Rabbit tale: A memory spurred by death of Patti Page

Patti Page
Patti Page

Patti Page died Tuesday in Encinitas, Calif. She was 85.

In the obituaries I’ve read and heard since then, it is duly noted she became famous for singing ballads such as Tennessee Waltz and novelty songs such as How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?

It has also been reported that she was born as Clara Ann Fowler on Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore, Okla., which just happens to be the hometown of Will Rogers.

On the National Public Radio program All Things Considered, Robert Siegel spoke about Page Thursday with Hugh Foley, founding member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Foley is also an associate professor of communications at Rogers State University in Claremore.

Will-Rogers
Will Rogers

When I heard about the university, I wondered if it was named after the famous cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and actor who died in a plane crash in 1935 at age 55. He was noted for observations such as:

  • I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
  • There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Alas it was almost too good to be true. RSU was founded in Claremore in 1909 as Eastern University Preparatory School. It later became the Oklahoma Military Academy and then Claremore Junior College in 1971. In 1982, it was renamed Rogers State College to better represent Rogers County and the surrounding communities. It became a university in 1998.

But Rogers County is named after Clem Vann Rogers, a mixed-blood Cherokee rancher and father of Will Rogers.

I’ve told you all of this in order to tell the story of my only trip to Oklahoma, which included a long visit to the Will Rogers Memorial Museums at Claremore. This would have been in 1991 or 1992. It was before Nancy and I were married and she had an interview for a photographer’s job at the Tulsa World.

As I recall, we drove seven or eight hours to get from Ottumwa to Tulsa for an interview that didn’t last very long. Nancy was not impressed with the World’s chief photographer, a guy named — and I am not making this up — Rabbit Hare.

Heck, his name is the only reason for even remembering this story — let alone for telling it. In fact, I leaned hard on the Google machine to verify that really was his name and my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me in order to make the story better.

Things didn’t work out in Tulsa and we’ve never been back. But I did enjoy the visit to the Rogers museum.

Prior to writing this blog post, I couldn’t have told you much — if anything — about Page, whose death gave birth to this story.

3 thoughts on “Rabbit tale: A memory spurred by death of Patti Page

  • I grew up in Oklahoma and lived there most of my life. I sang “Tennesee Waltz” and “Doggie in the Window” a lot when I was a child. And the whole time I didn’t realize (or more likely, didn’t care) that Page was a native. Thanks for that enlightenment.

  • I’d believe the name Rabbit Hare. When I was in high school the industrial arts teacher was Gale Hare–and his daughter was Bunny Hare (short for Bonita, but no one ever called her anything except Bunny).

    Re Patti Page: Her stage name was for the Page Milk Company which had a factory in Coffeyville, KS where I lived before coming to Muscatine. She was working for them doing ads and changed her name to Page for the company. Don’t know how long she worked for them but it was a better name than Clara Fowler, I think.

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