Born on a farm in western Oklahoma, Dr. George S. Benson developed a national reputation during his 29 years as president of Harding College. Business leaders across the nation sought Dr. Benson as a speaker at civic events. His three-point message was faith in God; belief in constitutional government; and support for a free economy. In 1956, Dr. James O. Baird, then president of Central Christian College (now Oklahoma Christian University), persuaded Dr. Benson to assist the college with a study regarding its future in Bartlesville, where it began in 1950. The institution relocated to Oklahoma City in 1958 and changed its name to Oklahoma Christian.
Dr. Benson, who served as OCC’s chancellor from 1957 to 1967, 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 was best remembered within the political community for his establishment of the National Education Program (NEP). Through NEP, Benson hosted “Freedom Forums” and radio shows, produced short films and was a prolific writer. During NEP’s peak years, Dr. Benson’s weekly column “Looking Ahead,” his monthly newsletter and the radio show “The Land of the Free” reached an audience estimated at 25,000,000 per week.
Although the efforts of NEP were highly popular in the decade following World War II, the appeal of conservative, anti-communist rhetoric waned in the late 1950s and early 1960s. America was entering a new era of social change and the values of groups such as NEP was viewed by many social leaders as out of step with the evolution of American culture. Consequently, public sentiment towards leaders such as Benson and organizations like the NEP changed; their efforts were viewed by many within the academic community as Cold War propaganda. Nonetheless, Benson and others forged ahead in their efforts to promote Citizenship, Free Enterprise and Anti-Communism. Throughout OC’s history, presidents L.R. Wilson (1949-1954), James O. Baird (1954-1974), Terry Johnson (1974-1996), Kevin Jacobs (1996-2001), Alfred Branch (2001-2002), Mike O’Neal (2002-2012) and John deSteiguer (2012-present) have all sought to promote the value of service leadership and an informed citizenry.
During Terry Johnson’s administration, the most significant artifact of OC’s long history of involvement with the promotion of citizenship and the free-market economic system was born. Located prominently on the southwestern corner of the OC campus, Enterprise Square USA, dedicated in November 1982, is a striking and impressive structure. Built at a cost of $15,000,000 and designed to be an interactive museum promoting American Citizenship and the Free Enterprise System, the facility opened with great fanfare. Legendary entertainer Bob Hope (pictured below with Dr. Stafford North and President Terry Johnson) championed the museum.
Intended primarily for elementary and high school students, the layout of the museum was the brainchild of one of the nation’s leading museum architects aided by consultants from Walt Disney World. When it opened, schoolchildren from across the region flocked to the only interactive museum of its kind in America. It was a “must see” for tourists coming to Oklahoma City and was the subject of numerous newspaper articles and magazine articles, most notably Time.
President Emeritus Mike O’Neal and others have worked actively in recent years to renew interest in programs that encourage meaningful public discourse. The American Citizenship Center, the Distinguished Speakers Series and other initiatives have continued OC’s commitment to leadership and liberty.