Walker Foundation Provides Major Gift for RSU Equestrian Center

The Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation of Fayetteville, Ark., has provided a gift of $375,000 to Rogers State University toward the completion of its new equestrian facilities.

The Walker gift is part of a $2.2 million fundraising campaign being conducted by the RSU Foundation for the new RSU Equestrian Center, which will serve as the home of the university’s Bit-by-Bit Therapeutic Horse Riding Program for disabled children and adults.

“The university is grateful for the generous assistance of the Walker family to help make the dream of state-of-the-art equestrian facilities a reality for our students and the many disabled children and adults who benefit from this important program,” said RSU President Dr. Joe Wiley.

The history of the Walker foundation began several years ago in Kansas. The Walkers met while working in the S.H. Kress discount store in Coffeyville, Kan. Later, the Walkers moved to Fayetteville, where he became manager of Sam Walton’s five and dime store. Mr. Walker opened Springdale Wal-Mart No. 3 and continued as manager until his retirement in 1972. Mr. and Mrs. Walker founded the Willard and Pat Walker Chariable Foundation in 1986. Together they promoted the virtues of integrity and generosity through charitable giving until Mr. Walker’s death in 2003.

Today, Mrs. Walker and her family continue to support education, health care, and humanitarian causes in Arkansas and nearby states. “The foundation is dedicated to supporting programs that enrich people’s lives and provide them with the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Debbie Walker, executive director of the foundation and daughter-in-law of the Walkers.

“We are pleased to support the Bit by Bit Program because we recognize the benefits provided to disabled children and adults from interaction with the animals.”

In addition to an interest in the university’s equestrian facilities, the Walker family has a tie to RSU history. Johnny Mike Walker, the Walker’s son, was a student in 1968-69 at the Oklahoma Military Academy, the predecessor institution of RSU. He is currently on the Walker Foundation board of directors along with his wife, Debbie, and mother, Pat. T

he goal of the fundraising campaign is to raise $1.2 million for the construction of the equestrian facilities, with another $1 million placed in an endowment to fund operating expenses for the equestrian center and the Bit By Bit program.

The new equestrian center will be located five miles south of Oologah on U.S. Highway 169. The center will include an expanded indoor arena; 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-complaint restrooms; and other features.

An outdoor arena is also planned. The Bit By Bit program, a cooperative effort between RSU and Oologah-Talala Public Schools, promotes physical and mental health through horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities.

One of 11 certified equine therapy centers in the state, Bit By Bit is the only certified program directly affiliated with a university. The riding sessions and other therapeutic interactions with the horses help improve balance, walking, language and cognitive skills for participating clients. The program has served more than 1,000 children and adults in northeastern Oklahoma. The program also provides opportunities for RSU nursing and behavioral sciences students to gain hands-on experience in equine therapy for the disabled.

In addition, the RSU Rodeo Club will utilize the new equestrian center to practice for intercollegiate rodeo competitions. RSU currently operates equestrian facilities on its Claremore campus. Moving the equestrian facilities to an off-campus location will allow the university additional space for future expansion, and will provide modern facilities to support the equestrian programs. The 23-acre site of the new equestrian center was donated last summer by the Frank and Wanda Sanders Family Trust of Oologah.