100th Anniversary of the First Day of Classes at E.U.P.S.
Comments from Dr. Larry Rice, President of Rogers State University.
Welcome to a very special ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of first day of classes at RSU – part of the university’s year-long Centennial Celebration.
I would like to call your attention to the programs and postcards we have distributed this morning. The postcard is a small memento from us to you. It is designed to be a keepsake, commemorating this event. You also can send it through the U.S. mail.
A century ago, Rogers State University wasn’t known as Rogers State University! It was the Eastern University Preparatory School, or E.U.P.S. for short. EUPS was officially founded on March 25, 1909, the day Governor Charles Haskell signed legislation creating the new school. Some of you may recall our celebration of the 100th anniversary of that date last March. It was a day to remember!
The first day of classes at EUPS was September 14th – 100 years ago today.
Now, you might ask, why are we standing here?
When it opened, EUPS did not yet have a building of its own. So, it held its first year of classes in the old Claremont School, which was owned by the Claremore Public Schools and was the former location of Claremore High School. It was located just north of here on the playground of the present-day Claremont Elementary School, the building you see here before us.
The founding of EUPS was the result of a lot of hard work, and yes, a little politics. In 1906, the United States Congress approved the Oklahoma Enabling Act, combining Oklahoma Territory, which covered western and central Oklahoma, and its neighbor to the east, Indian Territory. This paved the way for statehood a year later.
At that time, Oklahoma Territory already had seven tax-supported public institutions up and running. In fact, what are now OU, OSU, and UCO in Edmond, had already been in existence for nearly 17 years. Indian Territory had none.
Understandably, legislators from the eastern part of the state were concerned about this disparity. Beginning in 1908, they began to correct this problem by passing legislation to create several new colleges and a preparatory school in eastern Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Territory also had a preparatory school, located in Tonkawa, but Indian Territory did not. The preparatory schools were designed to prepare young people to go off to college. So, the Oklahoma Legislature decided to create a second preparatory school in the eastern part of the state. This was – you guessed it – EUPS.
Instrumental to getting that legislation passed was A.L. Kates, editor of the Claremore Daily Progress, who pushed hard with his pen, writing numerous editorials explaining how Claremore should become the educational hub of northeast Oklahoma. Mr. Kates was indeed one of the founding fathers of RSU.
Another founding father was Representative C.S. Wortman, who represented Rogers County in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Representative Wortman also fought hard for the new school, and successfully attached an amendment to House Bill 362, which moved the location of the school from Holdenville to Claremore. We apologize to our friends down in Hughes County. But we’re glad Representative Wortman persevered with such enthusiasm and pride for his hometown of Claremore.
House Bill 362 mandated that the new school be located on a tract of at least 35 acres. So, once again, area citizens leapt into action, most notably A.L. Kates. He and his two brothers, William and Herbert Kates, donated 10 acres of their land on the west side of Claremore. They led a group of citizens known as the Hilltoppers, who worked to get the campus located on College Hill. They raised enough money to buy an adjoining 30 acres and presented it to the State of Oklahoma in 1909 for the new school.
Soon after, construction began on a new building for EUPS. That, of course, was Preparatory Hall, the iconic building with the gold dome that remains the centerpiece of the RSU campus in Claremore. Today, Preparatory Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preparatory Hall was completed in 1912. However, EUPS moved into the building in time for the beginning of classes in the fall of 1910, while the building was still under construction. It must have been noisy!
The first president of EUPS was Dr. Edmund Dandridge Murdaugh, who was a colorful character described as a “circuit-riding president” by our own Dr. Bruce Garrison, dean of the RSU School of Business and Technology. Murdaugh was president of other Oklahoma institutions for short periods of time, including OSU and UCO in Edmond.
Other presidents assumed the helm of EUPS, including Dr. J.H. Bayes, who took over from Murdaugh in 1911, and Stephen M. Barrett, who became president in 1913 and saw EUPS through to its end – in 1917. Before shutting its doors, EUPS was accredited as a secondary school by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools – the organization that still provides accreditation for RSU.
Called “The Prep” or simply “Eastern” by its students and faculty, EUPS history was brief but significant. The first class in 1909 had 14 students, including nine girls and five boys. They were said to be the sons and daughters of farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans in Claremore and the surrounding area. Faculty members were recruited from near and far, coming from Chicago, Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
It was a long time ago, but some of us still have ties to the old EUPS. Frank Robson’s mother, Hazel Carr, along with her friend Elva Helm, attended the preparatory school. Ludmila Robson’s father, Harold Samuel Elliott, was also a student at EUPS. The grandmother of Bill Alton and Betty Miller of Claremore – Maude Vinson – also attended EUPS.
Mr. Frank Podpechan, who is a current member of the RSU Board of Visitors and is with us today, isn’t old enough to have attended EUPS, but he did attend the fifth and sixth grades at the old Claremont School. Mr. Podpechan also remembers carrying his desk and chair to the new Claremont School when the old one closed in 1938.
From 1938 to 1942, June Bernard Faulkner taught fourth and fifth grade at the old Claremont School. Mrs. Faulkner was the mother of Dave Faulkner, a great friend of the university. Sadly, Mrs. Faulkner recently passed away. Our condolences are with the family. It should also be noted that Mr. Faulkner’s father-in-law, Col. John Horne, was later the final president of the Oklahoma Military Academy and the first president of Claremore Junior College.
In its second year, EUPS fielded a football team – recording only one loss in its first season – and girl’s and boy’s basketball teams. The football team played area high schools and Henry Kendall College in Tulsa, the precursor to TU.
Wayne McCombs, executive director of the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum here in Claremore, tells us that the football games were played on the Hill, in the present location of the Bushyhead Fieldhouse. The games were held during the day, before dark, since the field was not lighted.
EUPS students distinguished themselves in the classroom and on the playing field. Two members of the 1912 EUPS football team, Wayne Bayless and Dick Johnson, went on to become members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Our most famous EUPS alumnus may be Lynn Riggs, Claremore’s second-favorite son and the playwright who wrote “Green Grow the Lilacs” – the inspiration for the iconic musical “Oklahoma!” Mr. Riggs was a member of the school’s final graduating class in 1917. Known for his nickname “Banty,” Riggs was the joke editor of the Sequoian yearbook, and was a member of the Dramatic Club, Glee Club, and Athletic Association.
Some students undoubtedly shopped at Walker’s Department Store in downtown Claremore, whose slogan was “Carry the Best and Sell for Less.” They also hung out at Theeson’s Bakery downtown, whose telephone number was “8” – yes, simply “8.” And at the time, the National Bank of Claremore boasted assets of a half million. Doesn’t sound too bad for 1909!
At its height, the school had 468 students in 1916.
In 1917, for political reasons, Governor R.L. Williams pulled the plug on the school by not renewing its funding. The school closed in the spring of 1917. According to the Sequoian, the school’s yearbook, EUPS died on March 31 when “the governor refused to sign the appropriation for its maintenance.”
A few years later, also as a result of the initiatives of local citizens, including A.L. Kates of the Claremore Progress, the legendary Oklahoma Military Academy opened, taking the place of the old EUPS. That’s a story still familiar to many of us, and we will save it for another day!
When we kicked off our Centennial Celebration back in December, our first speaker was Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and one of the state’s most famous historians. Since the historical society recently designated this site as an official historical site in Oklahoma, we thought it was only fitting to invite Dr. Blackburn to share a few words with us today. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Dr. Bob Blackburn.
RSU also is proud to share a history with Claremont Elementary School. I would like to thank all the students of Claremont Elementary School for joining us here today. Please join me in a round of applause for the students of Claremont.
Thank you, Principal Shuck for allowing us to have this ceremony and place this historical marker on your school grounds. RSU is proud of our close partnership with Claremont Elementary School.
Please join me in the unveiling of our historic marker sign.
Eastern University Preparatory School may be a memory, but RSU is still going strong. And this is the spot where it all began.
Thank you all for joining us here today and helping us to commemorate this historic occasion. Please remain to visit with friends and enjoy some refreshments, and have a great day.