By Hayden Alexander
On July 15, 1905, Jenks Oklahoma was founded along the banks of the Arkansas River. Over the past 116 years, Jenks has continued to grow, and as the town expands, so does its history. The only problem with having such a rich past is finding a place to catalog the goings-on of a town like Jenks. Our Chamber of Commerce has a webpage detailing the basic history of the city, but the meat of the story lies within the people of Jenks. The stories that make this town what it is today are hidden away on dusty bookshelves, piled high in stacks of photo albums, and lost within distant memories. It seems like it would take an army to locate every last piece of Jenks history, but all it took was one Facebook Page.
The Jenks, OK History Group Facebook page was started on January 19th, 202l by former Jenks Chamber President Annette Bowles in order to get an idea of how many people would actually be interested in archiving Jenks’s history.
“My number one goal was to find out if there was a community need,” says Bowles.
Since the history page’s debut over 2,300 people have joined, with 132 joining this past week. In the last month there have been roughly 2,636 new posts, all of which show off the history of Jenks. Photos and stories of Main Street, the school, and the people who built this town from the ground up are being shared by the community. Everyone is getting to see the history of their family, neighbors’ and the town that they never had before.
“I even almost cry because you see families have never even seen pictures of their ancestors,” says Bowles, “now they are seeing them for the first time because somebody else had them.”
History is very important to Bowles who worked for the Jenks Chamber for six years, and served as the chamber president for a few of those years. Bowles, and others, attempted to think of a way to archive and preserve all the unique items and perspectives citizens would bring to them.
“We were thinking about that because a lot of residents would bring things to us they wanted to donate and we did not have the room,” says Bowles.
With limited resources and only a small house for office space, Bowles and her colleagues didn’t have the room or the support from the city to collect all that was donated.
“The city at that point was just not in the right place to be able to take on something like that, because they were really working on growth for the city,” says Bowles.
Years later having worked for multiple non-profits, volunteer programs, and the Jenks Aquarium Bowles had been enjoying retirement, when a Jenks City Official asked Bowels if she would be interested in starting a museum in Jenks.
“This is something I have been dying to do,” says Bowles, “I told her to let me think about it and let me see if the community would even be interested.”
The community is interested, and with the success of the Facebook page, next comes the plans for a museum.
“I had no idea it would take off like that,” says Bowles, “It told us and told them that wow there is a need.”
A possible museum is going to be a huge undertaking for Bowles and her colleagues. The Jenks OK History Group was just the first step. Now there is a whole new set of obstacles awaiting the intrepid historians. A location needs to be found, the decision to build or not to build made, logistics worked out, and funding is all needed to get the project up and running.
“It’s early,” says Bowles, “We are learning, but this Facebook page has told everybody that people are very interested in this.”
People (especially the citizens of Jenks) according to Bowles should be very interested in their own history and a museum could satisfy their curiosity.
“When I went to work for the chamber…that’s when I was finally able to understand the history of this town and it was pretty amazing,” says Bowles.
Bowles’ Facebook page has been very successful in helping others form major connections, foster new discoveries, and provide an understanding of Jenks’ history. Every other photo is an old class picture of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Stories give us a glimpse into life on Main Street and what was at the time.
There are even a plethora of photos detailing life at JHS over the years.
“It’s important to know what your history is especially for your generation,” says Bowles, “Knowing where you came from and what your ancestors are all about.”
Speaking of our generation, Bowles hopes to inspire JHS students to help get the museum-going when and if the project takes off, especially the tech-savvy ones. With the increase in photos and donations to the museum project, who better than student volunteers to assist in archiving it all?
“I know we are going to need help with this initial start-up,” says Bowles “So I could see where this would be a huge fun project for Jenks students to help us with, I’d love that.”
Thanks to the Jenks OK History Group Facebook page, the citizens of Jenks, and organizers like Annette Bowles, the idea of a place to display all Jenks has to offer is becoming more and more realistic. While the museum is still an idea, one must remember that all great things in history were once just an idea.
“I think these stories need to be told and the people are telling the stories.” Says Bowles.
The Jenks OK History Group can be found on Facebook. By joining the group you can learn about the city’s history and possibly contribute some history of your own. Make sure to check out the group guidelines before starting on your journey!