One of the engraved names on the front of the Capitol Plaza came to life this week as Gladie Childers Barnwell received recognition from family and well-wishers, including Gov. Mary Fallin.
Barnwell, 99, basked in the attention on a bright sunny Wednesday in front of the state Capitol, answering questions on how it felt to receive the honor.
“It’s all so wonderful,” she said.
Life has been a full journey, as she has experienced nearly 100 years in Oklahoma.
Her only child, Douglas Barnwell, wanted to honor his mother with a $300 engraved paver at the state Capitol. The 15-by-15 inch granite paver enshrines the memory of a woman who has been around for most of Oklahoma’s history as a state.
“I first got the idea to honor her like this about three or four months ago,” said Douglas Barnwell, a retired state Department of Human Services employee.
The pavers are part of an effort by Friends of the Capitol, a private nonprofit organization. The group is dedicated to improving the beauty of the Capitol building and its works of art. Gean Atkinson, of Friends of the Capitol, said biographies of the honorees are kept inside the Capitol.
Honored by governor
The highlight for Barnwell and her son, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was the visit and recognition by the governor.
Gladie Barnwell said her parents moved in a covered wagon from Missouri to a farm in rural Ellis County, where she was born July 2, 1914, the ninth child of Calvin and Cecilia Childers.
She and Fallin talked about some of the challenges women have faced in the past in the business and political worlds.
“My grandmother remembered the first time women were allowed to vote in 1920,” Fallin said.
Gladie Barnwell lived in the Grand Lake area 40 years. Fallin said she had a home near there, and they talked about the town of Disney in that area.
“There’s a good Mexican restaurant there,” the governor said as they continued to chat. The family and honoree were happy to have the attention from the state’s chief executive.
“We’re so proud of everything you’ve done,” Gladie Barnwell told Fallin. “If I can make it out to the polls, I’ll vote for you.”
After photographs, Fallin presented her an official governor’s commendation marking the event.
Hoping for 100
Douglas Barnwell said his mother still lives independently, not far from the Capitol and near him.
Gladie married Cecil Barnwell in 1933. They owned a sporting goods store. He died in 1983. In 1989, she married Virgil Needham. He died in 2000.
In 100 years, she’s seen many technological advances. One stands out.
“I remember when I was 12 years old, working on the farm and then hearing this noise,” she recalled. “I didn't know what it was.”
Then cresting over the horizon were two biplanes, making their way across the skies of Ellis County.
“I’m not sure I even knew what an airplane was then, but it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Any secrets to longevity?
“I have no idea,” she said. “It may have been working in the farm all those years. I never dreamed I’d make it to 100, but when I got to my 90s, I was hoping I would.”