US President Barack Obama's Mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, Grew Up in Ponca City, Oklahoma

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Obama's Mother, Grandparents lived in Oklahoma before Hawaii

Dunhamcolor Barack Obama's Mother lived in Ponca City for Two Years

by Hugh Pickens, February 6, 2009

Caption: Barack Obama with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in the early 1980s when Mr. Obama was a student at Columbia University. Barack Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham, grandmother Madelyn Dunham, and mother Stanley Ann Dunham lived in Ponca City from 1948 until 1951. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Photo: Obama for America

Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Kansas in 1942 and lived in Ponca City for two years while she was a child. An article in the Washington Post says that "she and her parents lived in Berkeley, Calif., for two years, Ponca City, Okla., for two years, and Wichita Falls, Tex., for three years before they ventured to the Seattle area". Wikipedia says that her "family moved to Mercer Island, Washington in 1956" so Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham lived in Ponca City for two years starting in 1948 when she was six years old and she attended first, second and third grades in Ponca City. Beverly Bryant reported in the Ponca City News that Ponca City school records confirm that the family arrived in Ponca City in 1948 and lived in Ponca City from 1948 to 1951 and that Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, attended first and second grade at old Jefferson Elementary School and third grade at Roosevelt Elementary School in Ponca City.

In Barack Obama's memoir, "Dreams From My Father," he describes his grandparents as "stern Methodist parents who did not believe in drinking, playing cards or dancing." The Dunham family was known to be a churchgoing family so we conjecture that the family may have attended First Methodist Church while in Ponca City although this has not been confirmed. The Dunham family would have been a young married couple, she in her mid twenties and he in his early thirties, who had been married for eight years in 1948 with a daughter named Stanley Ann six years old.

DunhamdadBarack Obama's Grandfather Stanley Dunham

Caption: Barack Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham a year or two after he and his wife left Ponca City. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Barack Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham managed a furniture store in El Dorado Kansas before the war and after he left Ponca City Stanley Dunham worked in Standard-Grunbaum Furniture, a large store in Washington State. While living in Ponca City Stanley Dunham worked as a salesman for Jay Paris. Described as "gregarious, friendly, impetuous, challenging and loud," Barack Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham "could charm the legs off a couch" the New York Times reported.

Stanley Dunham was 30 years old in 1948 when he was living in Ponca City working as a salesman at Jay Paris Furniture. Before coming to Ponca City, Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham had been in the army, volunteering the day after Pearl Harbor and spending the war overseas as an infantryman attached to Patton's tank corps. While Stanley was fighting in Europe, his wife Madelyn Dunham worked on a Boeing B-29 assembly line in Wichita as a quality control inspector.

One man who knew Stanley Dunham well and recognized Stanley's photo as soon as he saw it was former Ponca City resident Bob Casey who worked with Stanley Dunham at Jay Paris' Furniture Store in Ponca City in the early 1950's. Mr. Casey says that Stanley arrived in Ponca City in 1949 and stayed in Ponca City with his family for "more than a year." Mr. Casey says Stanley was a very smart guy with a long face and large shoulders who knew a lot about the furniture business and was one of Jay Paris' top salesmen at a time when the furniture company probably had 6 or 7 salesman.

Dunhams Mr. Casey, now living in Cranes Mill Texas, says that Stanley knew the technology of furniture, could analyze customers, and was one of the first salesmen to sell furniture as a full concept instead of by the item. "He could sell you a room full of furniture," says Casey. "And he could help you decorate it." Mr. Casey remembers a trip to Wichita with Stanley where they attended one of the first decorating seminars in the area. "Stanley was always working to improve himself" said Mr. Casey adding jokingly that Stanley "was a smart guy who liked to tell you how smart he was." Mr. Casey says he and Stanley Dunham used to joke around together and Stanley once made a bet that Casey couldn't do a specified number of push-ups. "I did the push-ups and surprised Stanley," says Mr. Casey.

Mr. Casey doesn't know exactly when Stanley Dunham and his family left Ponca City because shortly thereafter Mr. Casey went away to attend college at Oklahoma State University. Mr. Casey added that although he knew Stanley Dunham well, he never met Stanley's wife or daughter. "In those days the employees at Jay Paris' didn't really socialize much outside the job."

Longtime Ponca City resident Pat Moore also remembers Stanley Dunham and remembers that the Dunham family lived in an apartment in Ponca City. Beverly Bryant reported in the Ponca City News that the Dunham family lived in homes on West Central and later on North 13th street while they were in Ponca City. Moore remembers that Stanley Dunham was in Ponca City when she and her husband got married in 1950 and remembers that Stanley had a good sense of humor because even after almost 60 years Moore can still remember a funny story with some humorous marital advice that Stanley gave Moore in 1950 before Moore and her husband got married.

Stanley Dunham and his wife Madelyn helped raise their grandson Barack Obama during his high school years, when his mother was living in Indonesia. Barack Obama loved his grandfather who died in 1992 at age 74. In 2008 Obama visited Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii, to pay homage to his grandfather Stanley Dunham.

Dunhammom Barack Obama's Grandmother Madelyn Dunham

Caption: Barack Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham a year or two after she left Ponca City. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Stephen Mansfield writes in his book "The Faith of Barack Obama" that Stanley Dunham and Madelyn fell in love in Kansas and later married on the night of a junior/senior prom just weeks before her high school graduation in 1940. "Madelyn was frequently described by neighbors as different," writes Mansfield. "a gentle word for her eccentricities, and few were likely surprised when she met, and then secretly married furniture salesman Stanley Dunham." Stanley Dunham was notoriously loud and gregarious while Madelyn was bookish and sensitive. Stanley Dunham was Baptist and from a blue collar world, while Madelyn was a Methodist who was solidly middle class.

Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who died in Hawaii the day before Barack Obama's election to the Presidency in November 2008, was a powerful figure in Obama's life. Obama has frequently invoked his grandmother in his speeches and she appears prominently in his memoir. “She’s the one who taught me about hard work,” Mr. Obama said in that speech in Denver. “She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well.”

Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, was 26 years old in 1948 when she arrived in Ponca City. It is not yet known if Madelyn Dunham worked outside the home but it is documented that in other places she lived like Wichita, Seattle, and Honolulu, Madelyn worked outside the house so it is very possible that with her daughter Stanley Ann in school, Madelyn Dunham had a job outside the house while she was living in Ponca City.

Dunham If Madelyn Dunham did have a job while her husband worked at Jay Paris Furniture and her daughter attended elementary school, no one has yet come forward who knew her or remembered her working outside the house. Madelyn Dunham had strong administrative skills as evidenced by her work during the war when she worked as a quality control inspector for an assembly line building B-29's in Wichita.

Here is what we can conjecture about Madelyn Dunham's employment in Ponca City. Later on in her life Madelyn Dunham worked as an escrow officer at a bank and was later vice-president of a bank in Washington State, so if she worked outside the home while she was living in Ponca City, it is possible that she may have been at a bank. Banks that were open in Ponca City at that time would include the First National Bank, the First Security Bank, and Ponca City Savings and Loan, so we conjecture that with her daughter in school, Madelyn Dunham may have worked at one of these banks.

Some say it is possible that with her experience as a quality control inspector during the war, she may have found work at Continental Oil Company or Cities Service while she lived in Ponca City. Others say that as a woman without a college education in the late 1940's, many doors were closed to her that might be open today. Anyone who may have known or worked with Madelyn Dunham in the late 1940's or early 1950's at any of these locations, please contact us at 580-765-6125 so we can update this story.

In any case, after leaving Ponca City Madelyn Dunham and her husband lived in Washington State and later in Hawaii. Madelyn Dunham and her husband also helped raise their grandson Barack Obama - whom she called “Bar” - during his high school years, when his mother was living in Indonesia. Madelyn is known to her family as “Toot,” from “tutu,” the Hawaiian word for grandmother.

In 2008 Madelyn Dunham died at age 86 after a battle with cancer. Madelyn died on November 2, 2008, the day before Barack Obama's election as President. "She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side, so there’s great joy instead of tears," said Barack Obama. "She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America. They’re not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard."

DunhamannfamilyBarack Obama's Mother Stanley Ann Dunham

Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham a year or two after she left Ponca City. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Beatrice Gormley writes in "Barack Obama" that Stanley Ann was born in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1942 while Stanley was in the army waiting to be shipped off to France to fight under General Patton. Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham had the unusual male first name of Stanley. Stanley Ann had been named after her father because he had wanted a boy. Time Magazine says that Obama's mother "endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town." However, the article continued, "By college, she had started introducing herself as Ann".

When Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham arrived in Ponca City she was six years old in 1948 and went to second and third grade in the Ponca City School System. Beverly Bryant reported in the Ponca City News that Stanley Ann Dunham attended first and second grade at old Jefferson Elementary School and transferred and attended third grade at Roosevelt Elementary School.

Dunhamstanleysignature Stanley Ann's life after she left Ponca City and went to live with her parents in Seattle where her father worked in the post-war boom selling furniture was far different than her childhood in the mid-west. "She was not a standard-issue girl. You don't start out life as a girl with a name like Stanley without some sense you are not ordinary," said former Seattle classmate Chip Wall who knew Stanley Ann in the early 1960's. "Her life showed a deep respect for intellectual rigor and perhaps an uncommon sense of learning," said Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives in Hawaii.

Stanley Ann met a Kenyan student named Barack Obama at the University of Hawaii and married him in 1960 giving birth to Barack Obama Jr. in August 1961. "We could see Stanley, with her good grades and intelligence, going to college, but not marrying and having a baby right away," said Maxine Box, her best friend at the time and now a retired teacher in Bellevue, Washington. "I can't think of anything she said or did that would lead to such a radical thing. At that time, you practically crossed the street if you saw a black man and a white woman. Black and white didn't go together at that time."

"The marriage was brief," wrote Jonathon Martin in the Seattle Times. "By 1962, Dunham had returned to Seattle as a single mother, enrolling in the UW for spring quarter and living in an apartment on Capitol Hill [in Washington State]. But friends said she got overwhelmed and returned to her family in Hawaii, and formally divorced Obama Sr. in 1964."

Youngbarackobama Two-year-old Barack Hussein Obama, in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1963. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was the white daughter of a Kansas furniture and insurance salesman who moved his family to Hawaii on the eve of statehood. There, she met and married Barack Hussein Obama Sr., the first African student to enroll at the University of Hawaii. Photo: Polaris

Stanley Ann Dunham met an Indonesian student, Lolo Soetoro, at the East-West Center on the University of Hawaii campus. They married in 1966 or 1967 and moved with six-year-old Barack to Jakarta, Indonesia, after the unrest surrounding the ascent of Suharto, where Soetoro worked as a government relations consultant with Mobil Corporation, the US-based international petroleum company. Soetoro and Stanley Ann Dunham had a daughter, Maya Kassandra Soetoro, on August 15, 1970.

In Indonesia, Stanley An Dunham enriched her son's education with correspondence courses in English, recordings of Mahalia Jackson, and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She sent the young Obama back to Hawaii rather than having him stay in Asia with her, though the decision was painful for her. Madelyn Dunham's job as a vice-president at the Bank of Hawaii helped pay the steep tuition at Punahou School, with some assistance from a scholarship.

In the 1970s, Stanley Ann Dunham wished to return to work, but Soetoro wanted more children. She once said that he became more American as she became more Javanese. Stanley Ann Dunham left Soetoro in 1972, returning to Hawaii and reuniting with her son Barack for several years. Soetoro and Stanley Ann Dunham saw each other periodically in the 1970s when Stanley Ann Dunham returned to Indonesia for her fieldwork but did not live together again. They divorced in 1980, at which time she began using the name Ann Dunham Sutoro, with a modern spelling of her former husband's surname.

Dunhammichell marriage Stanley Ann Dunham was not estranged from either ex-husband, and encouraged her children to feel connected to their fathers. She returned to graduate school in Honolulu in 1974, while raising Barack and Maya. When Stanley Ann Dunham returned to Indonesia for field work in 1977 with Maya, her teenage son Barack Obama chose not to go, preferring to finish high school in the United States, living with Stanley Ann's mother Madelyn Dunham and her father Stanley Dunham who raised Barack Obama in her absence.

Caption: In 1992 Stanley Ann Dunham's son Barack Obama web Michelle Robinson on October 18, 1992, with Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson, at left, and Barack’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham attended the ceremony. Barack Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham did not live to see his grandson Barack Obama marry Michelle Robinson having died nine month earlier in February 1992. Photo: From Polaris.

Having been a weaver, Stanley Ann Dunham was interested in village industries, therefore moved to Yogyakarta, the center of Javanese handicrafts. In 1992 she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Hawaii, under the supervision of Prof. Alice Dewey, with a dissertation titled Peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia: surviving and thriving against all odds.

Stanley Ann Dunham pursued a career in rural development championing women’s work and microcredit for the world’s poor, with Indonesia’s oldest bank, the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, Women's World Banking, and as a consultant in Pakistan.

In 1995 Stanley Ann died tragically of ovarian cancer at age 52 after a career as an anthropologist working in Indonesia, Pakistan, and all around the world. "The life that Stanley chose to live after she left is indicative of the fact that Stanley thought about what else was out there," said Iona Stenhouse, a classmate in Washington State. "She was ready for having different experiences."

“My grandparents held on to a simple dream: that they would raise my mother in a land of boundless dreams,” Barack Obama said. “I am standing here today because that dream was realized.”

Barackbaby Help Add to the Story

Caption: Ann Dunham with her two-year-old son, Barack, in 1963. “She was sort of unflinchingly and unwaveringly empathetic,” says Barack’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. “She was always very good at finding a language that the other person would understand, regardless of where they were from, or their socio-economic background. And I think that’s … a major gift that’s bestowed on us.” Photo: Polaris.

More information from people in Ponca City who may have known the Dunham family or gone to grade school with Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham in the early 1950's would be appreciated from first hand sources who knew or remember the Dunham family. If anybody remembers the Dunham's from the early 1950's or went to grade school with Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, at old Jefferson School or Roosevelt School leave a message below or contact me at: hughpickens AT gmail DOT com

Alternately, if you know my mother Deloris Pickens give her a call at 580-765-6125 with any information you have on the Dunham family. She and my father Dale Pickens were both living here in Ponca City when the events in this article took place. Here is my link to the permanent article I am writing about Barack Obama's mother's life in Ponca City in the early 1950's. I'll keep this story updated with the latest information I find out about Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham and her two years living in Ponca City in the early 1950's.

Thanks to everyone who has helped research this story with special thanks to Deloris Pickens, Beverly Bryant, Pat Moore, Bob Casey, and Dale Smith.

Photo Credits

1. Photo of Barack Obama with his grandparents Madelyn Dunham and Stanley Dunham in the early 1980's while Obama was attending Columbia Law School. Photo: Obama for America.

2 Stanley Dunham in the early 1950's. Photo: Wikipedia

3. Madelyn Dunham in the early 1950's. Photo: Wikipedia

4. Stanley Ann Dunham in the early 1950's. Photo: Wikipedia

5. Stanley Ann Dunham in the mid 1950's. Photo: Wikipedia

5. Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham in 1960 about eight years after she left Ponca City. Photo: The Seattle Times

6. Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham in 1959 about seven years after she left Ponca City. Up until high school, signed her name "Stanley." While living in Ponca City she would have been known as Stanley Dunham or Stanley Ann Dunham and been in second grade at old Jefferson Elementary School and third grade at Roosevelt School in Ponca City. Photo: Wikipedia

7. The Dunham family a few years after leaving Ponca City. Barack Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham (left) appears to be ten to twelve years old in this photo. Photo: Wikipedia


1. Washington Post. "Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible" by David Marannis August 22, 2008.

2. New York Times. "Obama Takes Time for a Woman Dear to Him" by Julie Bosman

3. 1988 Po-Hi graduate Dale Smith was the first to notice the Washington Post article that supplied the Obama/Ponca City connection in a post on his blog Faith in Honest Doubt: a personal blog by Dale Smith. "Ponca City Makes the WaPo!" on August 24, 2008

4. Wikipedia. "Ann Dunham" Note. Wikipedia was used to provide a basic framework for the life of Stanley Ann Dunham. The entire section on Dunham's life after her divorce from Brack Obama's father is excerpted verbatim from the Wikipedia article on "Ann Dunham" under a Creative Commons Attribution-Commercial license.

5. Wikipedia. "Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham"

6. Wikipedia. "Stanley Armour Dunham"

7. Interviews by Deloris Pickens

8. Background on life in Ponca City in the period 1948 to 1951 from Deloris Pickens

9. "Dreams from my Father" by Barack Obama. Published by Random House, Inc., 2007. ISBN 0307383415, 9780307383419. 442 pages

10. "The Faith of Barack Obama" by Stephen Mansfield. Published by Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008. SBN 1595552502, 9781595552501 192 pages

11. The Seattle Times. "Obama's mother known here as "uncommon" by Jonathan Martin. April 8, 2008.

12. Interview with Bob Casey by Hugh Pickens. February 6, 2009.

13. "Barack Obama" by Beatrice Gormley . Published by Simon and Schuster, 2008. ISBN 1416971181, 9781416971184. 176 pages

14. New York Times. "Obama Makes Visit to a Most Beloved Supporter" by Jeff Seleny. October 24, 2008.

15. New York Times "Obama Briefly Leaving Trail to See Ill Grandmother" by Michael Powell. October 20, 2008.

16. New York Times. "Barack Obama: To His Grandmother’s Bedside" by the Editorial Board. October 24, 2008.

17. Interview with Pat Moore by Hugh Pickens. February 6, 2009.

18. The Ponca City News. Article by Beverly Bryant. February 8, 2009.

19. Vanity Fair. "Raising Obama" by Todd Purdum. March 2008. The captions used for the three Polaris photos used in this article are taken from the Vanity Fair article.