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Great State: Purcell Couple’s Marriage Parallels the Lifespan of the Closed John C. Nance Bridge

PURCELL, OKLAHOMA — The matrimonial bridge that joined Tom and Alura Idleman in 1939 is as strong as ever.

Unfortunately, love has nothing to do with holding up another McClain County bridge built around the same time, and just down the hill from where the Idlemans live now.

“We’ve been married for 74 years,” says Tom sitting on a couch with his arm around Alura.

“It’s been so long I don’t know if we remember much,” says Alura about the John C. Nance Bridge, now closed for repairs.

They both grew up crossing what most people refer to as the Canadian River.

Earlier generations crossed the sometimes high water and always shifting sands at their peril.

Even territory leaders saw the need for a bridge between Oklahoma and Indian Territories.

The McClain County Historical Society has a file on bridges crossing between Purcell and Lexington, Oklahoma.

One picture shows a flimsy boardwalk that led to a rowdy saloon called the Sand Bar.

A couple of businessmen named Dorset and Carter spent $60,000 to build a toll bridge in 1911.

Another picture in the museum shows a cavalry parade that marked its official opening.

Tom Idleman remembers the old toll bridge and the 40 cents he had to pay to cross.

“Well back then 40 cents was 40 cents,” he says.

“It was really about a dollar wasn’t it,” asks Alura?

“No,” states Tom. “It was 40 cents.”

During the late 1930’s, Alura was enrolled in nursing school in Oklahoma City.

Tom drove up to visit every Sunday afternoon, crossing the toll bridge to get there while state highway crews built the new bridge.

In the summer of 1938 it was finished.

Bob Wills came to Purcell and played for the dedication.

A big crowd came to marvel at one of the longest spans of its kind, more than a half-mile across.

Tom recalls driving over the new span that very day to take his first airplane ride.

It cost Idleman and three friends $2 to fly.

Institutions become institutions because the exist for such a long time in one place that no one thinks of them as being any different until, suddenly, they are.

The John C. Nance bridge, after nearly 75 years, needs some work.

The Idleman bridge, forged by a strong marriage, appears un-breakable.

“He’s a keeper,” smiles Alura who, with Tom, will celebrate their 75th anniversary December 2, 2014.