wrote Cora’s recommendation. Every time she visited home after college, Mrs. Bennett would give Cora a small gift and, of course, Mrs. Bennett would attend Cora’s wedding at Mount Zion Baptist Church, of which they were members.
Ms. Bennett worked for attorney John Gilkeson and was an insurance salesperson for Jackson Funeral Home in Tulsa. She was a community activist involved in Rogers County politics and elections. “We were so proud of her,” Cora said.
She continually encouraged people to vote.
Ms. Bennett was a substitute teacher at Lincoln School. Knowing Mrs Bennett, a “mark was left on all of us in Claremore, (especially) those who came through Lincoln School”.
As president of the Claremore Missionary Women’s Union, when Mrs. Bennett celebrated her 43rd birthday, she invited seventy-five guests – “the entire UMM youth department, deacons and trustees” (TOE , 6-3-1954).
Highly regarded, this “Worthy Matron of the Golden Gate Chapter (Order of the Eastern Star) was chosen ‘Queen’ of Radium Lodge to reign in 1957” (TOE, 5-19-1957).
Additionally, Oletha Bennett served as committee secretary for a Lincoln High School graduate reunion, July 1977 (TOE, 7-14-1977), and was homecoming day coordinator at Mt. Zion Church in 1980 (TOE, 8-7-1980).
Endowed with an extraordinary gift of hospitality, Mrs. Bennett welcomed all kinds of people into her home at 307 North Oseuma Avenue. Cora remembers shedding tears when this beautiful stone house burned down recently. The house contained many treasured memories.
Oletha Bennett died on November 21, 1989, at the age of 78. The epitaph on his headstone in Woodlawn Cemetery in Claremore reads: “Forever with the Lord”.
“Mrs. Bennett was a delightful person to be around. She really helped my family. She is one of my wonderful fond memories,” Cora Ross concluded. “God has people in our lives for a purpose. one of them.