In October 1996, Ken Townsend started planning to retire as
chairman and president of what was then Boatmen's First National
Bank of Oklahoma. He was 53, so he started looking around for what
to do next.
"I knew I wanted to do something for Oklahoma City," said
Townsend. "I love this city. It's my home, and it gave me
opportunities beyond my dreams. I started at the bottom -- in the
mailroom of the old First National Bank and spent 35 years at the
First National, First Interstate and then Boatmen's (which was
merging with NationsBank)."
Dwight D. Sutherland of Sutherland Lumber was on the boards of
Boatmen's and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage
Center at that time. He suggested that Townsend consider replacing
Byron Price, who was leaving as executive director of the Cowboy
"At first, I thought: `I don't know anything about museums.'
Byron had done a good job in leading the expansion of the Cowboy
Hall, but Sutherland pointed out there was more to be done. The
exhibits needed to be completed, and some help was needed in
financing. The more I thought about it, the more I figured I could
leave a legacy at the Cowboy Hall."
Now, after retiring from the bank in January 1997, Townsend
already is leading the Cowboy Hall into a new era after three years
at the helm. The museum has raised $15 million to complete a series
of spectacular new exhibits with more to come. The exhibits are
there for all to see, but they are just the start of the tremendous
efforts planned and envisioned under Townsend's leadership.
The most important long-term goal is to build the Cowboy Hall's
endowment from $2.5 million to $50 million. The museum also is
seeking accreditation from the National Association of Museums, and
it is building a research center and an education program for Prix
de West Artists to teach painting and sculpture.
"Our big challenge," said Townsend, "is the financing of overhead
and operations. No museum exists on the income from admissions. This
museum accepts no funds from any government -- federal, state or
city. We have to raise money to maintain the museum facility and to
"That's why we need the endowment -- to insure that the Cowboy
Hall will continue to operate forever with a first-class facility."
The accreditation is needed for the Cowboy Hall to reach its goal
of becoming nationally recognized as the premier museum of the West.
That, of course, will help in raising funds from all over the
Developing the Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research
Center is a major effort that has grown out of the museum library.
The center, directed by Charles Rand, now has about 22,000 volumes
and more than 160,000 images and 750 sound recordings, said
Townsend. The Robert E. Cunningham Collection contains nearly 1,300
glass plate negatives.
"We receive more and more inquiries on western history, the
cowboy culture and everything connected with frontier and pioneer
life," said Townsend. "We want to be the place to go for that
The education program is associated with the annual Prix de West
Invitational Exhibition and Sale. Of the 105 artists invited to the
next event, more than 90 have confirmed they will present their art.
During the latest one, the Cowboy Hall had sales of $6. …