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Cleo Marie LeVally

Staff Writer
The Daily Ardmoreite
Cleo Marie LeVally

Mrs. Cleo Marie LeVally, daughter of the late William H. Emerson and Ella Rhea Pegg Emerson, was born on Dec. 31, 1922, in Leader, Okla. When she was 3 years old, her family moved to a large farm outside of Allen, Okla. This small town in central Oklahoma is where she grew up, and she always considered it to be her hometown. While growing up, Cleo Marie was a tomboy and roamed the creeks and fields on the homestead, playing with and imitating her older brothers and daydreaming about traveling around the country writing stories about the people she met. She attended the public schools of Allen, Okla. In high school, she joined the journalism class and soon discovered her love of writing and reporting on relevant local news. Cleo Marie was a graduate of the Allen High School class of 1940.

After graduation, Cleo moved to Wewoka, Okla., and worked at the local five and dime store. In Wewoka, she met and eventually married W.C. Wood Jr. With the outbreak of World War II, Cleo moved to Oklahoma City and was hired at Tinker Field as a civilian employee in the Signal Corps, working on radio transmitters on military aircraft. Prior to his deployment to the Pacific Theater, Cleo married W.C. on March 28, 1942, in Chickasha, Okla. They had two children together. W.C. Wood III and Phylece LeVally.

In August of 1954, Cleo moved with her family to Healdton. She transferred her employment from Cushing, Okla., and continued working for the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. until 1961. Almost immediately, she plunged in doing community service in and around Healdton. On her first Sunday in town, she placed her membership with the First Christian Church, which she attended regularly for the rest of her life. She was a member of the Christian Women's Fellowship and organized CWF retreats. She also taught several Sunday school classes over the years, and as a lay leader, she delivered sermons in both her local church and many other churches in southern Oklahoma.

In 1961, she left the phone company and began learning to develop her own photographs to accompany her freelance newspaper stories. Quickly she saw a need for a professional photographer for the area and opened the Cleo Woods Studio. For the next 2 decades, she photographed weddings, sporting events, rodeos, horse races, auto accidents, natural disasters and human interest items and took classroom photos for 12 area schools. Her news stories were published in many area newspapers, including the Daily Oklahoman.

After divorcing W.C. Jr, she and Phylece moved to Holdenville, Okla., in 1971, where she worked again for the telephone company as well as Holdenville Public Schools and continued to write news articles on a freelance bases. On Dec. 28, 1974, Cleo married Earl E. LeVally and returned to Healdton for the remainder of her life.

Upon returning to Healdton, she became the secretary of the Healdton Chamber of Commerce before joining Earl at his law firm, all the while recommitting herself to community and civic service.

She served as the director of the Healdton Chamber of Commerce and served several terms on the Healdton Hospital Board, two six-year terms as trustee of the Chickasaw Multi-County Library System and two terms as chair of the Healdton Planning Commission. In addition, she was on the board of the Healdton Cemetery Board, the Healdton Rehabilitation Housing Committee, the Community Planning Committee of Southern Oklahoma Resource Council, the Four Cities Coalition, the Healdton Oil Museum Board and the Healdton Chamber of Commerce.

She also volunteered for VITA, a volunteer tax service, preparing tax returns for elderly and lower income individuals for over 25 years, and she delivered Meals on Wheels for several decades.

Cleo was a charter member of the Epsilon Sigma Alpha sorority and remained a lifetime member.

She received a number of honors over the years for her contributions to the community. In 1961 she was chosen as Career Women of the Month by the Business and Professional Women’s Club because of her work to help get a Kidney Dialysis machine for the Ardmore Hospital. Other awards include the Healdton Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 1985 and in 2010. She received the Lucille Hughes Community Service Award in 1998 and the Top Hand Award in 2004. In 2009 she was made Honorary Bulldog from the Healdton Alumni group for her work on behalf of Healdton Beautiful and money raised for the school. The Healdton Chamber of Commerce again chose her Citizen of the Year for 2010. She is the only person in Healdton that has received that award for the second time.

In 1978, the first Old Times Breakfast was held during the Oil Field Days weekend. That year, she and her husband, Earl, gave out silver dollars to those in attendance who were in their late 80s or older. The tradition has continued for 41 years. When she became eligible to receive recognition as the oldest among the attendees, she finally consented to turn the duties of Old Times Breakfast organizer over to the next generation. Among all her accolades and responsibilities, her volunteer work with the annual breakfast gave her the greatest joy.

As a member of the Healdton Beautification Committee, she saw a need to raise funds to complete area clean-up projects. She called a town meeting, and Healdton Beautiful was organized and incorporated in 1986. Over the years, Healdton Beautiful raised more than $250,000 for beautification projects, including street lights, trash containers and sidewalk benches on Main Street, as well as for the renovation of the historic Sunset Grade School building to house artifacts from the Healdton and Dundee Schools and a War Memorial Room dedicated to local service members.

In addition to her weekly column “The Threads of Life,” published since 1992 in both the Healdton Herald and the Allen Advocate, she published several books, including a technical guide for sewing Indian Clan patterns, a genealogy history of her family and a devotional titled “The Spiritual Stepping Stones of Cleo LeVally.”

She quietly departed this life on Sunday, March 22, 2020, in her home. She was preceded in death by her husband, Earl E. LeVally; her parents, William H. Emerson and Ella Rhea Pegg Emerson; and siblings Vernon Emerson, Vera Bodkins, Mable Heidler, Eveleen Emerson, Lorretta Emerson, Lois Reeves, Mildred Love, Velma Cowart, Cecil Emerson, Leon Emerson, Ralph Lindell Emerson and William Harry “Billy” Emerson Jr.

As dedicated as she was to her community and civic life, she was even more devoted to her large extended family and delighted in bragging about her son, daughter and grandchildren – including greats and great-greats. Her beautiful life will forever be cherished in the lives of those family members: W.C. (Charles Tee) Wood III of the home, Phylece LeVally of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.; Jennifer Hardee of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Debra Marie Heathcott of Ashington, England, and Shelby Wood of Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Private graveside services were held on Saturday, March 28, 2020. Roberts Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

The family would like to acknowledge all those who have expressed a desire to remember and memorialize the passing of our Mother/Grandmother and would like to advise that there will be a life celebration planned for a future date.