TULSA — Seven distinguished Oklahomans were inducted into the state Hall of Fame on Thursday at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel & Convention Center.
Inclusion in the hall is the highest honor bestowed on residents by the state.
New members are businessman Stan Clark, Olympic gymnast Bart Conner, journalist Edith Kinney Gaylord, energy executive Tom L. Ward, philanthropist Suzanne Warren, jurist Lee R. West and cardiac specialist Dr. Ronald White.
They were introduced by presenters they chose earlier this year. Presenters included leaders in business, medical, education and charitable fields.
The inductees were honored with video tributes and medallions.
Gaylord, who died in 2001, was honored posthumously.
The new members join 648 other notable Oklahomans who have been enshrined in the hall since 1928. The Oklahoma Hall of Fame Gallery opened at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2007.
Portraits of the inductees will be added to the gallery. Visitors can look up information on each honoree using touch-screen computers at the hall.
Members are chosen based on public service and other contributions to humanity, the state and the nation.
The Oklahoman spoke with all the living inductees except White in the days leading up to the ceremony, as well as to a spokesman for the Gaylord family. White could not be reached for comment.
Stan Clark, Stillwater
Clark, 59, is a native Tulsan and the owner of the Stan Clark Cos., which include Eskimo Joe's, Mexico Joe's, Joseppi's and Eskimo Joe's Promotional Products Group.
The restaurateur said he was surprised to learn he'd been chosen for the hall.
“It's extremely humbling and exciting,” he said. “To be notified, I was like, ‘Really? Cool.' From there it's just been cause for a lot of reflection.”
Clark got his start nearly 38 years ago with the opening of the first Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater. The restaurant occupied just 900 square feet of space near the Oklahoma State University campus. Over time, the business blossomed, and Clark was able to expand and open new restaurants. Today the Eskimo Joe's logo — a smiley Eskimo and his dog Buffy — is among the most recognizable brands in Oklahoma.
“My core philosophy hasn't changed at all,” Clark said. “We're in the fun business, above all showing people a good time. That's really been the whole magic behind the brand. Every time we interact with a customer, that's the brand's name on the line. … We understand that you're only as good as the last meal you serve.”
Clark's companies sponsor an OSU education scholarship and have donated to the South Entry Plaza of Boone Pickens Stadium, the Stillwater Public Education Foundation, Coaches vs. Cancer, Oklahoma Project Women and Big Brothers Big Sisters, according to a news release.
Earlier this year, Clark received the 2012 Mike Synar Award from Special Olympics Oklahoma, the release notes. His businesses have sponsored the Juke Joint Jog event for more than 20 years and the Three Amigos' United Way Golf Classic for 16 years; both events benefit the Stillwater Area United Way.
He was introduced by Bill W. Burgess Jr., a longtime friend who was inducted into the hall in 2008.
Clark, who employs about 500 people, said he owes his success to his employees.
“Whatever honors I might get based on Eskimo Joe's go to the people who make it happen every day,” he said. “It's really representative of the thousands of OSU students who have contributed and been part of this for 37½ years.”
Bart Conner, Norman
Conner, 54, has accumulated awards throughout his career as an athlete, public speaker, businessman and ESPN color commentator.
As the only American gymnast to win gold medals at every level of national and international competition, Conner has been a national champion, NCAA champion, Pan-American Games champion, World champion, World Cup champion and Olympic champion, according to a news release.
Despite that, he said, he is “grateful” to be included in the Hall of Fame.
“To be acknowledged at this level with these incredible Oklahoma leaders is really humbling,” he said. “I did a little research on the history of this award. It's remarkable. I think it's one of the great things that we do here in Oklahoma, celebrating our heritage and where we came from. … For a state that has a relatively small population base, it really is impressive how many leaders have come from here in philanthropy, business and sports.”
Conner, who is married to Romanian Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci, left his home state of Illinois in 1976 to attend the University of Oklahoma and be coached by Paul Ziert. He was a member of the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympic teams. In 1984, he came back from his second torn biceps injury to win two gold medals.
At OU, he won 14 NCAA All-American honors and led his team to two NCAA team titles. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in journalism and public relations and went into business with Ziert. They own several businesses associated with gymnastics, including the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy.
Conner is on the boards of charities including Special Olympics International and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
He was introduced at the induction ceremony by Timothy P. Shriver, the chairman and CEO of Special Olympics.
“I think your life comes down to four or five very important decisions,” Conner said. “This (state Hall of Fame induction) really validates for me the decision I made to move here and start my life here.”
Edith Kinney Gaylord, Oklahoma City
Gaylord, who died at 84, was a philanthropist and pioneering journalist.
Her parents were Inez Kinney Gaylord and E.K. Gaylord, the editor and publisher of The Daily Oklahoman and The Oklahoma City Times. She attended Colorado College, where she later became a trustee, and graduated from Wells College in 1937.
She is the fifth member of her family to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The others are her father, brother E.L. Gaylord, nephew Clay Bennett and niece Christy Everest.
“I had the privilege of knowing Edith my entire life and working with her and my father as a young lawyer,” said Bob Ross, 38, in remarks during the induction ceremony. Ross is the president and CEO of two foundations Edith Gaylord created.
“She was a brilliant wordsmith who focused on details,” Ross continued. “I could tell countless stories of how she helped people across our state, nation and even world through her extraordinary philanthropy.”
Edith Gaylord was the first woman on the general news staff of The Associated Press Washington Bureau, a release notes. Early in her career there, she was assigned to cover first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's news conferences. They developed a close friendship. Edith Gaylord became the first lady's media liaison and the secretary of Eleanor Roosevelt's News Conference Association. She was elected president of the Women's National Press Club in 1944.
Her journalism career was matched only by her giving. Throughout her life, Edith Gaylord supported a variety of charities and nonprofits. Her interests included education, health, the arts and the environment, among others.
“Her legacy to us was an example of caring, compassion, philanthropy and a lifelong love of learning,” Everest said at the induction banquet. “She lived quietly and privately, even as she paved the way for women in journalism. Her giving, in many cases anonymously, made a difference in countless lives in Oklahoma and the nation and continues today through her foundations.”
Those are the Inasmuch Foundation, which strives to lessen suffering and enrich quality of life, and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism, which “builds ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information,” the release states. Giving from both foundations has exceeded $150 million.
“Edith was truly the smartest person I have ever known, a remarkable person and a visionary,” Ross said in his banquet remarks. “Inducting her into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame is a fitting tribute to honor her legacy.”
Tom L. Ward, Edmond
Ward, a Shattuck native, has been chairman and CEO of SandRidge Energy since June 2006. Before then, he was president, chief operating officer and a director of Chesapeake Energy Corp., which he co-founded with Aubrey McClendon.
His tremendous success hasn't come with a lot of recognition, he said, making him even more grateful to be included in the state Hall of Fame.
“I haven't received that many awards in my life,” he said, “so there's nothing to compare this to.”
Ward, 53, graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1981 with a business administration degree in the field of petroleum land management, a release states. He is a member of the group that owns the Oklahoma City Thunder and is on the boards of Anderson University in Anderson, Ind., and The First Tee.
He also is a member of the Economic Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the Board of Visitors for the OU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine.
In 2006, Ward and son Trent founded White Fields, Inc., a home for severely abused and neglected boys. He has provided scholarships to Oklahoma colleges and universities to give more students access to higher education and to encourage them to build their lives and careers in Oklahoma.
Hance Dilbeck, senior pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church, presented Ward at the induction ceremony. Ward said he regards Dilbeck as his mentor.
“I'm thankful for being chosen,” Ward said, “and humbled by the experience.”
Suzanne Warren, Tulsa
Like Edith Gaylord, Warren is the fifth person in her family to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The Greenwich, Conn., native joins mother-in-law Natalie O. Warren, father-in-law William K. Warren Sr., brother-in-law G.T. Blankenship and husband William K. Warren Jr. in the hall.
“For me, being a non-native Oklahoman … this is a particular honor,” she said, “and I've come to admire the people of Oklahoma. I had no knowledge of this state until I married and moved here. The Tulsans who have been admitted into the Hall of Fame are people I particularly admire.”
Warren, 63, attended Rider College and the University of Connecticut and graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor and master's degree in education, a release states. She was hired by the Palm Beach County School System in Florida and worked as a resource teacher and director in federally funded programs for disadvantaged and low-income students. She also taught adult education courses.
These days Warren is active in Tulsa's arts and social service organizations. She is a director/trustee of the Children's Hospital Foundation at Saint Francis and the Mental Health Association Advisory Board. In the past, she served as director of Cascia Hall Preparatory School, Monte Cassino School, Ronald McDonald House, Tulsa Opera and the Tulsa Philharmonic, the release notes.
She was honorary chair of the Red Ribbon 10 Year celebration, which provides home health care for AIDS patients, and helped launch the Painted Pony Ball, an annual fundraiser for the Children's Hospital at Saint Francis.
She was introduced by Judy Kishner, whom Warren described as a friend “who works to try to end homelessness in Tulsa.”
“I'm really, really thrilled and surprised” to be inducted, Warren said. “I have gone to so many of the Hall of Fame inductions. I've lived here for 32 years, and I always enjoyed seeing the people who have such diverse talents and backgrounds. I never really considered that I would enter that group.”
Lee R. West, Oklahoma City
West, who will turn 83 on Nov. 26, is one of the state's most accomplished jurists.
“I still go to work every day in my office,” said West, a former chief judge of the Western District of Oklahoma. “I go home a little earlier and come in a little later, but I'm still working.”
A Clayton native, West graduated from the OU College of Law and was admitted to the state bar in 1956. He was in private practice until 1961, when he joined the OU law faculty teaching torts, damages, evidence, trial practice and workmen's compensation.
From 1962-63, he was a Ford Foundation Fellow in Law teaching at Harvard Law School, where he received an LLM degree, a release states. He returned to private practice in 1963 and served as labor arbitrator for the National Mediation Board.
Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon appointed him District Judge for the 22nd Judicial District and a Special Justice of the state Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. President Richard Nixon then appointed West a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington, D.C.; President Jimmy Carter made him acting chairman of the board.
West later returned to private practice only to be appointed to the federal bench, where he became chief judge of the Western District. He took senior status in 1994 and continues to hear active cases at district and circuit levels; he's still a settlement judge, too.
He is the subject of a 2002 biography, “Law and Laughter, the Life of Lee West,” by Bob Burke and U.S. District Judge David L. Russell.
“They did an excellent job of editing out most of my shortcomings and disguising them as strengths,” West said.
Russell, a longtime colleague, presented West at the induction ceremony.
“At my age, it's very significant,” West said. “I could not be more pleased or delighted at being so honored by the Oklahoma Heritage Association and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Dr. Ronald White, Oklahoma City
White graduated from Seminole High School and earned his medical degrees at OU, a release states. After completing his residency, he served in the U.S. Navy in Da Nang, Vietnam, and at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
White completed a fellowship in cardiology at the OU Health Sciences Center and went into private practice as a diagnostic and interventional cardiologist. He was among the first to receive balloon angioplasty training in Switzerland and was the first to perform the procedure in Oklahoma.
He co-founded the American Society of Cardiovascular Interventionalists and the Oklahoma Heart Hospital, the release notes. He founded Oklahoma Cardiovascular Associates, the state's largest cardiovascular physicians' group; it has clinics in more than 40 cities.
He served two terms on the OU Board of Regents and was chairman three years. He is starting his second term as a State Regent for Higher Education. He was on the board of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., was a member of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and was a trustee for the OU Foundation, Oklahoma Zoological Society and Westminster Day School.
Currently he is a board member for the Oklahoma Heritage Association, the OU College of Health Advisory Board and the Jasmine Moran Children's Museum.
He was presented by Glen D. Johnson, CEO of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.