Ann Hargis speeds across campus in her bright orange golf cart named Clementine, running late for a ribbon cutting.
It’s not as if she’s been slacking. Already this morning, the first lady of Oklahoma State University has had two meetings, walked her dog, Scruff, and ferried three students around campus in Clementine, all before 11 a.m.
As Hargis arrives for a ceremony dedicating the Cowboy Walking Trails, 11/2 miles of paths that cut across the heart of the campus, she still has enough time to make the rounds of “hellos” with a cast of familiar faces, quiet Scruff from barking at Pistol Pete and grab a hug from her husband, OSU President Burns Hargis.
In her introductory remarks, OSU’s chief wellness officer, Suzy Harrington, gushes over the effort the first couple put into making OSU a healthier campus.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work from the ‘First Cowgirl,’” Harrington said. “Our goal of becoming America’s healthiest campus is being achieved everyday because of the focus this university and its people place on their own well-being.”
Now, six years into her husband’s tenure as the 18th president of Oklahoma State, Ann Hargis, 69, feels she’s come into her own at the university.
She’s helped start several programs around campus with the goal of encouraging active and healthy lifestyles, including a therapy-dog training program, walking paths, exercise classes and nature trails that has led the Oklahoma Department of Health to name OSU a certified Healthy Campus two straight years.
“When we first got here, I remember feeling a little overwhelmed but excited,” said Ann Hargis, who grew up in Dallas, graduated from the University of Texas and will celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary in June. “Now we have the ball rolling and we are so entrenched in the community, I feel like we are really making a lasting impact.”
On any given day on the Stillwater campus, you can find Hargis taking in a baseball game, watching a theater performance, enjoying an art exhibit or taking a leisurely stroll across Library Lawn with her husband.
One of her favorite things is piloting Clementine and offering rides to students.
As Teresa Miller approaches Hargis just outside the Student Union on a recent day, Miller’s dog, Pedro, perched in her lap, she doesn’t recognize the woman wearing the orange OSU shirt over a white sweater with matching orange sunglasses. Hargis makes sure to introduce herself straight away, petting Miller’s dog and asking how the 48-year-old woman came to be back in school. Hargis leans in as Miller tells her about pursuing a degree in applied sociology with hopes of joining the masters program in forensic psychology after she graduates.
“Well, I’m so glad to have met you,” Hargis tells Miller while scratching behind Pedro’s ears. “You are an inspiration to come back to school and follow your dreams.”
Hargis cherishes these interactions.
Being able to get out on campus and hear students’ stories is an important part of her duties as first lady, she said.
Hargis also thinks she provides students with peace of mind. She lets them know she’s an effective conduit for getting their thoughts to the university president.
“A lot of times people feel more comfortable coming up to me to give me messages to give to Burns,” she said. “I’m just another pair of ears and eyes and arms and hopefully adding to what he’s doing.”
After a quick lunch in the Student Union, Hargis moves on to an art gallery meeting with community leaders to discuss upcoming exhibitions and tour the archives.
Later, Hargis joins up with a group of students and faculty from the agriculture school to take part in a treasure hunt as part of a nature-awareness activity.
“Each day is completely different for me,” she said. “But I try and make each of them meaningful. I need to leave the best impression on each student and faculty person I meet.”
A small group starts the hunt but the numbers swell as the search for hidden trinkets spreads across campus.
Hargis spots Michael Cobbins, a forward on the OSU basketball team, and asks if he’d like to join the hunt.
“Yes ma’am,” he says. “Sounds like fun.”
Thirty minutes and a mile later, all the hidden treasure has been found.
Hargis’ phone beeps. A message tells her she’s already walked 10,000 steps by mid-afternoon.
“We are being healthy and we didn’t even know it,” she said.