School foundation receives million-dollar gift

Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

THOMAS, Okla. (AP) _ A Dewey County farmer and rancher who dropped out of school after the fourth grade has left nearly $1.1 million of her estate to the Thomas School Foundation.

The gift was made by the late Hazel B. Cross, who died on July 21 at the age of 90. Seventy-five percent of the interest drawn from the money will go toward college scholarships for students in the Thomas-Custer-Fay School District. The other 25 percent will be set aside to help teachers with special projects.

``She was more of the quiet type, having been on a ranch most of her life,'' said C.B. Graft, a longtime Clinton attorney. ``But she really loved it whenever she could help kids. She had a heart of gold.''

She spent her life in the rural countryside that surrounds Thomas, a remote Custer County community of about 1,200 people. She married Henry Cross, and together they survived The Great Depression to build a successful 2,240-acre cattle ranch.

Graft said he remembered Hazel Cross as a hard worker, a woman who labored continuously ``like a field hand'' alongside her husband. She drove a tractor, managed the household and tended to livestock.

Once she entered Graft's office covered with bruises and cuts.

``I said, 'My word, Hazel, what happened to you?' '' Graft recalled. ``She told me she had been trapped by a bull in a gorge and had been gored. ... She lived a tough life.''

Good fortune blessed the couple during the 1970s and '80s when gas and oil companies sought land to lease. The couple parlayed their acreage into a small fortune.

But Hazel Cross _ one of 10 siblings _ never had any children of her own to share her money.

``We drew up several wills over the years,'' Graft said. ``She always left her money to her living siblings, but one by one they died off until only one sister remained _ an 87-year-old woman living in California. Finally, she decided to leave her money to a non-profit organization.

``And Hazel always placed an emphasis on local.''

Cross once donated $20,000 to help build a new library in Thomas, a town seven miles from the rural schoolhouse she attended as a child. The town named the library in her honor.

On another occasion, Cross donated property for a Custer City senior citizens center.

``Hazel also owned rental houses,'' Graft said. ``At one time she owned as many as 14 or 15 different rental homes, and if people couldn't make their payments one month, she didn't worry about it.

``She was that kind of lady.''