Few people could tell you his real name, but anyone who’s lived in Claremore for more than a few years would know exactly who you meant if you told them you’d talked to “Junior.”
He was Jules DeGruy Jr., known as as “Mr. Information” and longtime Claremore goodwill ambassador.
If you ever met the chatty little man with the funny walk, you’d never forget him.
The man known by most as “Junior” passed away on Tuesday at age 86, leaving behind no relatives, but rather, a community full of people he considered friends.
“Junior came to Claremore about 45 years ago, I think, and the whole town kind of adopted him — or maybe it was him that adopted the whole town,” said Claremore Mayor Mickey Perry. “He was the friendliest person you’d meet and you’d never meet anyone who didn’t like him.
“Whenever I’d see him, he would tell me he was praying for us. He was praying for Claremore,” Perry said.
“If you think about it, indirectly, he was almost an inspiration to people around him. He walked every day as long as his health allowed him, meeting people, picking up people’s spirits, not letting his physical restrictions stop him. Everyone would get a smile on their face if they saw Junior coming.”
Born in Mississippi, DeGruy’s family moved often when he was young.
He lived in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana before he settled in Oklahoma City in 1935, where he was a longtime patient/resident at the Hospital for Crippled Children.
While in Oklahoma City, DeGruy had surgery to alleviate his crippled hand and leg and as he grew, he went from being the March of Dimes Poster Boy for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to being an active member of the Jr. Chamber of Commerce and was later named “Honorary Mayor of the City.”
By 1946, DeGruy graduated from Central High School and began a series of jobs which included helping his aunts and uncles in the restaurant business, to manning the elevators and handling clerk duties in the library at the state capitol.
During his time at the capital, DeGruy met and crossed paths with at host of celebrities, among them, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, Billy Graham and several state governors, including Henry Bellmon who greeted DeGruy by name at the dedication of the J.M. Davis Gun Museum.
By 1977, all DeGruy’s relatives had passed away and he moved from Oklahoma City to Claremore to “leave the sadness behind” and make a new start for himself.
Upon arrival into Claremore, DeGruy went to work at the old Will Rogers Hotel, where he ran the elevator and helped to set up and clean up for banquets.
He also found several odd jobs about town — clearing parking lots, cleaning up and keeping an eye on area businesses.
He later lived at and helped at Mrs. Carey’s hotel, the second floor room which had just reopened at the Ward Rooms Emporium (at 302 1/2 Will Rogers).
Although he still walked with a limp and his gait slowed down in his later years, DuGruy, aka “Junior” remained a constant in downtown Claremore, making his rounds, walking to the post office, touring the downtown area, stopping in at city hall and local businesses, meeting friends old and new, always with his trademark upbeat demeanor.
Although one wouldn’t know it by his appearances, DeGruy did in fact have a U.S. Marine Corps certificate of appreciation, a personal letter from The White House, as well as one from the U.S. Navy Commander L.V. Carnevale (whom DeGruy met), a Rogers County Sheriff’s Department special deputy ID, and more.
In recent years, DeGruy’s health declined, forcing him to limit and eventually stop the daily walks he loved.
DeGruy passed away Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
Services will be 11 a.m. Friday in the chapel at Musgrove-Merriott-Smith Funeral Service & Crematory in Claremore. Visitation is 8-11 a.m. Friday. He will be laid to rest in Oowala Cemetery.