One hundred years of Tigers, traditions and history began in 1909 as East Central University rose from the dust of free-wheeling Oklahoma state politics and frontier justice. But rise it did in Ada, Oklahoma, on land donated by Chickasaw Indian Dan Hays. For the first few years of its existence, the campus, then called East Central State Normal School, served both as a high school and a two-year college.
During the 1916 homecoming, the East Central Alumni Association was formed with Ola Davis elected as the first president.
The opening volley in the 100-year battle with Southeastern Oklahoma State University began early. East Central's first football game was against Southeastern Normal (SE). Tiger fans took a special train from Ada to Durant.
A wave of patriotism swept across campus with the outbreak of World War I. Students and faculty planted a giant victory garden north of Science Hall that produced food for the war effort. Enrollment dropped as over 400 students and former students served in the armed forces. Later, the Memorial Gateway located at the end of Ada's Main Street was established in front of Science Hall to honor those Tigers who died in service to our country.
By the beginning of the 1920s, the lifelong tradition of the East Central University Tiger had begun and the school was beginning to establish a since of permanency.
Enrollment actually increased at East Central during the Great Depression. Although tuition was free, strapped students sometimes had trouble coming up with money for room and board. Many of these individuals pitched tents on land where Knight Hall now stands and a tent city, "Hooverville," sprang up. To help with expenses, needy students could apply for small loans funded in part by graduates and the ECU Alumni Association.
Also during the 1930s, Roy "Pop" Harris, gardener and landscape architect for the college, reclaimed the slope that ran north-south through campus. With the aid of student workers, part of the slope would later become a rock garden. The spot would become known for its terraces, lily ponds, plants, and shrubs.
The onset of the United States' involvement in World War II dramatically changed the university as students, faculty and staff went off to fight. Sixty-six men from East Central would not return to their homes or campus.
The construction of the Memorial Student Union was planned and funds were raised to honor them. The Memorial Student Union was completed in 1951 and soon became the hot spot on campus. Even if students missed class for the day, they would still go to the Union at night. There they could dance, play cards, shoot pool, eat or just lounge.
During the 1960s ECU's football program rose from anonymity to top of the state college class under the leadership of Elvan George.
The decade saw the retirement of basketball coach Mickey McBride, named one of the winningest coaches in America by The Daily Oklahoman.
East Central also experienced a building boom as the baby-boomers came to college and ECU became an integrated campus. The main focus was providing housing for students with the completion of Briles, Pontotoc and Pesagi Halls and student/family apartments.
The completion of the Kerr Activities Center in the early 1970s, the striking gold dome on the hillside, fostered a sense of good will and cooperation with fans and locals alike. The new dome drew crowds from across the nation and frequent tours of the new facility were common.
The demand for increased technology became common in the 1980s and East Central University was not immune to the changing trends. Academically, there was decreased interest in the history of man and more interest in business, mathematics and computer science. For the first time, teacher education was no longer the primary focus of the educational curriculum.
By 1990, construction was once again a primary concern as the newest buildings were approaching 30 years old. Early projects included the Physical and Environmental Health Sciences Center to house the science disciplines. Construction, however, was set back in 1991 when a tornado struck campus knocking down a wall of the new building and causing some of the worst damage in the school's history. Later in the decade a new Linscheid Library and University Center were built.
The sports highlight of the decade was the football team winning the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship.
As the decade ended, students and teachers wondered what the new millennium would bring. Y2K threats proved nonexistent as East Central University bridged the millennium milestone effortlessly with the exception of a series of destructive ice storms that caused major tree damage on campus.
From the flags flying on Ada's Main Street to the Tiger logo popping up everywhere, by mid decade change was in the wind. "Students first" became the mantra for everything ECU. Opportunities opened for students that ranged from studying abroad in Ukraine, to photographing the path of Mother Teresa in India, to building homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina. By 2009, ECU's Centennial, Tigers are visible everywhere. Whatever the future holds, all ECU alumni and friends will remain "Tigers for Life."