Article by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Dr. Benjamin Denison was practicing medicine in Indian Territory when his wife passed. He married again, this time to full-blood Choctaw Susan Oaks. Their two sons, Harry and Hilliard, were both members of the Choctaw Nation. Hilliard, born with a cleft palate, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Harry started his own family. His son, little Harry, was only two years old when his father tragically drowned.
Susan Oaks and her husband, Charles Denison with their sons
Harry (“Doc”) and Hilliard Denison (Girl’s name unknown.)
Little Harry, born in Idabel, Oklahoma in 1932, grew up with support and encouragement from his widowed mother. Determined to break out of poverty, he took his first job at Humpy and Amy’s Cafe when he was eight years old. He worked on asphalt roads, and followed the wheat harvest to Canada and back. He was one of those laborers known as “wheaties.”
Harry achieved his goal of going to college, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Benjamin by becoming a doctor upon graduating from Baylor College of Medicine. Harry went on to the University of Oklahoma for his residency in urology.
In high school, Harry had met Phyllis Jane Hardin. They married in his college years, and chose the small town of Denison to settle in, where Dr. Harry L. Denison was the only urologist between Oklahoma City and Dallas. He worked at Madonna hospital, the Katy (MKT railroad) hospital, and TMC (Texoma Medical Center), and also practiced medicine in Durant, Oklahoma for many years.
“He was always very proud of his Choctaw heritage,” says his daughter, Lea Denison Freemyer. “His uncle Hilliard, who worked for the Bureau of Indian affairs, helped my dad get us CDIB cards. Later in life, my dad did a Choctaw language class online. It was a very important part of who he was.”
Lea worked at his Denison office while in high school and summers in college. She witnessed how hardships in his childhood developed the work ethic he continued to show throughout his practice and his lifetime.
In the 1980s, when Reba McEntire came to Denison to raise money for Reba’s Ranch House, Lea’s parents looked forward to the event every year with dinner under the tent.
Dr. Harry Denison passed unexpectedly in Lea’s home, five years after his wife Phyllis’s passing. Lea and her brothers wanted to honor their memory and contacted Reba’s Ranch House about instituting the Granny and Doc Playground, as the couple was fondly called by their grandchildren. In 2017, Lea and her brothers contributed the initial funds for the playground.
“A playground on site allows a guest and their children to be outside in a protected area to work out some of their stress through play,” says Marilyn Bice, director of Reba’s Ranch House. “It is a small way for us to protect our children’s future mental health.”
From a medical practice in Indian Territory during the 19th century, through the 20th century in the states of Texas and the newly formed Oklahoma, to the 21st century with Lea’s son, Dr. Benjamin Denison Freemyer, this family works hard for the health of people in their communities. The Granny and Doc Playground continues that legacy.
Enjoy this special video of the new playground!