When Don Webster retired after more than 30 years as an educator -- including 11 years as band director at Pryor High School -- he wasn’t entirely sure what the future would hold. A talented musician and vocalist, Webster had thought about it a lot leading up to his retirement. He and his wife of more than 50 years, Merlene, would likely do some traveling together, spend some time with their 15 grandchildren, and enjoy the company of their many friends at the First United Methodist Church where they have been members since moving to Pryor in 1959. Never in a million years would he have guessed that one day he would become a master craftsman whose works of art would earn a name for himself from coast to coast and around the world. A native of tiny Deer Creek, Oklahoma, he and Merlene were high school sweethearts in the midst of World War II, when Don took his physical for the draft and prepared to leave for war. Fortunately for Webster, Truman dropped the bomb and the war was over shortly thereafter. With a band scholarship in one hand and a track scholarship in the other, Webster left for Oklahoma A&M University in Stillwater knowing that his future would lead him down one path or the other. He and Merlene married at mid-semester of his senior year of college and after graduation, they eventually settled in Tahlequah where Don taught high school band, but the thought of raising their children in a college town was not something they were looking forward to, which led them to Pryor. It was here where Don was hired by former Superintendent Hal Buchanan to replace outgoing band director Jim Gerard. “We liked the area from the beginning, especially the school system” said Webster, whose five children - - Jerry, Barbara, Bob, Mike and Patricia - - all graduated from Pryor High School. “I think we made a good choice.”
When hired, Webster was responsible for teaching all band students in the sixth through 12th grade. Among them was a scrawny sixth grade trumpet player named Roy Lee Jackson, who would grow up to follow in his mentor’s footsteps and become the most successful band director in school history. Webster would lead Pryor’s band program for 11 years before becoming high school principal and eventually assistant superintendent, a job he would hold until retiring in 1986. Which brings us back to the beginning. Not long after he retired, while eyeing a small wooden squirrel he had carved some time in mid 1970s, Webster got a wild hair one day to start carving on a chunk of wood and that wild hair led him to discover a new passion. Nearly two decades later, you can find his work in high-end galleries throughout the United States including hot spots like Taos, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Specializing in contemporary wildlife pieces, Webster regularly donates pieces to support the Pryor Academic Excellence Foundation, one of his favorite charities. “It’s relaxing,” he says. “I enjoy being creative and watching a work evolve from start to finish is a great feeling.” Sometimes the “Spirit of Mayes County” marches to a tune of a different beat. In the case of Pryor’s Don Webster, the music he creates with his sculptures is as beautiful as God’s animals they represent.
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