Original Oklahoma State Trooper honored

By: Emi FitzGerald Email
By: Emi FitzGerald Email

HUGO, Okla. -- Drive down any highway in the country and you'll likely see a State Trooper, an officer with the Department of Public Safety, but flashback 70 years when an Oklahoma rancher and teacher decided to start a career unheard of at the time.

The Great Depression hit the country hard in the 1930's, and many folks struggled to find work to provide for their families.

But in Oklahoma, several law enforcement jobs were created with the birth of the Highway Patrol, and one man who was there at the beginning recalls how it all started.

Back before concrete and pavement, folks got around driving on dirt roads. Then, 27-year-old Ed Vandergriff was teaching in Frogville when he received a unique opportunity.

"I received a telegram from Oklahoma City to come for this job with the highway patrol."

The Oklahoma State Legislature created the Department of Public safety. The job paid $150 a month, three times what Ed was making to teach.

"Everything was furnished but my underwear and socks."

He and about 120 other men became the state's first state troopers. Now 97 years old, Ed is the only living member of that first class.

Their cars looked different, and they had a $100 expense account.

"They called us the ‘Steak Eating Highway Patrol’ because we would buy steaks 90 cents and we would sit down and they would say, "There's the steak eating highway patrol!!" so we would fight and whoop the heck out of them and put them in jail."

But Ed says their mission was always to assist people, not just arrest them.

"Our superiors preached it to us. Anyone with a flat, any person without gasoline. We had a courtesy can. I have an old can in my garage. We would put a gallon of gas in the car, finally won them over."

Ed served in World War II, as Choctaw County Sheriff, and worked on a family ranch in his life. He now lives alone in Hugo, but some of his fondest memories come from a time when he helped pave the way for modern traffic safety.

The Oklahoma State Legislature honored Ed Vandergriff last week at the State Capitol. He says 97 years have snuck up on him. His advice for long life -- try to avoid dangerous situations, and watch what you eat.

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  • by Dorothy Location: Herman on Apr 11, 2009 at 03:29 PM
    Charles Edgar “Ed” Vandergriff II, age 98, of Hugo, Okla., died Monday, March 30, 2009. He was born Sept. 7, 1910, in Abilene, Texas, the son of Charles Edgar and Lucretia Elizabeth (Herman) Vandergriff. Ed moved to Soper, Okla., with his parents in 1914. Ed was the class president at Soper High School where he also excelled in basketball, taking him to Murray State. He was class president at Murray Junior College in Tishomingo, Okla., and at the Traffic Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. Ed married Nora Ramsey Massengale on Feb. 13, 1942, in Hot Springs, Ark. He served his country in the United States Army Air Corps from 1943-1945 in China, Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, Manchuria and Japan. Ed was briefly a member of the U.S. Border Patrol near El Paso, Texas. He was one of the first original Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officers when they were organized in 1937 and had served for 22 years from then until 1960. He was a retired captain for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
  • by Dorothy Herman Location: White Salmon , Washington on May 27, 2008 at 12:42 AM
    Thanks for the nice article. Ed Vandergriff is my dad's cousin. Congratulations to Ed!!
  • by Ruby Pantalone Location: Keizer, Oregon on May 26, 2008 at 09:44 PM
    Ed was my dad's cousin (Wiley Herman). I have been working on the HERMAN family history for several years and I do have some of Ed's memory's in it, but I hope to get more of them.
  • by mandy stepp Location: durant on May 21, 2008 at 10:13 AM
    i grew up in hugo. ed's wife rita was my 1st grade teacher. i have very fond memories of ed comming to the class to see everyone if anyone deserved this honor it would be ed hope you live many more years ed and i hope your life is filled with nothing but happiness
  • by Karyn Location: Kingston on May 14, 2008 at 09:35 AM
    I hope someone records this man and all of his stories. I enjoyed watching this segment and would like to see KXII do more stories like this.
  • by Linda Location: Springtown, TX on May 14, 2008 at 08:14 AM
    I have fond memories of my teen years at Soper High and running around in an old jalopy owned by Noel McPhearson. Anywhere from 4 to 6 of us would squeeze into that 1-seated jalopy (after having first pushed it to get it started) and go zooming down Hwy 70 between Soper & Hugo. I have no idea how many times Ed Vandergriff pulled us over. We respected Officer Vandergriff and we also knew that he knew our folks! He never gave us a ticket or hauled us in. Instead, we got a quiet lecture. We always behaved ourselves after that (at least, until the next time). Highway Patrolman Ed Vandergrif will always remain part of my fondest memories while growing up at Soper during the 50s. We love you Ed and when we have reunions or just get together, our experiences with you on Highway 70 seem to always bring smiles.
  • by Marion Snow Elwell Location: Hideaway Texas on May 14, 2008 at 07:31 AM
    I am the daughter of Mildred and John Edge of Soper and remember Mr Vandergriff well. He was helpful to several of my family members over the years. He deserves this honor.
  • by sheilah Location: hugo on May 14, 2008 at 04:09 AM
    Mr. Vandergriff is a very kind man. May God continue to bless you.
  • by MR. X Location: TX on May 13, 2008 at 07:57 PM
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