Keith Walters recalls coming to Muskogee during hard times. It was 1939, and the family was affected by the Great Depression.
"Dad had $20.70 in his pocket, the rent was $20, so he had 70 cents left.” Walters recalled. "He had no gas in the car, so he walked to town to find a job. Last place he walked was Kuykendall Pontiac, said, ‘I’m looking for a job.’ … Kuykendall said, ‘I think you can sell cars with your gab.’ He hired Dad, and before the day was over, Dad sold a 1928 Ford A Model for $100. He made $6.
He recalled tending the family's garden on Emporia Street.
"Times were tough," he said. “We raised our own vegetables; when we had too many, took them around the neighborhood, make some extra money."
After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Walters followed his father into the used car business.
"Most of what we had was repeat business," he said. "We had a lot of walk-ins."
Walters sold cars until 2005.
He also worked with his brother on the Muskogee Shopper paper, and eventually took the business over. He said he'd make up the ads and do layout on the computer, take it to the printer, then deliver the paper himself. He kept working at that until his July retirement.
Walters keeps busy, even in retirement.
He grows enough vegetables in his backyard garden to give produce away.
He fishes at lakes and ponds of all sizes.
He finds time to meet with friends he made through the Muskogee Twirlers square dance club.
Walters also is a regular at Redneck Round Table. He and friends gather almost every day in Arrowhead Mall's food court.
"It's a bunch of guys telling all kinds of war stories," he said with a chuckle. "Telling the same thing day after day. Doesn’t make any difference, because they don’t remember anyway."
Keith Walters and his wife began square dancing in 1964 with the Circle Y dance group. They danced for six or seven years until they got more involved with their daughter's activities.
They resumed dancing in 1987 with Muskogee Twirlers.
Square dancing involves following directions from a caller.
"The man's called a 'gent' and the girls are called 'gals,'" he said. "There's allemande left, when you extend your arm out to her and you turn each other. Then you start promenading, when they walk around the ring."
A do si do is when partners walk around each other, he said.
Walters said square dancing is a great exercise and great way to make friends.
The Muskogee Twirlers are still around, but don't dance as much, Walters said.
"Instead of retiring the old club, we get together twice a month," he said. "We play spinner dominoes and have a birthday and anniversary dinner once a month. We still go to different places, like Branson or the aquarium."
beneficial for all
Walters said he loves watching things grow, especially when it comes to vegetables.
"It's some of the best therapy you can have," he said. "It's hard work sometimes, but it's rewarding. And we love to eat the vegetables."
He said he's best at growing tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, green beans and turnips. He buys the plants at Arnold's Fruit Co.
This has been an especially good year for his tomatoes, which include big boys, jet stars and sweet 100s.
"I bet I've given 200 tomatoes away this year, and that's not counting the cherry tomatoes. It's the big ones," Walters said. "I give them to my friends at the mall, Redneck Round Table, and to my neighbors across the street some, my sister some. That gives me a lot of pleasure to give them away."
Walters grows most of his produce in raised boxes.
"Ever since I built them, I've had a bumper crop every year," he said. "You can control your boxes' water. When we had all that rain, the water would run through the box, and it wouldn't drown them. It's more of a controlled environment."
Walters said he likes fishing "any place there's water."
"One thing I like to do is go to farm ponds and fish," he said. "You don't have to hunt for the fish. You don't have to get in a boat and go around all day long looking for a good hole."
He recalled times with his father, when they would look for good ponds.
"We'd drive around, see a good one and ask the owner if we could fish on it," he said. "Nine times out of ten, they'd say 'yeah,' just don't leave your pop cans on the bank and mess up everything.' When we got through fishing, we'd clean up and we could go again if we needed to."
Walters said farm ponds usually are well-stocked.
"Some of them have crappie in there, mostly catfish and perch, some bass," Walters said.
Walters also enjoys fishing for crappie and sand bass at Lake Eufaula's Arrowhead Park area and Fort Gibson's Jackson Bay and Sequoyah Bay. He said he uses minnows and jigs for crappie and chicken liver for catfish.
"If the sand bass are running, we get in the boat and troll in the boat," he said.
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
"I was born in 1932 in Sallisaw, lived there for six years. Our family moved after the Great Depression looking for a better life. Dad moved around Arkansas, Louisiana looking for work. He had a sister and brother-in-law who lived here in Muskogee, and they told him about Muskogee and that he could find work here. We got here in 1939."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
"I like it because it's a small town, and you can get around places real easily. You don't have to fight a lot of traffic. You can find places to eat and go shopping. Everybody's friendly. It's close to all the lakes and river, so it doesn't take forever to go fishing."
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
"Better jobs for better pay to keep the young people here. Of course, they could stand to work on some of the streets."
WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
"Bob Thomason. He's a patriotic guy. Served in World War II and the Korean War. He was an educator, a coach, a gentleman and a businessman. He owned Thomason's printing. He treated everybody the same and never met a stranger. He was a beautiful singer and formed a gospel quartet."
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
"I was in the Air Force, stationed in El Paso, Texas, and my wife came home and had a daughter. I couldn't get a furlough for six weeks. I finally got a furlough. I got here and my daughter was six weeks old. That was the first time I saw her, and I was so thrilled. I picked her up, kissed her and held her in my arms."
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
"Fish, Muskogee Square Dance Club, go to Arrowhead Mall and sit at the Redneck Round Table. Swim in our pool a lot. Work a crossword puzzle and sudoku puzzle every morning."
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
"It's a very good place to live, nice and quiet."
Meet Keith Walters
EDUCATION: Franklin grade school, West Junior High, Muskogee Central High, class of 1951, Muskogee Junior College.
MILITARY SERVICE: U.S. Air Force, 1953-1957. Staff sergeant.
PROFESSION: Sold used cars; retired owner/publisher of Muskogee Shopper Advertiser.
FAMILY: Wife, Jean; daughter, Paula; cat, Sweetie Pie.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Baptist.
HOBBIES: Gardening, tinkering in work shop, fixing things, working in flower beds, Facebook.