Every mill and factory in the town of Ada blew their steam whistles on March 25, 1909, in celebration of the creation of the East Central State Normal School.
Oklahoma Governor Charles N. Haskell signed the Ada Normal School bill that day, and 107 years later, this institution of higher learning, now known as East Central University, is still a major part of a thriving community.
ECU celebrated its beginning with a Founders’ Day on Centennial Plaza Friday as students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends gathered for the event, which featured performances of the Oklahoma State Song, ECU Fight Song and Happy Birthday from members of the ECU Pride of Tigerland Marching Band. Also in attendance were Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby and State Sen. Susan Paddack.
“The genesis for this came from Dr. Boomer Appleman (dean of students), who was reading about the early history of ECU. He was impressed by the go-getter attitude and vision of our city (of Ada) fathers,” said ECU President John R. Hargrave. “He came up with idea of acknowledging the date and our plans are to continue having Founders’ Day for years to come. This is a beautiful day to celebrate and I thank everyone who was a part of this.”
Ada aspired to be a community that offered plenty of opportunities for incoming families and businesses and one way to accomplish that goal was to secure a state-sponsored college.
Following statehood in 1907, Ada was up against five other larger towns to bid for one of three sites for a normal school. City leaders worked together to plan a strategy to secure a normal school and the Ada promoters agreed to keep a delegation of citizens at the state capital in Guthrie in order to influence the first state legislature.
The people of Ada worked to raise funds for the delegation by hosting band concerts and dinners while Otis Weaver, editor of The Ada Evening News, used the newspaper to help raise the needed funds for lobbying.
Competition for a normal school even became heated as a fistfight erupted on the legislative floor between Pontotoc County’s Sen. Reuben Roddie and Sen. J.S. Morris of Booker. However, the first Oklahoma Legislature adjourned without establishing any new normal schools for the state.
During the second legislative session, approval came for three normal schools to be established in Tahlequah, Durant and Duncan. At the last minute, some of the Ada delegates persuaded a member of the legislature to replace Duncan’s name with Ada’s. The bill eventually made it through both the House and Senate after much additional political maneuvering.