Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Tom's Story

Thomas B. McDonald

Sometime in the late 1930’s, Mrs. Gladys Dicken was the Head Matron of the Baptist Children’s Home. Mrs. Dicken’s sister, Edith Tharp, and her husband, Jason Tharp, owned a farm in Kay County between Ponca City and Blackwell. They arranged for Tom to work on their farm during the summers of 1938, 1939, and 1940. In the Fall of 1940, he enrolled as a senior in Ponca City High School, where he graduated in May of 1941. He didn’t know it then, but his future wife, Thelma Lee Canfield, also graduated in the same class. They didn’t meet until the next month, when he went to a Rainbow Girls party she was attending.

Tom moved to Ponca City and went to work at Continental Oil Company. But World War II started and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June, 1942. During his three years of service, he served aboard the submarine tender, USS Sperry, and three submarines, USS Drum, USS Finback, and USS Macabi. The Finback was the submarine that rescued Lt. (JG) George Bush and four other downed pilots from the Pacific Ocean in September 1944. However, Tom had been transferred off the Finback at the end of the previous patrol.

In October 1944, Tom came home on leave, and he took Thelma Lee to Oklahoma City to the Baptist Home to meet his “family”, and to invite them to his wedding in Ponca City on November 4, 1944.

They traveled to New London, Connecticut, where Tom was assigned to the submarine base. Then he was re-assigned to the commissioning crew of a new sub being built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the USS Macabi. After the test runs on Lake Michigan were completed, the sub was loaded onto a barge and with a few of the crew on board (including Tom), was transported down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The rest of the crew rejoined the boat, and it sailed under its own power through the Panama Canal and back out to the Pacific. Thelma Lee went back home to Ponca City.

The war was over on August 14, 1945 (U.S. time), and Tom was discharged from the Navy on November 1. Tom and Thelma Lee moved to Stillwater, where Tom attended Oklahoma A & M College and received a technician’s certificate in air-conditioning and refrigeration.

From there, they moved to Oklahoma City. Tom became a salesman for a builder’s supply company. He sold dairy chemicals and dairy supplies. He established a string of drive-in markets called “Tom’s Market”, which he later sold. He owned and operated a dairy farm and bottling plant; then a hardware store. He built and operated three ice plants which he sold. He called himself a junk dealer because he like to buy used equipment, such as refrigerated cabinets, which he overhauled and sold.

When Oklahoma City Urban Renewal began to demolish the downtown area in 1975, he submitted bids on the fixtures inside John A. Brown Department store, H. L. Green, S. H. Kress and Lerners, and won. Most of the fixtures were sold to losing bidders before the fixtures were even removed from the building.

Tom was always close to his three brothers, Johnny, Dewey and Orville. Johnny was too old to go into the Baptist Home, so only Dewey, Tom and Orville were admitted after their parents died.

Tom and Thelma Lee had three children, a son, Lee Thomas, and two daughters, Jane Ellen and Jo Ann. Lee is married and living in Tacoma, Washington. Jane is married and lives in Oklahoma City, as does Jo Ann. The three children produced eight grandchildren and four great-granddaughters (so far). Tom and Thelma Lee joined the May Avenue University Methodist Church in November,1950.

Tom died October 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City.

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