It was back in 1991 that the Friends of Old Central was established as a nonprofit support group to champion the Oklahoma Museum of Higher Education at Old Central on the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater.
The goal was to strengthen the development and maintenance of exhibits at the museum in one of the oldest restored higher educational structures in Oklahoma. The museum grew to encompass the history of more than 140 public and private colleges and universities in Oklahoma. The Friends of Old Central was renamed the Friends of the Museum of Higher Education in 1993 and then the Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society in 2003.
Now the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS), the Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society (OHEHS) and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have partnered to establish the nation's first and only higher education archive, said Jeanne Prince, OHS archivist who directs collections for the OHEHS.
Materials and artifacts of the archive preserve the stories of the creation, growth, successes and failures of Oklahoma colleges and universities.
“The mission of OHEHS is to preserve the heritage and history of higher education in Oklahoma,” said Prince, “and to promote enhanced awareness of higher education's vital role in the state's social, cultural, economic and educational development.”
The history of higher education in Oklahoma is “the story of the American dream,” said Bob Blackburn, OHS executive director. “And the chapters of that story, which include leadership, opportunity and faith in the future, can be traced through the historic buildings and campuses across the state.”
Through the historic buildings of Langston University, for example, Blackburn sees the story of Inman Page, the college president who joined the ranks of intellectuals pushing back against the walls of segregation. Through Old Central at OSU, he sees the story of LeRoy Fischer, who became the champion of historic preservation in the state.
Through the Kellogg Center for Continuing Education at the University of Oklahoma, he sees E.T. Dunlap's belief that education is not just a skill to get a job, but also a window to a lifetime of learning.
“The physical legacy of historic buildings is the tissue that connects our generation with those who have fought for the chance to get a college education,” said Blackburn.
Oklahoma college and university campuses feature 21 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, said Melvena Heisch, deputy director of the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office.
“These include the Oscar B. Jacobson House, just off the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, because the university owns it,” said Heisch. “It originally was the private home of Jacobson, a famous art professor who influenced and guided the careers of the Kiowa Five.