WELEETKA — In the fall, they'll come with money in hand to the pie supper. Why? Because, they know the money will fill paper sacks with an apple, an orange and 2 pounds of candy to be handed out to children by Santa Claus at the school Christmas program.
Through the year, if they know you, they'll stop to help with a flat, whether the road is paved or dirt. And year after year, "they take care of their own.” That's how Dusty Chancey, superintendent of Graham School, describes people in the Graham community east of Weleetka. His father, D.D. Chancey, served as superintendent from 1971 to 1995, and Dusty has held the job since. On June 8, two of the school's students — Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11 — were shot to death on a rural county line road near Placker's home. No arrests have been made. The tragedy has received national attention. But again, Graham is taking care of its own. It's not just the $5,000 generated from a cookie and drink fundraiser held by the 4-H club at the school. It's the "if you need anything, let me know” sincerity from residents to family members and from neighbor to neighbor. That is the essence of a community. And again, the school district is the community. You won't find a store. They had one across the street from the school featuring one gas pump, pop, candy and chips. But its run ended in the 1970s. There's no post office. There are no signal lights. You won't find the name "Graham” on an Oklahoma map. The Graham School District covers 48 square miles, which includes about 600 residents. The K-12 school had 97 students last school year. Many years ago, it wasn't uncommon for a community to exist based solely on a school or church. But those are rare now. In communities, everything is personal. "My frustration is that I feel I should have been able to protect them, even though school was out,” the 50-year-old superintendent said. "They're our kids. We feel responsible.” On Wednesday, I asked Dusty Chancey about the community, what it was like to grow up around Graham and about changes. Although D.D. Chancey took a teaching position at Graham in 1965, he was actually born and raised about five miles from the school. Today, Dusty Chancey lives in a house built by his great-grandfather in 1912. So he knows the community, both as it is today and as it was during his childhood. "When we were 9 or 10, we'd go to the hay meadows after they'd been cut and go by the persimmon trees,” he said.
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Graham Superintendent Dusty Chancey talked Wednesday about the importance of community. Behind him are uniforms retired after a student died in a wreck in 1997 and a plaque for Ruth Artussee, who had eight children graduate with perfect attendance. By David McDaniel, The Oklahoman