Clarence Okeson, 1950 Clarence Wilford Okeson
1908 - 1987

BORN: 28 Jul 1908 - Henning, Minnesota
BAPTISED: 23 Aug 1908 - Henning, Minnesota
         01 Jun 1935
         Virgie Kuster home
         Turtle Lake, North Dakota
DIED: 21 Oct 1987
         at home, Mesa, Arizona

Clarence Wilford Okeson was the owner and operator of the Grand Theater in Parshall, North Dakota. He also served one term as mayor of Parshall in the early 1950s.

Clarence was born in Henning, Minnesota on July 28th, 1908, not long before his family would move to Minnewakin, Minnesota. Most of Clarence's youth was spent in Turtle Lake, North Dakota. He graduated high school and attended the Waupeton School of Science where he learned auto mechanics.

While he was attending Waupeton, Clarence became infatuated with music and became the drummer for the Bob Boehn Orchestra, a four-piece group that played for dances and at silent movies. During the day he apprenticed to be a barber but had to give it up after his hands became irritated by the lotions that were commonly used.

Clarence Okeson, 1930

Clarence then joined Beck's Novelty Band, a six-piece group that played one-night stands throughout the Dakotas and Minnesota on the same circuit that Lawrence Welk's Orchestra had started out on. After three years of touring the midwest, the band booked themselves all the way to Texas where they expected to spend the winter. By then the Great Depression had started and travel costs were high, especially with as many instruments as the group had. It wasn't long before the group couldn't make enough to pay for their travel and so they broke up.

Clarance met Nora Richardson, who taught the 5th and 6th grades at Turtle Lake's elementary school, while he was working at Jimmy Thompson's Pool Hall in 1933. They were married on June 1st, 1935 at the home of Clarence's sister, Virgie in Turtle Lake and the new couple honeymooned in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Nora and Clarence lived with her parents in Parshall, North Dakota and the two of them worked in her father's General Store. A year later, their first and only son was born. Due to complications during childbirth, Nora would never have a second child.

In 1941, Clarence and Nora bought the Grand Theater in Parshall - it took every cent they had saved - $750. The theater came with housing built into it and so they moved one block from the Richardson home to their new one on the side of the theater. Nora taught music to make extra money and Clarence delivered milk in an effort to pay off the loan as quickly as possible. Business was good during the War years, 'talkies' were just coming out and people crowded in to see the new movies and watch the news clips of the war - although there were a few people in town who thought that movies were the work of the devil. Soon Clarence and Nora were were able to quit their extra jobs and concentrate entirely on running the theater.

Okeson Family, 1942
Clarence, Nora and Gyman Okeson
Abt 1942

Clarence was elected Mayor of Parshall in the early 1950s. Soon after he won office it was discovered that the city's water pipes were rusting out. Clarence supervised the installation of transite pipes that wouldn't rust and referred to the sewage treatment lagoon that was built during his time in office as "Lake Okie". After his first term, he refused to run for a second.

Clarence and Nora sold the theater and retired shortly after the death of Nora's mother Edith in 1970. Nora's father, Earl, died in 1967. For a couple years they spent their summers in the old Richardson house in Parshall and winters in Mesa, Arizona where there was an active retirement community. By 1972 or 1973 they were living in Arizona year round. Clarence joined a band that performed at local dances, playing two or three nights a week during the busy winter seasons.

Nora died in January of 1987. By then Nora and Clarence had stopped doing most of the things that had drawn them to Mesa, but Clarence considered it home and wouldn't leave.

On October 21st, 1987, Clarence was involved in a hit-and-run accident with another vehicle in the parking lot of a local grocery store - a fender bender only, no one was hurt. When investigating police arrived at his home, they found Clarence dead with his breathing treatment in his hand. Clarence had a history of asthma. It is believed he had some kind of respiratory attack while shopping and rushed frantically home to get to his treatments - but to no avail.

Clarence Wilford Okeson was buried next to his wife Nora in the Apostles Section of the Sunset Memorial Gardens in Minot, North Dakota, not far from where her parents, Earl and Edith Richardson are buried.

View the Okeson Family Photoalbum, 1900-1962

WIFE of Clarence Wilford Okeson:
    Nora Fayme RICHARDSON


PARENTS of Clarence Wilford Okeson:
    August OKESON

    Hannah Theodora ECKLUND

CHILDREN of Clarence Wilford Okeson:
   1. Gyman


  The Family History As I Heard It, by Nora Fayme Okeson
  1910 U.S. Federal Census for Lake Williams ND
  1915 North Dakota State Census for Lake Williams ND
  1925 North Dakota State Census for Lake Williams ND
  1930 U.S. Federal Census for Lake Williams ND
  1940 U.S. Federal Census for Parshall ND
  Social Security Death Index