Dora native and her husband worked and mingled with country music greats
Growing up on the Ozark County farm south of Dora where she was born, Deloris Hill Tole probably could never have imagined that she would someday be living and working among the biggest names in country music. But that’s exactly how her life unfolded.
Deloris was born to Thelma Ousley Hill and Moss Hill. The Hills had six children: Deloris, Josephine, Jaqueline, Priscilla, Tommy and James. When she was in grade school, Deloris walked about 2 miles to the Odom one-room school. After she graduated from Bakersfield High School in 1948, she and her sister, Priscilla, moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and shared an upstairs apartment. The headquarters for Phillips Petroleum Company was located in Bartlesville, and Deloris worked in communications doing teletype work, which was like Western Union. All branches of the company used the teletype to communicate.
Sometime later, Priscilla’s husband, Corky, introduced Deloris to James Tole, who was also living in Bartlesville, working for the state. Before that, he had served about a year in the Air Force.
From her upstairs apartment window, Deloris saw James standing on the sidewalk below. She thought he was very handsome and said, “I’m gonna marry him.”
Three months later, she did.
“James never finished high school because he said it was boring. He quit his junior year. He was from Texas, so I called him a Texican,” Deloris said with a laugh. She and James were married in Bartlesville in 1950; they had been married 40 years when he died in 1990.
James was the oldest of five boys. The three oldest brothers, including James, all became professional musicians. Their mother played the piano. James played the electric bass and drums and began playing professionally in Bartlesville and all over the state of Oklahoma. In addition to performing, he operated Jim Tole Enterprises, a music publishing company. He also formed a partnership with Al Smith and June Moore to establish Tole-Smith Enterprises, a talent agency. Del Reeves, one of the top stars of country music in the 1960s, was one of the artists they signed.
James and Deloris had their first child, a daughter they named Barbara, in 1951. Their son Mark was born two years later. “When the kids were in elementary school, we left for Nashville,” Deloris said.
In Music City, James played at the Grand Ole Opry every weekend. It was the biggest gig of his life. At the Opry, he played behind all the artists who came there: country stars like Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, the Carter Family, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hank Williams Sr., Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynett, Jimmy Dickens, Del Reeves, Farron Young, Dottie West and Ferlin Husky. All of these artists were also guests in the Toles’ home, where there was usually a nightly jam session.
James played more with Ferlin Husky, known for his hit song “On the Wings of a Dove,” than with any other recording artist. James also went to Japan and played at the Tokyo Grand Ole Opry.
“We got to meet Elvis in Las Vegas,” Deloris said. “Ferlin was playing there the week after Elvis. We got there a few days early, and Elvis was still performing. We were sitting in front of the stage. He came over afterward and shook hands and spoke to several audience members. He shook my hand too.”
She and James also met Patsy Cline backstage and took her picture.
It was normal for James and Deloris to have musicians at their house most nights. One night a new musician was there. After everyone left, Deloris told James the new guy would never make it in the music business.
The man’s name?
Deloris says she has laughed and laughed at just how wrong she was.
After James retired, around 1988, he and Deloris came back to Ozark County and settled on the land on H Highway south of Dora where Deloris was born. Her sister Jo Reed, her nephew Landon and her grandson Jason Ross all live on the family farm in close proximity. She and James built a house and started the Crossroads Store at Highway 181 and H but later sold the business.
Tragically, James was killed in a tractor and brush-hog accident in 1990. The Toles’ son, Mark, and daughter, Barbara, have both passed away too.
Deloris, now 87, still lives on the family farm, treasuring the many fond memories of her life in Ozark County – and beyond.