Longtime friends, coworkers, supporters, colleagues, family members and admirers of former state representative and senator Stratton Taylor converged on the Claremore Museum of History Wednesday night for a special evening in honor of the former Oklahoma Representative and Senator.
“An Evening with the Honorable Stratton Taylor” presented by the Claremore Museum of History (MoH) featured an evening to recognize the life, the rise, and the accomplishments of Taylor, and to coincide with the debut of a video at the museum, in which Taylor reflected on his political career.
Following opening words by Hays Gilstrap and an introduction by Judge Steven Pazzo, during which, Pazzo described Taylor as an example and “mentor to himself and to so many people in the room,” the MoH’s lights were dimmed for the premier of Taylor’s video.
During the 20-minute video, Taylor recounted his beginnings in Alluwe and working his way up — including his early days as a sacker at Humpty Dumpty in Claremore — to his political career, highlighting many of his accomplishments, such as the establishment of the creation of the Claremore Veterans Center, helping make Rogers State University, formerly Claremore Junior College, into a four-year university, as well as various improvements and advances to roads, local museums, public education — including helping with the establishment of a high school in Verdigris, and more.
Following the video, Taylor took the floor and jokingly told all gathered that “after that, I don’t think any of you will need to go to my funeral — you’re all absolved.
“But in seriousness, thank you to everyone who worked on this (video) — I’m very grateful to you all, and I’m thankful to Steve Pazzo, who introduced me,” Taylor said. “If you know Steve, you know there were really only two ways he could go — he was definitely going to the courthouse, one way or the other, thank goodness that, by a narrow margin, he went to the bench, and he’s actually one of not only Rogers County, but Oklahoma’s outstanding judges. I’m very proud of him.
“I’m also very proud to have had the opportunity in my career to have worked with a legislative delegation from northeast Oklahoma on so many good projects,” he said. “I’m a very lucky person in that I get to work with some of the finest people in the state — the colleagues at my law office, who day in and day out, get sick of listening to me, so being here tonight is cruel and unusual punishment for them.”
Taylor further extended his appreciation for his family who were present, with the exception of his son, Carson, “the black sheep of the family,” who went to the University of Texas, as well as his many colleagues, friends, and supporters. During his expressions of gratitude, Taylor kept his remarks light, but he soon took on a more earnest, serious tone.
“This is a wonderful community — I’m very honored to have had the opportunity to serve it, but to be honest, I don’t know this community or this state the same way that I used to,” he said. “By that, I mean I, and many others, did all we could to move the ball forward — not always perfectly, not always consistently, but no one ever came to me and said ‘Stratton, we want to lead the nation in cuts to education’. No one ever came to me and said ‘We want to lead the nation in cuts to higher education’ or ‘We want to have a university in our town that we can ultimately starve to death’.
“Nobody ever came to me and said ‘Let’s get a veteran’s center and then, let’s not fund it so that our nation’s heroes don’t receive the quality of care they deserve’,” he said. “No one ever said ‘Gosh, we want to be 49th in education’ but that’s what’s happening to Oklahoma, and I don’t understand how or why, because I would like to think our state hasn’t changed THAT much in such a short time. We are on the cusp of losing, ultimately, a great university because of the funding cuts. Students can’t pay those tuition bills. We’re on the cusp of not having bright young Oklahomans to go into education, to be become teachers because they can go out of state and make more. They can make more money at Quik Trip.
“We can’t attract people to serve our veterans because we don’t have enough staffing or enough funding to pay the people there,” he said. “We’ve got great museums in this community, that any other community would die for — to have a Will Rogers Memorial, to have a J.M. Davis Gun Museum, and we’re starving them to death -- we could lose them all. I recently said, with no disrespect to these communities, but ‘Do you know what the difference is between Claremore and say, Collinsville or Wagoner? We’ve got a university, we’ve got a veteran’s center, we’ve got museums. They don’t have those things. They’d give anything to have those, and we’re letting them slip away from us.
“So ...I don’t know Oklahomans anymore because of what’s happening, and I’m not sure I know what’s happening here, because this is a wonderful community,” he said. “I’ll paraphrase it with something Ben Franklin said, which was ‘We’ve got a wonderful Democracy now, if we can keep it. We’ve got a university now, if we can keep it, but that’s what it’s going to take — for the community to rise up and say ‘Wait a minute ..what’s going on? We need to do something to save what we’ve got.
“So I said all that to say, thank you for coming out — I’m very honored you came out tonight, very flattered, “ he said. “What a wonderful community I had to give a 22-year-old grocery clerk the chance they did.”
Taylor then fielded questions from members of the audience, followed by informal fellowship throughout the evening.
Taylor’s video will be available to view at the Claremore Musuem of History at 4th and Weenonah Ave. in Claremore.
Claremore Museum of History is open every Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.claremorehistory.org.