By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
With deep maroon walls and a wrap-around sofa in the living room, Edie McJunkins’ home offers a cozy, warm respite from the cold.
She watched her children grow up in this home, a four-bedroom house she helped build. Now, she entertains grandchildren.
McJunkins, 50, would say her life has been a success story.
“I would say that, given what I’ve been through over the years,” she said. “And there are still pages to write.”
The Omaha, Neb., native moved to Muskogee as a young child, only to return to Nebraska a few years later.
“My mom died in 1968, and my older sister took me back to Omaha,” McJunkins said. “I lived in the ghetto of Omaha. If you hope to survive, you don’t see education as an out. You do whatever you can to get out. When I moved to Muskogee with my son, I wanted him to know there is an out.”
At the time, Edie McJunkins was 16 and a high school dropout. She said her father, Willie McJunkins, “was insisting I get back in high school.”
She recalled going to high school for a while before getting pregnant again.
After several “dead-end jobs” McJunkins moved to Oklahoma City, where she lived for a year or so.
McJunkins returned to Muskogee and found ways to improve her life.
She enrolled into Bacone College, even without a high school diploma.
“Bacone had an open-door policy then, and you just needed to have a high school diploma by the time you graduated,” she recalled. “During my second year at Bacone, I applied for a high school diploma and because I had enough credits through college, I was able to get the high school degree and the associate’s degree the same year — 1992.”
McJunkins landed a job with the Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department that April. She said Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson had taught a class at Bacone and was looking for a parks intern. She has been with the city for 21 years.
Finding a place to call home
Edie McJunkins looks around her four-bedroom house now and marvels how she reared four children in it.
But, when she first moved into the house in 1991, the house was just the right size.
The house was the second house built by Habitat for Humanity’s Muskogee chapter, she said.
“I was sitting at work reading the Muskogee Phoenix, and I found an ad looking for people to own a Habitat home,” she said. “I was low income, and I qualified. I went home and filled out an application.”
Habitat builds simple homes, which homeowners pay for through no-interest loans. Homeowners also must do “sweat equity” to help build work on the houses with volunteers.
“When I started, I wasn’t skilled in carpentry, so I cooked meals for the workers,” McJunkins said. “Then, I started Sheetrocking and sanding the Sheetrock. Me and my auntie and her husband put the roof on the house. In the heat of August, we put this house together with our kids being ‘go-fers’ on the ground.”
The house took two years to build, but McJunkins called it “a labor of love.”
“Before, my kids were stacked on top of each other. Now, they had room to get around, and they had their own beds and everything,” she said.”
McJunkins obtained a 30-year mortgage on the house. However, after 21 years, she said she is two years from paying it off.
Work in parks busy throughout the year
McJunkins recalled working with Muskogee Parks and Recreation the first year of the Garden of Lights. Over the past 21 years, McJunkins helped it grow and change.
“I help create some of the displays and wrap lights around the trees, help put lights on the azaleas,” she said. “I even went up in a bucket truck twice to put a star over the amphitheater.”
Crews start work in October so the garden can be ready in November.
Changes in technology enable people to get more creative with the lights, she said.
“With LED lighting, you can put some more lights together before you worry about over-amping,” she said. “The creativity can be endless. Now we don’t have to be out in the rain trying to keep those lights on.”
Once the Garden of Lights is over, crews have to prepare Honor Heights Park for the next big event — April’s Azalea Festival.
“We have to rebuild the azalea beds and get all the sweet gum balls up because they’re tripping hazards,” she said, referring to the prickly balls that fall from sweet gum trees. “You have to haul them out because you can’t mulch them.”
McJunkins said the weather has a big impact on how the azaleas bloom the following spring.
“We just try to keep the azaleas alive,” she said.
Learning as she goes to garden
McJunkins said her work at Honor Heights helps inspire her to work on her own garden.
“I learned everything from those people,” she said. “When I graduated from Bacone, it was a lot of book knowledge.”
She has a small vegetable and flower garden.
“I grow tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, watermelon,” she said. “I had a bumper crop of watermelon this year.”
McJunkins had to work hard to get such a crop because the local soil is “horrible.”
“I always have to amend the soil and add nutrients into the soil,” she said.
Because the garden yields so much, she said, “It always gives back what I put into it.”
She also has had success with cannas — and a little too much success with wisterias.
“If you don’t want wisterias to take over, don’t plant them,” she said. “I had a plant at our house and it was growing under the vinyl siding of the house. I killed the wisteria plants.”
One type of plant McJunkins doesn’t plant at her home is azalea.
She said azaleas weren’t meant to grow in Oklahoma.
“You always have to be aware of what’s going on with azaleas,” she said.
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I was 16 and I had just had my oldest son. He was 8 months old. I did not want him raised in Omaha, so we brought him down here so my dad could help raise him.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“The landscape. Muskogee is beautiful as far as landscape is concerned.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“More things for young people to do. There’s hardly anything for them to do here.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Work for the Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department as a maintenance II worker.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“I love to fish and go to Fort Gibson dam to fish. I love to plant things in my garden. Sometimes I just like to ride around Muskogee and sight-see.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“My auntie, Mary Ankrom. She’s been my support. She’s been my teacher. She’s been my rock. She taught me a lot about life, how to survive and how not to give up.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“Getting my Habitat house. As a single mother with four kids and a dead-end job, there was never a thought I would have my own house.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“Beautiful place with a rich history and a rich background.”
Meet Edie McJunkins
HOMETOWN: Omaha, Neb.
CAREER: Maintenance worker, Muskogee Parks & Recreation Department.
EDUCATION: Muskogee High School, 1992; Bacone College, 1992.
FAMILY: Father, Willie McJunkins; Two sons, Ormando and Willie II; two daughters, Sonya and Camellia; 10 grandchildren with an 11th on the way.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Baptist.
HOBBIES: Gardening, fishing, drawing. “My biggest hobby is my grandkids.