96-year-old Jeraldine "Jerry" Brown says it was her Chickasaw family members who taught her how to love life. Her Chickasaw roots run deep; descended from the Colbert family (the notable Levi Colbert and Gov. Winchester Colbert included), Jerry's grandfather, Joseph Edwin Colbert, served as the first secretary of the Chickasaw legislature from 1902 to 1907. Jerry's mother, Annie Rennie-Colbert Meek, attended the notorious Bloomfield Academy, a boarding school for Chickasaw girls.
A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City area, Jerry graduated from Classen High School in 1939, where she played field hockey, volleyball and contributed to the school's Latin newspaper. There was never any question that she would attend college, she said; in 1943, she graduated from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) with a bachelor's degree in education. Two months later, she enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and became one of the first female members of the U.S. military.
Because she took a photography class in college, Jerry was selected for a top-secret assignment at the Pentagon's Photo Intelligence Lab, a division of the military that makes decisions about strategic plans and attacks using photographic evidence and intelligence collected from around the world. Because her work was considered top-secret, an armed guard was posted in the dark room with her and her colleagues.
It was in the Photo Intelligence Lab that Jerry became one of the first people in the world to witness the destruction following the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Looking back, Jerry says she was part of something important in keeping democracy and freedom alive in the United States.
She was discharged from the Army in 1945 and returned home to Oklahoma, where she married Syl Meek, had two children and worked as a teacher until the esteemed age of 90. Today, Jerry can be found at the OU Medical Center in Edmond, Oklahoma, where she works as a volunteer. Sitting at home, she says, is no option; she enjoys being around people and helping them to the best of her abilities.
Jerry notes that when she was growing up, a woman's only option was to be a stenographer or teacher. Now, she says, a woman can do anything she sets her heart to if she's willing to work hard, and she's especially proud of the way the Chickasaw Nation supports young women and girls in achieving their goals.