GUTHRIE, OKLAHOMA — The screen that fell on Kenneth Mitchell’s head came from an upstairs window in the old Ionian Hotel. His dad bought him a cheap, fuzzy cowboy had earlier in the day that probably saved 89er parades for years to come. Ken insists, “That 25 cent hat saved my life, I think.”
He was in the abstract business for more than 50 years. Many of them in a corner office in the heart of downtown Guthrie. He is a Mason and a longtime Lions Club member. Mitchell served for years on the local school board. He even filled in a term on the Guthrie City Council. When his town needed something Kenneth was always there to lend a hand. “You’ve walked these streets a few times then,” queries his walking partner for the day. “Quite a few,” he replies. “Some of them barefooted. I used to walk these streets barefoot as a kid.”
So every April since he was a little kid, he’s been on hand in one form or another to help out with the annual 89er parade, the big one that still comes right down Oklahoma Avenue, from the Masonic Lodge to the train depot. Not even WWII could stop him from attending. “I was stationed at Norman at the south base,” he recalls, “and I got to come home for the parades.”
It was his first parade job that probably got Ken the most recognition. In the 30’s his mother volunteered young Kn for the post of ‘pioneer boy’, a kind of living, parade accessory to the Pioneer Woman parade float. “I believe my first appearance was in 1935,” he says.
He had a special bronze painted outfit. He and the city clerk, a friend of his mother’s, posed as the famous Pioneer Woman statue which still stands in Ponca City. He held the job for several years but even in the picture he has from those days Ken was already getting too tall. “If you look at the statue the pioneer boy is only supposed to come to the Pioneer woman’s elbow,” says Mitchell holding the photograph. “And I’m quite a bit taller than that so I lost my job.”
The costume is lost to history. But the 89er parade is still running. Kenneth Mitchell won’t be in this year’s edition but he’s working on a float that will. The pioneer boy spirit remains alive and well in a kid who could have died in his first 89er Parade, but who lived on to become central to its still beating heart.