MAY 16, 2007


RSU and Will Rogers Museum to discuss possible merger

Rogers State University and the Will Rogers Memorial and Museums have announced they will enter into discussions about merging the two institutions.

The Will Rogers Memorial Commission, which is responsible for the governance of the museums, considered a proposal to study the merger at its regular meeting on Sunday, April 22. The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, the governing board for RSU, considered a similar proposal at its next regular meeting on May 10 in Norman.

The proposal would direct administrative staffs of both institutions to study the desirability of a possible merger over the course of the next year. Legislation would be required for the institutions to merge and dissolve the commission.

“We believe we may be able to open the door to a new world of possibilities in preserving and advancing the heritage of Will Rogers,” said Joe Wiley, RSU president. “The university’s academic programs, library reserves and technological resources, coupled with the museum’s archives and art collection, would provide researchers with unprecedented access to Oklahoma’s favorite son.”

Combining the resources of two state-supported institutions also may make good economic sense by eliminating some duplicated operational costs, Wiley said. However, the museums would most likely maintain a separate budget, he added.

If the two institutions are combined, the Will Rogers Museums could take advantage of the university’s computing resources, enabling it to deliver video programming from the RSU campus to schools, libraries and other institutions across the state via One Net, the state-sponsored telecommunications and information network for education and government.

“Long-term viability of the museums would be well be served by joining forces with the university,” said Steve Gragert, director of the Will Rogers Memorial and Museums. “We consider a partnership between the museum and an institution of higher learning a natural fit, especially one with a solid academic reputation such as RSU located nearby.”

Gragert envisions museum personnel working closely with RSU faculty and students on the history and legacy of Will Rogers through joint research projects and new academic programs. He also said the museum and university could work together on the development of symposiums or workshops on Will Rogers that would attract scholars nationwide.

This year, the university and museums developed an internship program, providing students with an opportunity to learn about the operation of a museum and conduct research on the life of Will Rogers.

RSU and the Will Rogers Memorial are located across the street from each other on Will Rogers Boulevard on the west side of Claremore. RSU was named for Rogers County, which was named at statehood in honor of Clement Rogers, Will Rogers’ father. Clement Rogers was a Cherokee senator, judge and one of the authors of the Oklahoma Constitution.

A polo enthusiast, Will Rogers played with the polo team of the Oklahoma Military Academy (OMA), the predecessor institution of RSU. He financed the OMA team, allowing it to travel to play at Stanford and Arizona. His son, Will Rogers Jr., was playing for Stanford at the time. The OMA Memorial and Museum, located on the RSU campus, tells the story of the prestigious military academy, which operated from 1919 to 1971.

Today RSU is a four-year regional university, serving more than 4,000 students on campuses in Claremore, Bartlesville and Pryor. The main campus in Claremore features the new Stratton Taylor Library, residence halls and several academic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The memorial and museum in Claremore was completed in 1938 and dedicated on Nov. 4, Will Rogers’ 59th birthday. The institution was initially financed by an appropriation of $200,000 by the Oklahoma Legislature. The historic building was designed by architect John Duncan Forsythe and was built of fossilized limestone quarried nearby. The site is located on approximately 20 acres. A highlight of the museum is a statue of Will Rogers in the rotunda, a duplicate of which is located in the Statuary Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.

The museum houses a prestigious collection of artifacts, memorabilia and original art by Charles Russell, Charles Banks Wilson and others in its galleries. The facility also features three theaters, interactive exhibitions and a children’s museum.

The museum’s archives include thousands of photographs and original manuscripts, private letters and personal papers of Will Rogers. The library features more than 2,000 volumes about Will Rogers in addition to texts on Native Americans, vaudeville, early motion pictures and U.S. history from 1879 to 1935. The family’s tomb is located on the site.

The memorial also operates the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch, east of Oologah. The two-story house was completed in 1875 in the Greek Revival architectural style and was known as the “White House on the Verdigris River.” Both the museum and ranch are open to visitors daily.

William Penn Adair Rogers was born in 1879 near Oologah, in what was then Indian Territory. He went on to become one of the most prolific authors and film actors in American history, writing six books and more than 4,000 newspaper columns and starring in 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 “talkies”). Two of his more memorable quotes include “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like” and “It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”