Education: A Community’s Common Thread

Learn more about the history of local education by visiting the exhibits at the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History located at 702 S. Duncan Street near downtown Stillwater.

Roger Moore, Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History Director

The phone rings often at the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History. The phone call goes something like this:

Caller: “I’ve come across something that I think you might be interested in.”

Museum: Does it have some significance within the history of Stillwater or the surrounding community?

Caller: “My father, a former professor and department head, came across a couple of old books authored by Leonard Sheerar.”

Museum: (Smiling) That sounds like something we would most certainly be interested in.

Recent donations to the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History.

Little did Leonard Francis Sheerar know in 1925 that his surname would become prominent in Stillwater, Okla. An original copy of his Master’s Thesis at Ohio State University in 1925 entitled “The Effect of Atmospheric Conditions Upon the Load Test For Refractories” found its way to Stillwater in March of 2017, along with a copy of “Quantitative Chemical Methods for Engineering Students,” co-authored by Sheerar and Otto M. Smith in 1944. Both were professors at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College at the time.

Leonard Sheerar stands on the stage in the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History’s auditorium.

Thirty years later, with wife Grace, Sheerar donated $25,000 that inaugurated a community-wide drive to raise $80,000 to purchase the historic building on the corner of 7th and Duncan. In 1973, the Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center opened; a year later the Sheerar Museum came to life and both have been entertaining and educating for over 40 years.

Another recent conversation led to yet more interesting educational ties to Stillwater culminating with a gift to the museum. In August 2016, John Bale was honored by the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University. Honored as a Distinguished Alumni, Bale’s career included a Bronze Star from the U.S. Army, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oklahoma A&M, and service as Associate Dean of the School of Business at OSU beginning in 1978.

Some of John Bale’s history reached the Sheerar Museum in early March. It is not hard to imagine a young college student, in 1953, thumbing through the pages of “Modern English Handbook” authored by Robert Gorrell and Charlton Laird or the “Textbook of Chemistry” authored by four Ohio State professors.

What is the significance of these books? They’ve reached the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History, fittingly as we prepare for our annual education program “How Oklahoma Began!” The program helps young elementary school children understand how the state of Oklahoma was founded. In collaboration with Oklahoma WONDERtorium, Sheerar museum staff, Stillwater Museum Association Board members, and volunteers provide an educational experience for students from Richmond, Highland Park, Skyline, and others. May, as usual, has limited spots remaining, but the last two weeks of April are there for the taking. Volunteers to help with the program are also welcome.

How Oklahoma Began is an award winning education program presented in partnership with the Oklahoma WONDERtorium at the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History.

Woven into the fabric of Stillwater’s history is education. A Board of Education, with three members, was founded barely four months after the Land Run of 1889 and by September students were attending the first school on the northwest corner of Main and Ninth Streets. It was not quite a school, but a room upstairs. Recognizable names go hand-in-hand with early educational development in Stillwater – Hays Hamilton, Edward F. Clark, Harry Donart. The first school building was located between Eleventh and Twelfth on Lewis, followed by one between Second and Third where the Board of Education building now stands. By 1896 there was Alcott School, the first high school, on Duck between Eighth and Ninth. More than a few years of educational history lies inside the current Community Center, a junior high and high school during its long tenure during the twentieth century.

The Congregational Church on the corner of Sixth and Duncan housed OAMC’s first classes in 1891. The campus has grown significantly since with a major period of growth following World War II at Veteran’s Village, a product of the GI Bill that brought thousands of military veterans and their families to Stillwater. Leonard Sheerar and John Bale are just two of many who have passed through and contributed to the educational mission of this community. Perhaps the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History, through its “How Oklahoma Began!” program, can inspire a current elementary school student to reach similar heights.

For more information about “How Oklahoma Began!” or the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History, a 501 © non-profit run by the Stillwater Museum Association, contact us at (405) 377-0359, info@sheerarmuseum.org, or by simply stopping by 702 S. Duncan.