OCWA celebrating 50 years Fifty years and still going strong

The Oklahoma Christian Women's Association has been shining its light on the Oklahoma Christian University community for 50 years. 

This past October, the OC community took time to celebrate the organization's impact on the university. In its history, the Oklahoma Christian Women's Association has donated more than $2 million to Oklahoma Christian University.

In 1955, Stepping Stones was founded by Dr. James Baird. He brought together a group of women in Tulsa and asked for their help in generating funds for the still-fledgling Christian college that had been founded in Bartlesville five years earlier. 

These ladies eagerly accepted the challenge and began meeting in 1956 to raise funds. The original concept was that every member of the group would pay $1 in dues and the rest of the money would be raised through fundraising activities. 

From the small gathering in Tulsa 50 years ago, the group expanded across the state of Oklahoma, forming chapters in many cities and towns. Every chapter operated independently to determine their fundraising methods and to support campus projects. 

When Central Christian College relocated to Oklahoma City, the group's name was changed to the Oklahoma Christian Women's Association. As OCWA Coordinators, Joy McMillion (1974-1979), Joanne Smith (1979-1989), Becky Durham (1989-2000) and Christine Meredith (2000-present) each have taken the reigns of the organization and done their part to advance the group's good works.

The coordinator's job is to stay in contact with each of the chapters. During the October celebration, each of the women had the opportunity to share their memories of this wonderful group and the great things they have accomplished. 

When the organization began, the founding members were not alumni of the school, but were women who believed in the importance of Christian higher education. Joy and Christine are both Oklahoma Christian alumni, while Joanne and Becky are parents of OC alumni.

"When OC moved to Oklahoma City, it was nothing more than four brick buildings on a muddy hill," Joanne remembers. "Now every building on this campus has been affected by OCWA funds."

During the 1970s, OCWA had 16 chapters in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. The groups gathered once a year at the Roll Call Luncheon to give a report of what each chapter had accomplished in the past year. These gatherings included more than 300 members, all with OC's best interest at heart.

As more women became a part of the workforce, OCWA saw a shift in the number of women participating in the group. At one time, a pair of chapters specifically for career women met at night to accommodate busy schedules.

The foursome says they know OCWA will more than likely never be what it was in the past. There is no annual Roll Call; women now meet in smaller groups to report their findings. But Joy says the women wouldn't continue to work as hard as they do if they didn't believe in the cause.

In the beginning, most of the major projects supported by OCWA aided in campus beautification and needs that went beyond the college's normal budget. The sign located in the pond that once welcomed people to the OC's campus was provided with OCWA funds, as was the retaining wall in front of the Mabee Learning Center. 

One of the university's first over-the-road buses was purchased with the help of OCWA funds. The ladies participated in a program that allowed them to collect stamps and exchange them for merchandise.

"We even provided maps for the Bible department. They didn't have any maps to teach with," Joy said.

The women also point out the work done by other women such as Sue Vaughn, Jesse Lee Cornwell and Lois McCord. None of these women was an official coordinator for the group, but they played a major role in getting OCWA off the ground and helping it make a difference. 

One of the most memorable fundraisers was the booth OCWA operated at the Oklahoma State Fair for 25 years. The booth, which took more than 30 people a day to run, would begin serving breakfast at 6 a.m. to the young men who were there as exhibitors. 

"It was like we took the places of their mothers while they were at the fair," Joanne said. 

The ladies had a reputation at the fair for serving great stew and beans. Joanne fondly remembers what a great public relations tool the booth was for Oklahoma Christian. It gave people outside the campus community the opportunity to see the type of people who were working at and supporting the school.

When rules and limitations set by the fair began to change and the fair booth was no longer profitable, the group decided to change with the times and look for new ways to accomplish the goals they had for their organization. Instead of fair booths, the OCWA now holds golf tournaments and home tours at Christmas. 

Some fundraisers will never go out of style. The bake sales and yard sales are still going on today, as is the annual Ladies Day at the OC lectureship program.

Every year, OCWA has allowed each department to submit a "wish list" for things their budget may not be able to afford. Over the years, the lists have evolved with the times. 

Joanne remembered how the business department asked for tabletop calculators for the accounting students. Now the requests have moved on to computers.

More recent projects have included a new intramural field and new equipment for the nursing program that began this past fall. OCWA also played a role in the University House and the updating of the lobby in the Mabee Learning Center.

"It always felt like you got to play Santa Claus," Joy says of the opportunity to fulfill some of the wishes of the OC students, faculty and staff.

There seems to be no doubt that the love and dedication these women have toward the university will continue for the next 50 years and beyond.

For them, it is not about how much money they raise. It's about how many young people they have helped obtain a Christian education and how those students will go out and spread the love of God to the world around them.

by Allison Shumate (05)