James Levis Jefferis made his appearance into the family of Homer and Zuba Jefferis on July 26, 1920, a bright summer day during the busy harvest season on the quarter section purchased the previous year. The second child, but first son, of the family, Levis was named for both his grandfathers, Alban Levis Jefferis and Rufus James Camp.
Growing up on the farm was excitement, fun and work all rolled together. Helping with chores – – like feeding chickens, cleaning the chicken house, feeding calves, milking cows, cleaning the bar, slopping or feeding the pigs, feeding the horses, currying them — was a major part of growing up during the 20s and 30s. Learning to help his dad with farming, with horse-drawn equipment, or with the shiny new tractor was exciting and fun. The first new truck or new equipment for the farm always brought a thrill of being a part of the progress.
The neighborly visits between farm families provided recreation — playing cards, dominoes, or checkers, making ice cream, exchanging information about farm problems or household jobs, running or sledding or skating, horseback riding. Many Sunday afternoons were pleasantly spent in the company of friends or relatives after a morning at Sunday School and church and a big Sunday dinner. Then youth meetings and church filled the evening hours. Usually, a Saturday matinee at the movies occupied the children if Mom and Dad had shopping to do in Guymon.
Levis took part in Scouts, played trombone in the school band, sang in choral groups, and participated in basketball and track.
At the age of 14 Levis parted ways with a horse and landed on his right elbow, crushing the bones of the joint. Before surgery could be accomplished on the elbow, the surgeon died. Because of distances and finances in those days, it was not possible to da anything more than to see that he exercised the arm to make it as mobile as possible. Though the elbow stopped at a thirty-degree angle, it didn’t hamper his ability to work.
During his high school days, working with wood became his real interest. Not only did his instructors help, but M.M. “Shorty” Hansen gave assistance and encouragement when he could since he was a janitor at the school. After graduating from Goodwell High School in 1938, Levis continued his interest in the industrial arts at Panhandle A&M under M. L. Carter. The next fall Levis entered Central State College at Edmond and spent another year working in his chosen field. In 1940 an aircraft construction program was inaugurated at Southwestern State Teacher’s College at Weatherford. Because of the increasing conflict in Europe, this program offered tremendous possibilities for future employment. Levis enrolled in the program to learn to make airplane wings from wood and left Weatherford in February 1941 to work for the Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas. Before Christmas, Levis had met Vivian Hefner, a college senior from Mangum, Oklahoma. After Christmas vacation, they renewed their friendship and became engaged before he left for Wichita. While he worked there, Vivian taught school at Consolidated 8 in southwestern Oklahoma. On June 21, 1942, they were married in a double wedding ceremony with the couple who had introduced them — Vivian’s sister Mary and her husband Gene Prather.
Levis continued working in Wichita until July 1943. At that time, Cessna was asked by the Air Force to modify their trainers, so the company set up a modification depot at Hutchinson, with personnel to do the work. Levis was one of the people asked to work with the modification program so he and Vivian made the move. In October, his draft number was called, and he reported to Fort Leavenworth for the physical. He was classified 4-F because of the stiffness in his elbow, which the doctors considered a grave disability for the use of a gun.
On January 2, 1944, the first son James Lawrence was born. In July Levis and Vivian came to Goodwell to help with the harvest because Mrs. Jefferis was ill. Lena was in Washington, D,C. and Roy was in the Air Force, and Dad needed help. In August, the permanent move to Goodwell was made so Levis could help with the farming.
On September 3, the whole countryside was amazed to see a Cessna trainer set down on the quarter section across from the Jefferis homestead. Roy, concerned about his mother;s health, had dropped down to see his folks and had damaged a landing gear and had bent the propellor. The landing gear repaired, Levis and other friends were working to straighten the propeller when his left thumb was caught between the sharp edge of the prop and a timber and was severed. After several months of healing, the remaining part of the hand resumed its usefulness and was almost as good as before at gripping a hammer or other tool.
To supplement the farm wages, Levis did other odd jobs and carpentry repair work. In the summer of 1946, he started building the small two-bedroom home located on East Second Street. He also rented a quarter section of land just west of his dad’s land and farmed it for a year before it was sold.
That fall, he became a janitor at the school when Shorty Hansen moved to the college. IN 1947 Levis set up his own cabinet shop. Later he joined with Gene McCormich and Arle and Ronald Bunch to do remodeling and other carpentry work. They helped finish the work inside the Baptist Church.
In 1950 he joined the A. F. Thomas Carpentry Shop in Tulsa, where he spent two years before going to the A & A Cabinet Shop. While working with them, he helped to build the first complete roundhouse in Tulsa. While there, they bought a home with maize stalks still around it north of 51st Street. There he drilled an irrigation well by hand, drilling seventeen feet into the ground.
In 1955 when he returned to help with irrigation farming at Goodwell, water was pumped from ten to twelve times that depth.
During these years, four more children had been added to the family. On October 14, 1947, Robert Joseph was born in the Liberal, Kansas, hospital. John Levis was born in Mrs. Delay’s Nursing Home in Guymon on May 19, 1949, because the hospital had not yet been completed. After the move to Tulsa, another son, Jerry Lee, joined the family on April 14, 1951. The family unit was completed on December 2, 1952, when a long-awaited daughter, Susan Marie, finally made her appearance.
The family returned to Goodwell on the first of March 1955 and, within the month, had four cases of measles.
Irrigation farming was very new, and a lot of trial-and-error methods and equipment were used. The family became very involved with all the farm work and helped to operate a dairy for a period of seven years. During this time, Levis also operated a school bus route, assisted by Vivian until she began to teach school at Optima. Levis continued with the farm operation until 1969, when he suffered a heart attack. The following year he rented the farm out, but it was sold in 1970 by the Jefferis heirs.
In 1962 Levis had begun to work for the construction firm on the building of the first half of Holter Hall, the Student Union and Hamilton Hall on the PAMC campus. After the completion of these buildings, he was employed by Panhandle State College as campus carpenter and later as Director of Maintenance. During the years he worked there, he constructed the Conference table in Field Hall, built the horseshoe-shaped table in the Collegian paper office, and helped his son John in the project to provide name markers for all the buildings on campus. He helped with the construction of many other projects during the sixteen years he worked on campus.
Levis and Vivian were actively involved with their children’s activities, helping with Scouts, 4-H, and church and school activities. He drove the school bus and served on the school board. They were lifetime members of the PSU Alumni and helped to start an Alumni Reunion for the Goodwell High School. Levis was a member of the Goodwell Lions Club, serving through the years in various capacities. At his death following a second heart attack in 1978, he was serving his second term as president of the club. Vivian taught school at Optima, Straight, and Goodwell for more than twenty years after having spent seventeen years at home helping to raise their children.
Before his death in December 1978, Levis had seen his five children grow up and graduate from his old high school at Goodwell and from Panhandle State University. The four sons went through ROTC and reached the rank of Captain before two of them resigned their commissions. Daughter Susan had married an Army Lieutenant. All the sons and the son-in-law were on active duty concurrently at one time during their careers.
Vivian retired shortly after Levis’s death and began to pursue her passions of travel and genealogy research. She continued to travel, visiting children, family, and friends for several years while fighting cancer. Vivian died in February 1986 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.