Chub Bellatti: A Legacy in News, Radio, and Service

Story and Photo provided by Roger Moore, Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History Director

20160926_125014_resized_1What the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History does is tell this community’s story. Be it photographs, an old door from the tumultuous 1920s, or letters written by a grocer, all these things combine to produce the historical narrative of Stillwater.

Local history museums preserve our past. And through that preservation they provide a window into the many significant events and people who helped build and influence that particular town, city, or region.

Throughout the course of a year you never know who or what will walk through the door. Some items, incredible and historic as they may be, might not necessarily fit the Sheerar’s mission of collecting, preserving, and presenting the history of Stillwater. Over the summer, however, one such gift required very little scrutiny because of the name attached – Bellatti.

Charles Robert Bellatti (1886-1953) and Lawrence Fitzhugh “Chub” Bellatti (1913-2012) are two of the most important and influential men the community has ever known. Items generously donated include board games their families probably grappled over during holidays; items associated with the newspaper business; and assorted awards. A classic Altec 639A Cardiod Microphone is proudly displayed for all to see, along with a Zenith Radio from 1942.

The Bellatti footprint on Stillwater is much larger, however.

C.R. Bellatti came to Oklahoma from Illinois in 1908. The family home was a small farm northwest of Norman, where C.R. would become part of the first graduating class of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law. The usual rigors of early twentieth century farm work added to a full day’s work. A move to Blackwell followed where he worked as an attorney and newspaper publisher.

John Hinkel sold the Daily News and the Stillwater Gazette to C.R. Bellatti in 1941. Soon after, two weeklies, the Payne County News and the Stillwater News, were consolidated and on November 9, 1941 the Stillwater News-Press was born.

With radio rapidly growing during the 1930s, Bellatti began the process of acquiring a radio signal for the Stillwater area. It became reality in 1947 with KSPI and he did not stop there.

C.R. Bellatti was a member of the World War II Activities Committee and worked alongside Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College President Henry Garland Bennett to bring training programs to Stillwater and the college. Bellatti was the founder of the Stillwater Industrial Foundation, served as president of the Chamber of Commerce, on the Board of Regents at OAMC, with the Civil Defense Board of Oklahoma, and on the State Board of Education.

L.F. “Chub” Bellatti, born in 1913, carried on the family tradition of civic involvement. With his wife Esther Lee “Tessie” Bellatti of 68 years, L.F. Bellatti, who died at the age of 99 in 2012, had a profound effect on many.

His obituary fittingly reads: “Chub faithfully and selflessly served the community of Stillwater in many capacities over the past 72 years, and promoted the public good as a newspaper publisher and as a radio broadcaster. His wise counsel was sought by family and friends as well as politicians of both political parties because they trusted his judgment and his assurance that he would honor the confidential nature of their discussions.”

He started in the newspaper business at the Blackwell Tribune where his father was the publisher. Two years at OU School of Law while working at the Norman Transcript, the school daily, and as an oilfield roughneck followed. “Chub” met Esther Lee Swank and they married in 1940.

In 1941, the elder Bellatti requested a move to Stillwater to help run the newspaper. World War II intervened and L.F. joined the U.S. Marines where he was part of the 102nd Construction Battalion and eventually a combat correspondent for the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Tennessee, a battleship that participated in battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He witnessed the surrender of the Japanese forces in Tokyo Bay.

Following World War II, the 1932 Blackwell High graduate returned to Stillwater and joined his father and brothers, Marsden and Jim, to run the newspaper and explore possibilities in broadcasting. In 1948, Chub was elected the first President of the Oklahoma Broadcasters Association. His civic duty was just getting started.

He served as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, as a member of the Oklahoma State Civil Defense Board, assuming his father’s position when he died in 1953. Long before cable television and the Internet, radio stations provided vital information when power was lost.

Ownership of the radio changed in 1997, the 50th anniversary of that first broadcast on KSPI in 1947. Over the years, Oklahoma State University football and baseball games have been a staple, broadcasting from places like Ames, Iowa, and Pasadena, Calif. The station was the first to broadcast collegiate wrestling and continues that tradition. Before there was Stillwater High School there was C.E. Donart High. And before there was a bright and shiny Pioneer Stadium there was the rugged Hamilton Field located in Couch Park. KSPI and the newspaper have been there through it all.

If you have a story to tell or would like to donate to the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History contact the Museum office at 405-377-0359 or through email at info@sheerarmuseum.org. The museum is governed by the Stillwater Museum Association, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation.