RSU, Bit By Bit Program Lassoes Oologah Land Gift

Frank Sanders Family Contributes 23 Acres To Support Equine Therapy Program

A gift of land near Oologah would provide a future home for Rogers State University’s Equestrian Center, which will house a unique program that provides equine therapy to area disabled children.

The Frank and Wanda Sanders Family Trust provided a gift of 23 acres of land adjacent to U.S. Highway 169 about five miles south of Oologah. The RSU Equestrian Center will house the Bit By Bit Therapeutic Riding Program, which is a cooperative program between RSU and Oologah-Talala Public Schools to promote physical and mental health for children and adults with disabilities through horseback riding.

“I have seen the pleasures children can enjoy through their interactions with horses, and I feel that it’s important to support programs like Bit By Bit that help bring that joy to children who are otherwise captured in bodies that don’t allow them to participate in the usual experiences of childhood,” Wanda Sanders said.

Wanda and her late husband, Frank, started the Overhead Door Company of Tulsa in 1966, and she continues to manage the day-to-day operations since his death five years ago. In the early 1970s, the couple moved to the area south of Oologah to operate a ranch and allow Frank to continue his hobby as a competitive cutting horse enthusiast. Their two children – Claudia Sanders of Tulsa and Frank Sanders, Jr. of Houston – also participated in horse competitions while growing up.

“This is an exciting announcement for the university, and we are extremely appreciative of the Sanders family’s generosity in support of the university and its equestrian programs,” said RSU President Dr. Joe Wiley. “This gift will bring the university one step closer to having modern equestrian facilities that will serve the needs of our students, as well as the area children who benefit from the Bit By Bit program.”

One of 11 certified equine therapy centers in the state, Bit By Bit is the only certified program directly affiliated with a university. The program currently serves more than 75 children and adults in northeastern Oklahoma, and more than 1,000 students have participated in the program since its inception in 1997. Bit By Bit also provides opportunities for RSU nursing and behavioral sciences students to gain hands-on experience in equine therapy for the disabled. Linda Barron of Talala serves as the program director for Bit By Bit.

In addition to housing the Bit By Bit program, the proposed equestrian center would provide facilities for the RSU Rodeo Club, which would utilize the equestrian facilities to practice for intercollegiate rodeo competitions and other club activities.

The property proposed for the equestrian center is about 15 minutes from RSU’s Claremore campus. RSU currently operates equestrian facilities on its Claremore campus in an area that was once located on the edge of the campus grounds. Recent campus construction, including the RSU Student Apartments and the Stratton Taylor Library, has placed the equestrian facilities in the heart of campus. The current location of the equestrian facilities is an important area for future expansion to accommodate the growth of Oklahoma’s fastest growing university.

In late January, the university announced it was initiating a $2.2 million campaign to fund the off-campus equestrian center and its activities. The campaign goal was to raise $1.2 million for acquiring land and constructing the facilities, with another $1 million placed in an endowment for operating expenses for the programs. Including the value of the Sanders’ land gift, the university to date has campaign commitments of approximately $540,000, said Dr. Danette Boyle, RSU vice president for development.

Wanda Sanders said giving back to the community has always been important to her family.

“Frank and I always considered it important that those who have been blessed should return those blessings to the community when they can – whether financially or through their volunteer efforts,” Sanders said. “I would like to challenge people in this area to listen to their hearts and return the blessings that they have received to worthy causes. Whether it’s programs such as Bit By Bit or the schools that educate our young people, I feel it is important that we give back to our community.”

The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, RSU’s governing body, are scheduled to consider the acceptance of the land during its meeting this week in Lawton.

The new RSU Equestrian Center would include an expanded indoor arena; an improved mounting area to assist clients in mounting a horse; a classroom with one-way observational viewing for parents, students, and others; increased stall space and turn-out areas; storage and tack areas; an administrative office; a waiting area with two ADA-compliant restrooms; and other features. An outdoor arena is also planned.

For more information on the RSU Equestrian Center and Bit By Bit fundraising campaign, call the RSU Office of Development at (918) 343-7773.