There were the broomcorn cutters, known more familiarly as “johnny-hands”; the practice of rising early to work in the cotton, broomcorn and maize fields before the summer heat and humidity became almost unbearable; the time she sat perched on the front seat beside her dad as he drove to the stockyards in Oklahoma City to buy cattle; and the lessons in milking acquired under her father’s expert tutelage.
She also remembers her mom’s delicious down home meals; time spent playing with her Barbie dolls; schooldays at Cox City, where three classrooms accommodated eight grades; and the hours on the basketball court at Bray High School, where she was one of the smallest girls on the team.
At that time, both of the school’s basketball squads were called the Bray Donkeys. “We didn’t say ‘Lady Donkeys’ back then,” Rita advised.
She also recalls how that, during harvest season, her parents would leave the fields long enough to attend her games, then return to their harvesting when the final buzzer sounded.
Such was the simple, but very meaningful, life of farm girls like Rita Worley in those days.
Loving homeWhen the tiny, dark-eyed baby introduced herself to this world at Talley-Walker Hospital in October 1953, Loren and Ruby Joe Worley already had three daughters and were hoping for a son. Ruby Joe would later relish telling others that Dr. W.K. Walker informed her the new arrival was “another girl just like Loren.”
“Just like Loren” meant she had brown eyes and dark hair.
Rita was the Worleys’ last child; and as the baby of the family, she was “just a little bit” spoiled. “I was definitely daddy’s girl,” she said, adding that her early years were heavily punctuated with “Barbie dolls and ‘tracking’ after my daddy,” who, she noted, worked “from sunup to sundown” and developed an ulcer from worrying about his crops.
Loren Worley was truly a man of the soil who “enjoyed farming to the day he died,” Rita observed, although the pleasure in his twilight years was limited to listening to younger farmers discussing their experiences.
Ruby Joe was a delightful, down-to-earth, outgoing woman who knew no strangers.
Together, the two of them provided a warm, loving environment for their four girls.
“My memories of my childhood are priceless. That they are—” Rita confirmed, “they’re priceless. I was in a very loving, Christian home.”
Loren and Ruby Joe are gone now, but there still exists an unshakeable bond and closeness between their daughters.
“I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my sisters,” Rita confessed.
Gaynell Tugmon of Duncan, Kathy Hill of Marlow, Karen Houston of Bray and Rita can always depend on each other—rejoicing together in the good times, and shouldering the burden together in the bad.
Traditions, like the annual family gathering at Christmas, are important. Rita and her granddaughters bake Christmas cookies every year, then the boys join them for the decorating process.
The four Worley girls take a weekend “sister-trip” every year around Labor Day. Destinations have ranged from Frisco, Texas, to Guthrie; and this year for the first time, their daughters accompanied them.
Bailey/Bray girlRita grew up in a farmhouse just down the road from what was then Bailey Missionary Baptist Church, which the Worley family attended faithfully.
At Bray High School, she was an A/B student and a member of the National Honor Society. She and classmate Wayne Turner became engaged during Christmas break their senior year.
After graduating in 1971, Rita attended Red River Vo-Tech in Duncan for a year. Then on April 14, 1972, she and Wayne were married at Bray Missionary Baptist Church. Their first year of marriage was spent in Fairfield, California, where Wayne was stationed with the U.S. Air Force.
Following Wayne’s military discharge, the young couple returned to Bray, where they rented an acreage and began farming, cultivating peanuts, cotton and Sudan hay.
Rita recalled that they bought their first tractor, a “poppin’ John,” (John Deere) from her uncle George Richardson.
As far as the crops were concerned, “I didn’t have to do a lot, but I helped,” she said. One of her responsibilities during harvest was pulling peanut trailers to Rush Springs.
Her realm of responsibility consisted primarily of the home and children—and feeding the hungry laborers who came in from the field to put their feet under her table. In addition to Wayne, this starving bunch included their two sons, Loren, Wayne’s dad, Rita’s nephews and a hired hand.
“I had a table full of men,” she quipped. “If they saw spoons, they knew it was pudding time.”
The Turners had three children.
Brad, the oldest, was born in 1974. He lives in Comanche and has given Rita two grandsons, Breyden and Bryse.
Colby joined the family in 1976. He and his wife Julie make their home in Marlow. They have a daughter, M’Kailey, and three sons, Byron, Ty and Maverick. Colby teaches and coaches in the Grandview schools, and Julie teaches and coaches at Marlow High.
Daughter Krystal was born in 1979. She and her husband, Jeff Edgmon, own a ranch outside Walters, where Krystal teaches special education in the schools. The Edgmons have three daughters, Macie, Kynlee and Mylee.
Wayne and Rita moved into Marlow in 1998, not long after Krystal finished high school.
Empty nestTo address the empty-nest syndrome after her youngest left for college, Rita hired on with Delta’s Head Start program in January 1998 as the teacher’s aide at the Marlow site on Railroad Street.
That fall, the local program was relocated to the grade school campus.
At some point, Rita had taken basic college courses at Cameron; and in 2000, she earned an online associate’s degree in early-childhood education from Ashworth College. Around the same time, she became director of the Marlow Head Start program.
In 2004, she and Wayne were divorced.
Rita has since earned a BS in management from Ashworth and is currently pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, this one in early-childhood education.
Her sister Kathy has a theory—Rita’s work with children is part of God’s plan for her life because He knew she would be good at it.
Leisure activities include working in the yard (“that’s my big thing,” she confided); supporting the grandkids in their activities; following OSU football and Thunder basketball; and scrapbooking, when she has sufficient incentive.
Since Colby was 11, Rita has shared her home with a Schnauzer. Her current companion is a white Schnauzer named Abby.
Giving kidsRita has worked for Head Start for 15 years, 13 of those as Marlow’s site director. At present, she receives assistance from co-teacher Misty Wood and the class’s foster grandmother, Ardyth Burk.
a head start
a head start
Each year, her class consists of 19 students. Head Start is not a glorified babysitting program. Rita and her staff prepare their charges for the next step in their education by teaching them the rudiments of reading, writing, math and science.
The Head Start program promotes a safe and nurturing environment where children are given intentional opportunities to develop social and cognitive skills.
The program recognizes that parents are their children’s most important teachers and therefore strives to engage them in their children’s educational process. Head Start also helps them discover community resources that can help them attain their family goals of education, literacy and employment.
The program’s goals address social and emotional development, language and literacy, physical development and health, and the beginnings of math and science.
Now, “Miss Rita” is a loving teacher who blends patience with discipline, each in its turn. It seems every year, one or two of the children present their own unique challenges. At the end of the school day, she’s often worn out, and some days, even a little stressed.
But she wouldn’t exchange the job for any other. She’s making a difference in little lives—and what could be better than that? Having grown up with unconditional love and a sense of security, she is fully aware of the powerful impact such things can have on the life of a child.
“Each moment is a teaching moment, and you never know when you are making memories for a child,” she surmised.
“I love my job. I love those babies. And I get hugs and kisses.”
And sometimes runny noses.