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“Happy" John Oliver

The following article is from the Winfield Courier of January 16, 1943.
“Happy” John Oliver, 78 year old Negro of Arkansas City, who personally keeps happy 750 of Uncle Sam’s lads in uniform, lived “the happiest day of my life” Wednesday when he spent the afternoon at Strother army air field, new basic flying school located midway between Arkansas City and Winfield.
It was Oliver’s first visit to any army camp since the days of 1898, when he saw action in the Spanish-American War.
Last year the venerable “Happy” mailed out to the boys in the service all over the world over 700 cakes, and many other gifts—cookies, candy, cigarettes, stationery—and he wrote them thousands of cards and letters to do his part in keeping up their morale.
It’s been pretty tough going sometimes, and one meal a day is about all he can afford, because “Happy’s” little shoe shine parlor isn’t any gold mine. But to the many who wonder how he carries on, he simply answers, “It’s a secret between God and me.”
Strother field impressed “Happy” no end and he watched the silver trainers zoom in for landings with a gleam in his eye.
“I’m too young to fly, yet,” chuckled the old Negro, who was born Feb. 29, 1864, a leap year, and thus has had only 18 birthdays. “When I get to be 20, I’ll go up.”
“Happy” visited every spot on the field—the theater, the gym, the living quarters, the mess hall, and the chapel which he described with bowed head as “the most beautiful place on the field..”
The cake idea isn’t a new one for “Happy,” who is the original old black chef on the Cream of Wheat package. He began his “hobby” in the last war, and merely picked up in 1942 where he left off. He sent out two cakes a day every day of last year and during the recent Christmas holidays, he bought and mailed dozens of fruit cakes, packed in marshmallows and pop corn.
Most of “his” boys are from Arkansas City, but there are 48 whom he doesn’t even know. The Arkansas City soldiers sent him names of their buddies who didn’t get any mail and he now drops them a card every day.
“I’m not doing half what these boys are doing for us,” says old “Happy.” “They’re giving their lives so we can lie down at night and sleep.”
“Happy” John Oliver reluctantly departed from Strother field late in the afternoon, going only because he had “fo’teen boys to take care of before I go to bed.” So back to his little shine shop he went, unwilling to take “a hundred dollars fo’ this day.”
It’s open house at the Silver Dime shine parlor anytime for “Happy’s” boys in uniform. Big, two-pound G. I. shoes are his specialty.

Cowley County Historical Society Museum