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Student Produced Media

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A Family Tree on the Hill

By student Ashlee Overton

This year has been a special one for all Rogers State University students, faculty, and alumni. The university recently marked its 100th year on the historic hill. The celebrations for this huge milestone have been very exciting for those involved. The numerous festivities that have taken place have included everything from a parade to the opening of the new "Centennial Center” which has become a huge focal point for the school. All of this has proven to not only those involved with RSU, but the entire nation, that the school is a very appealing and distinctive one. Nothing however with such success or high hopes for the future gets where it is, without some kind of unique history.

Ask anyone associated with the university, and each would have their own distinct story to tell. One particular story dates back almost 50 years ago with a man by the name of Don Wofford. He joined the school in the fall of 1962 as a professor and the head basketball coach. Don however wasn’t stepping onto the university grounds we know today, but to a campus that at the time was designed much more for military as opposed to academics. The Oklahoma Military Academy, a place where cadets swarmed out of the living quarters every morning into formations where each cadet answered "present” when his name was called. A place where each man was in the "uniform of the day” and required to be "polished, shined, and pressed”. And a place where Sunday mornings consisted of marching from the "mess hall” to church services where they were required to be in their "dress blues” for special occasions.

"The training when I joined the academy was a strong emphasis on discipline and military preparation” explains Don, "We had a mixture of younger cadets that probably were given a choice between jail or military school”.

Don taught English in the building now undergoing renovations, Baird Hall. At the time, the building faced what was called the "quadrangle”, a four sided enclosure usually surrounded by other buildings. His classroom had huge windows and one of Don’s fondest memories included watching the band practice every morning in the quadrangle from his second story window.

"The music at times would be loud and in minutes be barely audible. It was a beautiful experience. I often closed my eyes and reflected when I needed serenity” Don remembers.

Don had two daughters who practically grew up at the academy. His oldest daughter Twyla, was four years old when her dad began his career at OMA. The little four year old girl who thought the building we now know as "Prepatory Hall” was actually the White House, eventually graduated from the very place her father taught in 1978. By that time however, the academy had converted into Claremore Junior College, also known as CJC. Today, Twyla still remembers her time at CJC.

"I felt I had an advantage over other students as I began my 2 years on CJC campus. I had already experienced part of the college’s history! I had seen the cadets proudly marching through campus many times, and now I was walking those same grounds never having imagined that I would be”.

Don felt extremely lucky that he got to spend those two years with his daughter at CJC, a time in which yes, he was still teaching there. He describes it as an excellent family decision.

He eventually resigned from the school in May of 1980. Ironically 26 years before his granddaughter enrolled as a Hillcat to what is now Rogers State University. Don exclaims, "Now having a granddaughter going to college where her grandfather taught and her mother graduated is unique and special for our family”.

Well I happen to be that lucky granddaughter now getting to have the same kind of unforgettable experiences as the two generations before me. To think that the school I am attending was once a place where the Hillcats weren’t yet the Hillcats, where military cadets marched the ground I walk today, and a place where two generations of my family were once involved, is a feeling beyond description.

Talking to my mother and grandfather of their times here is fascinating, and I think "papa” put it best, "Very few schools can match the history of this institution. I like to think of it as rising to the need when a situation arose. A prep school when there was none, a military training facility when our country was threatened, a junior college when the area needed it, going coed when fairness was an issue, and responding to the growth of the area by adding a four year program”.

Rogers State University’s centennial birthday really is one for everyone who has ever been involved with this great institution. With such a fascinating and historical past of 100 years, there are without a doubt at least 100 even better ones yet to come. The wish of my family tree is hopefully to orient readers with the unique history of this fascinating school, for generations to come.