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.