These Walls: Oklahoma's Rogers State University Preparatory Hall

Article excerpt

With education the key to most any lock, many universities promise their graduates the world.

But few deliver that as visually as Rogers State University.

Crowned by its golden dome, RSU's iconic Preparatory Hall rises from College Hill to soar over Claremore. Its pillared portico points like an arrow straight down Main Street to the heart of downtown commerce.

"Rogers State University is known for this building," said Director of Public Relations Brent Ortolani. "The story of this building is the story of the institution."

That started with statehood. With few high schools operating across the territory, lawmakers decided eastern Oklahoma needed a preparatory school to help students make the leap to college. Claremore won the battle for the site in 1909, with a group of citizens called "the Hilltoppers" raising $3,000 to buy 30 hilltop acres for a campus one mile west of town. Claremore Daily Progress editor A.L. Kates donated 10 adjoining acres to finalize the Eastern University Preparatory School.

A $50,000 appropriation by Oklahoma's second Legislature allowed construction to start on a three-story Preparatory Hall in 1909. The following year classes moved from temporary quarters in the now- gone Claremont Building to the new red brick hall, even though workers didn't finish it until 1911.

That same year Will Rogers bought 20 neighboring acres for his family ranch. It now harbors the Will Rogers Memorial.

Although the preparatory school took several growth steps, adding accreditations and a library, the state's expanding education network soon reduced the need for that bridge to college, and so the school closed in 1917. But with World War I demonstrating the need for professional soldiers, the Legislature revived Preparatory Hall two years later as the Oklahoma Military Academy. Over the next five decades more than 2,500 graduates from its spreading red-brick campus served U.S. armed forces in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. …