The Will Rogers Memorial Foundation is moving forward with fundraising plans to strengthen the Memorial Museum’s mission to “collect, preserve and share the life, wisdom and humor of Will Rogers for all generations.”
The Foundation’s formation and structure have been in the planning stages for some time, but only recently it launched plans for The EVENT, a fund-raising gala set for September 19 at the Claremore Museum.
The event will feature former Chief Justice and former Oklahoma Attorney General Robert Henry, now president of Oklahoma City University. A Will Rogers expert, Henry made a guest appearance in the Rogers State University-TV documentary Will Rogers and American Politics, and was guest speaker for the 2008 Will Rogers Days on the 70th anniversary of the Memorial Museum opening.
Gov. Frank Keating and George Nigh are honorary chairs. Keating is the author of Will Rogers: An American Legend, a children’s book about the life of Will Rogers, illlustrated by prominent Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer.
Nigh, who has a long-standing relationship with the Memorial as legislator, governor and lieutenant governor, was a primary supporter of state fund-raising efforts during his administration. He was recipient of the Will Rogers Spirit Award by Will Rogers Rotary Club of Tulsa.
Linda Bradshaw, Foundation board member and active volunteer in the Will Rogers Roper (docent) program, is spearheading the event.
Dr. Richard Mosier, retired Rogers State University president, is Foundation chairman. Vice chairman is Phil Albert, president of Pelco Structural LLC, Claremore.
A native of far northwestern Kansas, Dr. Mosier came to Claremore in 1972 from Colby (Kansas) Community College.
He was president of Claremore Junior College. From an office that overlooked Will Rogers Memorial Museum, he led the school through the years of Claremore College and later Rogers State College. He retired in the late 1990s. During those years, he oversaw several innovations including introduction of country music and horse management programs, and formation of the television station and distance learning, among others.
Another lasting contribution is his leadership in the Rogers State University Foundation. It has grown from a small Chapel Fund leftover from Oklahoma Military Academy cadet days, to the now $12.2 million Foundation. It provides thousands of dollars each year in scholarships to RSU students.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said, for Will Rogers Memorial Foundation fund-raising.
“It’s an interesting venture. We have a constituency that most agencies would die for, people who have an interest in, an affection for, people who have felt a bond with Will Rogers.
“There is hardly ever an opportunity to build a foundation on that kind of base,” he said.
Albert, Oklahoma City born and reared, came to Claremore in 2005 to open Pelco Structural, a brand-new business. His first years were consumed with growing the business and getting acquainted in his new community.
He and the new company, a provider for utility distribution and transmission and traffic signs and lights, have been involved in virtually every aspect of Claremore’s business and civic community since his arrival.
Albert is an accountant by trade, but early in his career “fell in love” with small business. In 2004, he and Phil Parduhn, Edmond inventor and entrepreneur, put together the Pelco business plan, which brought him to Claremore.
It was when Robert Henry, his former business law professor and mentor at Oklahoma Baptist University, received the RSU Constitution Day Award that Albert was inspired to visit Will Rogers Memorial Museum.
“He was one of the greatest teachers I had. At dinner he began to talk about how much fun he had earlier that day at Will Rogers Museum, just getting reacquainted,” Albert said.
“As he began to talk, I told Jo (Albert’s wife) we had to go. And we fell in love with another of Oklahoma’s greatest natural resources,” he said.
The man, who “broadened” his horizons in college, introduced a new learning experience and a dedication that resulted in the invitation for Albert to join the foundation board.
Since his first visit to the Museum, Albert has taken every opportunity to promote Will Rogers and the Museum entrusted to care for Will’s legacy. In cooperation with the state Department of Commerce, he has presented Will Rogers statues to visiting dignitaries, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“Will Rogers is an internationally known piece of our Oklahoma history. I look at this as an opportunity to help promote him and the Museum.”
The foundation is in discussion with the Will Rogers Memorial Commission to develop a public/private partnership to operate, maintain and sustain the Memorial Museum and Birthplace Ranch.
The 16-member foundation board includes retired NBC correspondent Jim Hartz, Alexandria,Va.; Steve Turnbo, chairman emeritus of Schnake Turnbo Frank, Tulsa; and Will Rogers’ grandson, Kem Rogers, Bakersfield, Calif.
Other Claremore members are Chad Choat, owner of Community Home Health, and Jack Spinks, residential housing developer and retired ONEOK. Other Tulsans on the board are Bradshaw, owner of Tulsa World of Gymnastics; Cheryl Cohenour, president, Cherokee CRC, LLC; Jim Halsey, music and entertainment promoter and 2012 Will Rogers Days Parade Marshal; Jody McIntyre, KTUL-TV Channel 8 Good Day Tulsa executive producer; Ken Neal, retired Tulsa World editorial writer; Deacon Turner, former member of Will Rogers Memorial Commission and financial advisor; Beth Bovaird, volunteer consultant; and Janet Youngblood, agent with Chenowth & Cohen Realtors. Carl Milam, Oklahoma City, great-great-nephew of Will Rogers, restaurant entrepreneur and owner of the old Will Rogers Theatre in Oklahoma City, is also a member of the board.