(Summarized from The East Central Story, from Normal School to University, 1909 -- 1984)
The citizens of early Ada aspired to see their town become a thriving community that offered plenty of opportunities for incoming families and businesses. They felt that one way to accomplish this goal was to secure a state-sponsored college.
After statehood in 1907, Ada was up against five other towns, all of which were larger, to be chosen as one of three sites for a normal school. City leaders worked together to plan a strategy to secure the normal school and the Ada promoters agreed to keep a delegation of citizens at the state capital in Guthrie in order to influence the first state legislature.
The people of Ada worked together to raise funds for the delegation by hosting band concerts and dinners. Otis Weaver, editor of the Ada Newspaper, used the paper to help raise the needed funds for lobbying. He even listed the names of the individuals who had contributed and how much money they had given. If he didn't feel that an individual had given enough money he would write that they should "exhibit greater civic pride."
Unfortunately, the citizens of Ada were not the only ones who had this idea and delegations from the competing towns swarmed the legislative session. Competition for the normal schools became so heated during that first session that a fist fight erupted on the floor between Pontotoc County's Sen. Reuben Roddie and Sen. J.S. Morris of Booker. The first Oklahoma Legislature adjourned without establishing any new normal schools for the state.
During the second legislative session, approval came for three normal schools to be established -- one at Tahlequah, one at Durant and one at Duncan. At the last minute, some of the Ada delegates persuaded a member of the legislature to replace Duncan's name with Ada's. The bill eventually made it through both the House and the Senate after much additional political maneuvering.
On March 25, 1909, Gov. Charles N. Haskell signed the Ada Normal School bill. When word reached Ada every mill and factory in town blew their steam whistles in celebration of the creation of the East Central State Normal School.
For the first 11 years, East Central State Normal School served as both a high school and a two-year college. Classes began in September 1909, despite the fact the new college did not have its own buildings. Classes were held at various churches throughout the city and eventually moved to the high school.
Most of the land for the original campus was donated by Dan Hays, a Chickasaw Indian. East Central's first building, Science Hall, was built by Texas Building Company for $94,700 and was completed by the summer of 1910. The second building on campus was a wooden gymnasium built in 1913. The gym was located just southeast of Science Hall.
The Board of Normal Regents named the first president of ECSNS as Rev. E.N. Sweet of Lawton. However, Sweet refused the job and the board named Charles W. Briles, Muskogee school superintendent, as East Central's president. Briles had graduated from the University of North Carolina and taught in Texas for nine years before becoming a member of the faculty at the University of Texas.
Briles served as ECSNS's president for seven years, surviving much political turmoil. The shaky politics of the new state greatly affected the normal schools, all of which went through two presidents during Briles' seven-year term.
Throughout the summer of 1915, Oklahoma Gov. Robert L. Williams removed several of the normal school presidents and on May 20, 1916, the state board dismissed Briles as the president of ECSNS. Briles moved to Stillwater and taught at Oklahoma A&M College.
Briles' successor was James Marcus Gordon. Gordon, who was the dean of Trinity University in Waxahachie, Texas, became the second president on May 20, 1916.
During homecoming activities in the fall of 1916, the East Central Alumni Association was formed. Ola Davis, a 1913 graduate, was elected the first president.
In 1918, ECSNS added commercial courses as part of the curriculum and started to expand its influence beyond the campus. The faculty began sponsoring debate clubs, literary societies, extension classes and correspondence courses.
Also in 1918, the president's home was built on East Central's campus. Today, the president's home is used for meetings and receptions. It now adjoins the new Sterling Williams Foundation and Alumni Center which serves as offices for the Alumni Association and the East Central University Foundation Inc.
President Gordon served at ECSNS until June 1, 1920, when he took the position of president at Henry Kendall College in Tulsa. Under his tenure, East Central achieved a sense of stability and permanence.
The Centennial Celebration marking East Central University's 100th birthday in 2009 is officially underway.
The university was established as East Central State Normal School on March 25, 1909. A celebration was held in Ada when then-Gov. Charles N. Haskell signed the legislation, said Dr. Duane C. Anderson, ECU's interim president.
Despite months of tough competition from other cities, Ada's hard-working civic leaders and boosters had raised money and sent supporters to lobby with local legislators for Ada's selection during two legislative sessions at the state capital at Guthrie.
"To mark this important milestone, we are offering a special gift for next year's freshmen who will be part of ECU's Centennial Class," Anderson said. "Next fall, all beginning freshmen, those who enroll for the first time for the fall 2009 semester, will receive a $100 Centennial Scholarship each semester for four years."
Complete details can be found at www.ecok.edu/scholarship.
ECU also has a special Centennial website at www.ecok.edu/centennial that includes the history of the university, photos from the past, Centennial events and a section for favorite memories contributed by past students of the university or of the former Horace Mann Training School.
While special events will be held this March, the yearlong observance of ECU's centennial actually kicked off officially on Dec. 31 with the First Night Ada community celebration. A laser show finale featured a tribute to ECU's 100th anniversary.
Many annual events during 2009 will have a Centennial theme, and several special events will be scheduled throughout the year to include alums and the community.
Students probably enjoyed many scavenger hunts in prior decades, but they could not have imagined something like the Great Centennial Race. On Jan. 22 [THURSDAY], ECU students will participate in a 2009 version of the game. An interactive, text message-based scavenger hunt will allow teams to play for free from any cell phone as they solve riddles, find locations, take pictures with their cell phones and collect points to win. The race will begin at 6 p.m. in the Estep Multimedia Center in the University Center.
While sock hops were big social events in the 1950s, the Orange and Black Sweetheart Social will be part of the social scene on Feb. 14 with music by Zoom City. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the Stanley Wagner Ballroom Admission is free, but those planning to attend should RSVP by Feb. 6 to the Office of Alumni Relations. Dress is either casual or formal.
The fundraiser Tiger Cause: Centennial Edition -- Dancing through the Decades is scheduled Feb.20, and the musical "Cinderella" will run Feb. 19-22 in the Dorothy Summers Theatre.
ECU will continue its tradition of recognizing special anniversaries. Birthday parties marked the 25th and 75th anniversaries of the school, and the 100th birthday will be no exception.
A special week in March will focus on the 1909 signing of the Normal School Bill. Special performances will be scheduled by student dance, instrumental and vocal music groups. An ECU birthday party on March 26 will include the opening of the time capsule buried on the campus mall during ECU's 75th anniversary in 1984.