By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Canadian County icons Charles and Cherri Brandley celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this spring.
Throughout many decades, people across this county have come to realize just how “golden” they are.
An El Reno native, Charles is a former crop duster, pilot, farmer, and two-term Canadian County commissioner.
Cherri, whose roots are in Okarche, spent 33 years as a judge’s bailiff at the Canadian County courthouse.
The Brandley property is on Smith Road West, about four miles west of Country Club Road on the south side of Interstate 40.
The farm has been in the family for more than 100 years.
Charles’ great-grandfather Charles “Charlie” Brandley – known to everyone as “Pop” – settled the family farm southeast of El Reno. Interestingly, his wife’s family had settled right across the road.
Pop Brandley ended up selling that farm and buying another one at the southwest quarter of Section 22 T12 R8W, which he later expanded.
“My grandpa, Warne Brandley, lived his whole life there and raised all his kids there,” Charles shared. “He bought the northwest quarter and northeast quarter in that section – and another quarter a mile east. That’s where we’re at right now.
“After I was born (in August 1942) at the hospital in El Reno, this is where my folks brought me home. It had an old two-story house, round-top tin barn, an outdoor toilet and a chicken house.”
The son of Vernon and Bobbie Brandley, Charles has been on the family homestead much of his life. He’s seen first-hand Canadian County’s growth over eight decades.
“Canadian County has been very, very good to me,” he said. “I’ve never, ever wanted to be anyplace else.
“I just grew up on this farm. That’s part of being an old farm boy. You just kind of stay put.”
CHARLES AND CHERRI
Charles Brandley met future wife Cherri in fall 1970 at a dance club “The Birdcage” in Oklahoma City. They tied the knot less than six months later; Charles already had two daughters from a previous marriage.
After Charles and Cherri were married on March 24, 1971, they lived in Bethany and Ardmore before moving to Okarche in mid-1972.
In 1981, the family settled into a new house they built on the 200-acre Brandley farm – where they’ve been ever since. Charles’ mother Bobbie, who turns 99 in January, lives on the estate.
Cherri (Maass) Brandley was born in the former Okarche hospital and grew up on a farm northwest of Okarche.
Cherri was a cheerleader for three years in high school. With no interest in attending college, she immediately went to work at an Okarche medical clinic after returning from her senior trip.
“I got a job as a medical transcriptionist,” Cherri related. “I had never heard such words in my life. But I was a self-taught medical transcriptionist a total of 11 years at the Okarche Clinic.”
She was working as a medical transcriptionist at the McBride Orthopedic Hospital in Oklahoma City when she met Charles.
After two years there, Cherri went to work in April 1981 as a bailiff at the Canadian County Courthouse.
Her career included 25 years with Judge John Wolking and seven years with Judge Jack D. McCurdy after her first year with Judge Stanley Payne Pierce. She retired in February 2014.
Cherri’s family remains strongly tied to Okarche, where she and Charles are faithful members of St. John’s Lutheran Church.
“Cherri was raised in that church, and I joined shortly after we got married,” Charles said.
When the Brandleys were married, Charles went to work for ACCO Feeds in Oklahoma City.
“They moved me to Ardmore, and we didn’t like it down there because it was too far from family,” Charles shared. “So, we came back here, and I worked for L.D. Todd out at the Calumet Y farm store for six years.
“It was a military surplus; they also had a fertilizer and chemical business, and grain elevators. They had three stores. I took care of the spray planes.”
After leaving there, Charles worked a year at Ralston Purina’s dog food plant in Edmond.
Milton Pitts, a crop duster who Charles met at the Calumet Y farm store, called and offered to help Charles get into the aerial-spraying business.
“I had a pilot’s license,” he said. “Cherri wasn’t too crazy about me becoming a crop duster. I did that for 12 years and then I told Cherri one evening (in 1990) that I’d like to run for county commissioner.
“She jumped all over that, to get me out of that airplane.”
The campaign for District 3 Canadian County commissioner was Charles’ first run for political office.
“I had a lot of good help, and a lot of family support,” he said.
Charles Brandley defeated incumbent Troy Denwalt to become the new District 3 county commissioner in 1991. He went on to serve two, four-year terms.
“I found out, a lot of the things that I had complained about to the commissioners most of my life were not their fault – how the money comes in and where it goes,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time as county commissioner.”
While in office, Charles served alongside commissioners Larry LaFoe, Don Young, Stanley Wallace, and Monty Keely.
Among Commissioner Brandley’s major accomplishments were building several bridges in District 3 and buying property for a voter-approved county juvenile detention facility on Highway 66.
During the mid-‘90s, Charles was an integral member of an all-volunteer committee that raised funds to construct the Freedom Trail accessible playground in Yukon City Park.
“It was a lot of fun and I still think it’s a great place,” he said.
At an initial Freedom Trail planning meeting around 1993, Charles signed up to provide tools and equipment since he had a tractor and post-hole digger.
“It ended up, we needed a lot more equipment than that,” he recalled.
A skid steer loader with pallet forks and bucket was required to install the first section of the all-inclusive playground.
So, the county commissioner reached out to the owner of Central New Holland who provided a new skid steer to use.
Twenty-five years after the Freedom Trail Playground was completed, Yukon city officials have announced plans to upgrade the playground as part of a federal grant-supported project.
Charles decided not to run for a third term as county commissioner. He was succeeded in 1999 by Grant Hedrick.
There have been only three District 3 Canadian County commissioners in the past 30 years – Brandley, Hedrick and now Jack Stewart.
After leaving county government service, Charles went to work for Doug Von Tungeln selling metal buildings.
“We did pretty well at that, I thought,” he said. “The last building that I sold was to GW & Son Auto Body in Oklahoma City. It was quite a job. It took us almost a year, from the dirt work to the finished building.
“They offered me a job to stay on there and help take care of the building. I went to work for them for several years. I told people I was the cleaning lady and building maintenance.”
LIFE AFTER CAREER
Retirement from full-time work finally came in 2007.
“I’ve always farmed a little,” Charles said. “I guess that was always in my blood, to be a farmer.”
He and Cherri enjoy spending time with daughters Amy, of El Reno, and Evelyn, of Austin, Texas; and granddaughter Rosemary of Oklahoma City.
Ken Reding on Nov. 13 conducted an auction sale at the El Reno farm property, liquidating tractors, lawn mowers, equipment, trailers, and tools.
Charles got to visit with many longtime friends and acquaintances who stopped by.
“I sold pretty much everything that was in the barn,” Charles said. “A 40-year accumulation of stuff.
“I was on my feet all day long and I talked until I was getting hoarse.”
Having the Brandley name carries a lot of weight in Canadian County.
“When I ran for county commissioner, there were people I never met who voted for me because they knew my dad when he worked out at the (El Reno) reformatory,” Charles noted. “And a lot of them knew my grandpa, who was a Massey-Harris tractor dealer back in the late 1930s.
“I had one guy tell me, ‘I can remember back in World War II, your great grandpa was on the tire rationing board and he got me a tire when I blew a tire on my truck’. You couldn’t buy one; you had to go through the tire rationing board to get one. And that’s why he voted for me.”
Charles likes telling people something he learned from his grandpa.
“’Shut the damn gate, we don’t know when we’ll be back’,” he shared. “And that’s a quote, I promise you.
“If you leave it open, the cows are going to be all over the yard.”