George S. Benson
Born on a farm in western Oklahoma, George S. Benson developed a national reputation for himself and Harding College, where he served 29 years as its president. Business leaders across the nation sought Dr. Benson as a speaker for their local civic events. His three-point message was faith in God; belief in constitutional government; and support for a free economy.
Although dedicated to building Harding into a great school in Searcy, Arkansas, Dr. Benson never forgot his roots in Oklahoma. In 1956, Dr. James O. Baird, then president of Central Christian College, persuaded Dr. Benson to assist the Oklahoma college with a study regarding its future in Bartlesville. He worked with Central Christian’s trustees and others who examined potential sites in Wichita, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City. Two years later, the college relocated to Oklahoma City.
For 10 years (1957-67), Dr. Benson served as chancellor of Oklahoma Christian. For part of that time, he was actually the chief executive, with President Baird serving as chief operating officer. For eight of those years, he was still president at Harding. It took an understanding Board of Trustees at Harding to allow its president to serve a sister institution.
Even more, Dr. Benson encouraged some of his best friends in Oklahoma to support the young college’s move to Oklahoma City. Included in this list were E.K. Gaylord, Edward L. Gaylord, C.A. Vose, Donald S. Kennedy, W.T. Payne and C.L. Frates. Later, Dr. Benson was instrumental in attracting major gifts from W.G. and Reba Davisson of Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Dr. Benson used his private aircraft to carry him to his various business appointments. Each Monday morning, his small plane landed on the east end of the Oklahoma Christian campus and delivered Dr. Benson for a full day’s work. If it had been raining, he would take off his shoes and socks, roll up his pant legs and wade through the mud until he reached the men’s restroom in Cogswell-Alexander Hall. There, he would clean his feet, put on his shoes and socks, and proceed to the administration building, where he would begin his busy day.
In addition to his educational leadership and business acumen, Dr. Benson was a leader in the churches of Christ. Prior to his career in higher education, he was a missionary to China. He was an elder of the church in Searcy and preached often at churches throughout the nation.
Dr. Benson’s most enduring legacy is the citizenship education program that he put in place through the National Education Program and the American Citizenship Center. These organizations ultimately gave rise to Enterprise Square USA, and a host of national honors from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.