Steve Gragert, director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums, announced Thursday that he will retire as of Sept. 1, ending an almost 40 years’ association with the museums.
Gragert said he and his wife, Helen, “have been blessed and will take this opportunity to travel and do things we haven’t had time to make happen.”
The couple plans to visit Robert and Cezar, their “sons” in Germany and Brazil, exchange students who lived with them when they attended Stillwater High.
They hope to meet Cezar’s son, who at birth was announced to them as their “grandson.”
Gragert has been involved with Will Rogers since working on the Will Rogers Research Project at Oklahoma State University, starting in 1976.
Helen, an artist, has been involved in many Claremore and Museum community projects since moving here.
Gragert was associate director before becoming director in late 2006, when then-director Michelle Lefebvre Carter retired.
Gragert said his time here has been rewarding with the many programs and exhibits that have been put into place, such as the re-establishment of the volunteer program.
Today, there are more than 50 active docents, as well as others who have logged more than 20,000 hours since 2008.
“We have striven to present the story of Will as professional and complete as possible with exhibits, including The Final Journey and the Heritage Gallery. For the first time we are able to tell the story of Will’s pride in his Cherokee heritage,” he said.
He has supported the collection protection and preservation through various means such as dehumidification, as well as organizing, cataloging and proper storage, “as much as possible within the limits of available funding.”
Among Gragert’s experiences with the museum have been meeting and hosting special guests, including the most recent, Col. David Griest, 95, who was in Barrow, Ala., when Will and Wiley Post perished in a plane accident, and Calvin Pitts, retired pilot and Post fan, who were here in 2013 for opening of The Final Journey.
Singer Larry Gatlin also was in Claremore for Will Rogers Days last November and has agreed to serve on the Foundation Board. The Robb sisters, who, as children, were cast in Will’s 1933 movie Mr. Skitch, came three years ago.
“I was delighted to get so many people to share their story and relationships with Will,” he said, adding Lynette Bennett’s, one-woman show about Will and Betty’s romance, and Laurette Willis’ Letters from the Heart, and his special fondness for artist Charles Banks Wilson.
Researchers were made welcome and the Museum opened to scholars who have produced a great number of books, articles and shows about Will, such as the award-winning Rogers State University Television production of Will Rogers and American Politics.