He was a country boy who came to the big city and inherited big shoes to fill. But fill them he did, leaving his own legacy of progressive education. In the 1940s he was a policymaker as country fought country on the battlefields. In the 1950s he was a peacemaker as students fought students on the parking lots.
Oscar Dean Wyatt was born on a farm in Van Zandt County in 1892. He attended school at Canton and Tyler, graduated from Tyler High School in 1911.
Hard-pressed for money after his father died, to continue his education at William L. Mayo’s East Texas Normal College (today Texas A&M University–Commerce), Wyatt gave Mayo a horse and agreed to work as a waiter for a year’s board and tuition. Wyatt then began his teaching career in east Texas rural schools.
The year 1917 was a big one for O. D. Wyatt. While attending North Texas State Normal College (today University of North Texas) in Denton he met Lollie Lee Dillard.
On May 29, 1917, the day O. D. and Lollie graduated, they got married. Officating at the wedding was M. H. Moore, Fort Worth schools superintendent. Best man was Moore’s son Joe P. Moore, who would become Fort Worth schools superintendent in 1946.
Also in 1917, as Wyatt’s 1917 draft registration card shows, after graduation and marriage Wyatt served as superintendent of the Knox City schools (150 miles northwest of Fort Worth).
But by 1918 Wyatt was in the big city. What a culture shock the change must have been for the young man from Canton. His previous job was in Knox City, with a population of about 700. Fort Worth’s population was about 100,000.
In a public school system, principals are like soldiers: They rise in the ranks by serving where they are assigned. O. D. Wyatt was no exception. He began his career in Fort Worth education by being assigned to teach at Stephen F. Austin School in the Sixth Ward.
By 1919 he was assistant principal at the Austin School.
But while assistant principal he doubled as a coach. In the City Interscholastic League track competition in 1920, coach Wyatt’s team won the Massie Trophy, beating Alexander Hogg School and Van Zandt School.
By 1920 the Wyatts were living in this house on Avenue L in Poly. They would live there eleven years.
In 1921 Wyatt became principal of the A. J. Chambers School (now part of the I. M. Terrell school campus) in the Third Ward. Two years later Wyatt returned to Stephen F. Austin School as principal.
In 1924 Wyatt was named principal of E. M. Daggett Elementary School (later a junior high school). Meanwhile Wyatt spent seven summers at Colorado State Teachers College, where he served on the faculty and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
In 1931 the Wyatts moved from Avenue L to 3032 Willing Avenue just a few blocks east of Paschal High School.
In 1932 Wyatt became principal of North Side High School.
Three years later Robert Lee Paschal retired after forty-one years as a principal (twenty-nine of them at Fort Worth High/Central High). Central High School was renamed in his honor. Central High/Paschal High at that time was located in the building today occupied by Green B. Trimble Technical High School on Cannon Street on the near South Side. (In 1955 R. L. Paschal High School would move into the W. P. McLean Junior High School building on Forest Park Boulevard, and the junior high would move to a new building on Stadium Drive. I know, I know—it’s complicated.)
John F. Bateman replaced R. L. Paschal as principal of Paschal’s namesake school.
But five years later, in 1940, O. D. Wyatt was named principal of Paschal High School, moving from a school with 1,400 students to a school with 2,400 students.
O. D. Wyatt the policymaker immediately began making changes at Paschal High. One of his first innovations was the homecoming celebration. But Wyatt found that Paschal High did not have a school song. What’s a homecoming without a school song? So, Wyatt urged students to come up with one. Tom Reeder’s “Hail, Dear Old Paschal” was chosen.
Ex-students of not only Paschal High but also Fort Worth High and Central High were invited back to the school for the first homecoming. (The oldest ex-student attending Paschal’s first homecoming had graduated in 1899.) Events included a pep rally (featuring one hundred former cheerleaders) and a dance in addition to the twenty-fourth annual football game between Paschal and North Side High. (Paschal lost 41-6.)
O. D. Wyatt was not done innovating.
He also altered the school’s grade point system to allow students to earn letters for scholarship and service to the school.
He instituted an honor system: no tardy bells, no detention halls, no demerits, no teachers patrolling the halls between classes.
He removed the iron bar in the lunchroom that segregated students by gender.
And then there were his “arson passes.” Star-Telegram entertainment columnist Elston Brooks, a student under Wyatt in 1944-1947, recalled that Wyatt issued “arson passes” that allowed students who presented signed consent from parents to leave the school grounds to smoke cigarettes.
On occasion Paschal students also heard Wyatt’s voice on the public address system as he announced an impromptu outdoor pep rally. The entire student body would go outside and walk around the campus as students cheered on the football team before a big game.
Wyatt instituted a weekly after-class “jam session” in the gym, where students could jitterbug and rhumba to their feet’s delight as songs were played on the seven-disk phonograph in Wyatt’s office.
Wyatt also played deejay during the school day. Three minutes before the end of the school day, students might hear Wyatt announce on the PA system: “Everybody relax now. I want to play you a little music.”
Then he would play a song—ranging from classical to “Tuxedo Junction”—on a phonograph.
At the end of the song students would hear O. D. the deejay intone, “Good-bye.”
He also might broadcast a World Series game to the manual training class or to PE classes.
Principals lead not just with policy but also with words. Just as Poly High principal C. A. (“Mr. T”) Thompson urged his students to “remember who you are and where you’re from,” O. D. Wyatt urged his students to “do right because it is right to do right.”
Actually O. D. Wyatt was not the first O. D. Wyatt to walk the halls of that school building on Cannon Street. In 1935—R. L. Paschal’s last year as principal—son Oscar Dean Wyatt Jr. had graduated. In January 1942 a school assembly was called at Paschal High to announce that second lieutenant O. D. Wyatt Jr., twenty-three, had been killed in the Philippines.
In 1946 Wyatt shook hands with 296 graduating seniors in Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. The 297th hand he shook was that of honor student Robert Humphreys at Harris Hospital.
After the war, rivalry between Fort Worth schools began to seep from playing fields onto parking lots. Students formed the All-School Better Relations Organization to eliminate “vandalism” and “rowdiness” at athletic events. O. D. Wyatt and Poly High’s Mr. T were sponsors of the BRO. Rowdiness was curtailed, and the BRO was disbanded in 1949. Mission accomplished.
Or not. In 1956 students and ex-students from Poly High and Paschal High “brawled” after a Poly High-North Dallas High basketball game in the Fort Worth public schools fieldhouse next to Farrington Field.
The Star-Telegram wrote: “Witnesses said the tangle was touched off when a Poly graduate student suddenly slugged Cullum Greene Jr., a Paschal student, as he was leaving the gym.”
The Press wrote that some Paschal students and ex-students had been in the stands cheering for North Dallas High.
The Press wrote: “Cullum Greene Jr., a Paschal student, said he was with a group of youths who chanted ‘Poor Poly.’ ‘A fellow came up and slapped me two or three times,’ he said. ‘A boy with me swung on him. Then a bunch of Poly students and Paschal students jumped in. I left. I didn’t want to get into a fight.’”
Other teens were less reluctant. A brawl broke out. Poly High’s Mr. T later said that five hundred students were present but that 475 were “doing nothing but watching.”
Nonetheless, nineteen police cars and one sheriff’s car responded. One officer was trampled, and the roof of one spectator’s car was dented.
Police used a loud speaker to address the teenagers and convince them to disperse.
The Star-Telegram reported that “several students” were hospitalized.
The Star-Telegram added: “Police kept a close check on two drive-ins on the south and east sides [Carlson’s and the Clover?] after the free-for-all. Both places are favorite hang-outs for the two schools.”
Police also kept an eye on a Lone Star drive-in restaurant in the 6500 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard, where two hundred “milling” teenagers gathered but remained peaceful.
Teenagers also barricaded the 4700 block of East Lancaster Avenue, stopped traffic, and set off road flares. (Another Lone Star drive-in restaurant was located at 4700 East Lancaster.)
Meanwhile Paschal High coach Charlie Turner told two hundred boys gathered at “a South Side drive-in” (Carlson’s?) to disperse. Nonetheless a fight broke out, and seven students were arrested.
The next day, after the dust and Clearasil had settled, principals Wyatt and Thompson each appointed eight boys from his respective school to attend a “peace meal” to “break bread” (not heads) and try to improve Poly-Paschal relations.
The two principals also discussed reviving their 1946 All-School Better Relations Organization. And in a scene that seems right out of Happy Days, Wyatt and Mr. T announced that they planned to discuss the problem while fishing together.
In 1957 O. D. Wyatt and Mr. T met yet again, this time with athletic director Herman Clark (as in the FWISD stadium on Wichita Boulevard), after students from the two schools engaged in “an egg-tossing incident” during a basketball game in which forty-three fouls were called, followed by “a gang fight outside the gym.” Night baseball games between the two schools were suspended for a semester.
Fast-forward to 1958. Another year, another round of rowdiness. After “a number of fights during and after the Paschal-Poly game,” principals Wyatt and Mr. T were again among Fort Worth educators discussing ways to prevent after-game violence among students. Wyatt raised the possibility of suspending the teams of schools whose students were “involved in gang fights.” Mr. T suggested segregating students of opposing teams on opposite sides of the stadium. To which Wyatt said that segregated students would simply unsegregate later at drive-in restaurants.
(Poly High students took up a collection to help defray the medical expenses of Charles Grisham.)
Photos of O. D. Wyatt are from the 1954 Paschal Panther yearbook.
In 1958 retired principal Robert Lee Paschal died. O. D. Wyatt, who had filled Paschal’s shoes since 1940, was a pallbearer.
Four years later, in 1962, O. D. Wyatt retired after forty-four years as an educator in Fort Worth.
Mayor John Justin declared Wyatt’s seventieth birthday to be “O. D. Wyatt Day” in Fort Worth.
An editorial the Star-Telegram said: “Mr. Wyatt’s devotion to education and to his Fort Worth assignments has been such that the city owes him its gratitude.”
Schools superintendent Joe P. Moore, who had been Wyatt’s best man in 1917, said, “O. D. Wyatt has helped more individual students over hard bumps than any man I know.”
More than four hundred of Wyatt’s thousands of former students honored him at a dinner at Colonial Country Club.
Current Paschal High students presented him with a new pickup and camper top.
Wyatt said of the show of appreciation: “You’ve made retiring very pleasant. It compares favorably with Splash Day in Galveston.”
And there was one more show of appreciation. In 1965 the school board voted to name a new high school for Wyatt. At the same time the board voted to name a new school for brothers Marvin and O. B. Leonard.
The Wyatt school building would be designed by Joseph Pelich and would be built a mile south of Wyatt’s home.
In 1967 O. D. and Lollie Wyatt celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
O. D. Wyatt High School opened on September 9, 1968. Architect Joseph Pelich had died on July 19.
Four years later O. D. Wyatt died at the age of seventy-nine.
Oscar Dean Wyatt, who during forty-one years as a principal made policy and made peace, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
And now the rest of the story:
In 1945 the Wyatts had moved from a city lot on Willing Avenue to acreage on Old Mansfield Road in southeast Fort Worth just west of Glen Garden Country Club.
But look at the 1967 story about Oscar Dean and Lollie Wyatt celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Notice their home address: 2354 Lollita. I had never heard of a street in Fort Worth named “Lollita.” Double-l. Unusual spelling. Until you compare it with “Lollie.” That made me curious.
Sure enough, I found Lollita Court immediately west of Old Mansfield Road. And lookee there: Right below Lollita Court is Wyatt Court.
Yes, O. D. Wyatt the educator was also O. D. Wyatt the developer, at least on a small scale. And he was O. D. Wyatt the sentimentalist on a larger scale. In 1955 he developed some of his acreage on Old Mansfield Road. And as developer he got to name the streets in his subdivision. He gave to two streets his surname and a derivative of his wife’s Christian name. And see Faett Court? The Wyatts’ daughter was named “Wanda Fay.” Oh, and see Stardust Lane? Not long after O. D. Wyatt lost his son in the war, Paschal High students began hearing a certain song played often on the school’s PA system, especially at the end of the school day. The song reminded Wyatt of his son. For the next twenty years that song would be Paschal High’s second school song. That song was . . . “Stardust.”
“Sometimes I wonder why
I spend the lonely nights
Dreaming of a song . . .”
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As a Paschal alum (class of 74), we heard the older teachers wax poetic about Mr. Wyatt and his honor system. All of his teachers loved and respected Mr. Wyatt. In the few years between his Era and ours, things apparently changed quite a bit, and that’s a sad thing. The infamous stories about the “60s kids” no doubt brought an end to the idyllic Wyatt days.Hail to thee Paschal, purple and white…..
It’s so pleasant that some Fort Worth schools are are named after such worthies.
No CSA traitors. Just dedicated teachers who became administrators.
Even generic geographical names are a relief. Eastern Hills and Westcliff beat anything named Jeff Davis or Robert E. Lee.
Good point, Sharon. I “hover” over Tarrant County virtually a lot, and nine times out of ten when I see a school or park whose name I do not recognize, it turns out to be that of a former school or city official.
I liked Mr. Wyatt. He understood kids. In 1961 he allowed me to build a cannon in shop. Fired it off in the yard and blew a few windows. In 1961-62 he allowed me to make an 18″ Bowie knife that was Chromed… it made the Star Telegram… He understood the artist in me more than anyone else and encouraged me to “Find your own way in life” I think he would be proud.
O.D. was my principal for 2 years and I went outside and watched the PTA present him with the camper for his retirement. There never ever was a principal any better than O.D Wyatt.