One step at a time.
It’s how Ellis Walker Woods, when looking for a job once as a young teacher, made the trip from Tennessee to Oklahoma.
Fittingly, more than 100 years later, it’s also how a group inspired by him has arrived where it now finds itself — on the verge of finishing a three-decade “walk” of its own.
“When I think or talk about it, it’s emotional. The completion — I won’t say ‘end’ — of an almost 30-year journey,” said Captola Dunn, one of the leaders behind an effort to honor Woods, who famously walked 500 miles to get to Oklahoma.
This Friday, Dunn, co-chairwoman of the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial committee, and her fellow members will officially present to Tulsa their long-awaited memorial to the late Woods, founding principal of the city’s first black high school under segregation.
An unveiling and dedication ceremony is set for 9 a.m. at the memorial, which is on the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus near the original Booker T. Washington High School site.
The $212,500 project has been in the works for nearly 30 years, a labor of love for some of Woods’ former students and other BTW alumni.
Woods, who arguably had as far-reaching an influence as any educator in Tulsa’s history, was principal from BTW’s first year in 1913 until his death in 1948.
The memorial features a bust of Woods and a ring of tall granite obelisks.
“It’s a relief to finally see it finished,” Dunn said.
The original idea, she added, traces back three decades to a backyard barbecue in, of all places, Los Angeles.
She and her late husband, Al Dunn, along with other BTW alumni living there at the time, liked to get together and talk about growing up in Tulsa and their memories of school.
At this barbecue, Al Dunn and classmate Richard Gipson decided their influential principal “deserved to have his memory etched in the mind of the community,” Captola Dunn said.
Sadly, while they spearheaded the memorial project for years, neither Dunn nor Gipson would get to see this day. Both are deceased.
“Before he passed, Al said ‘whatever you do, complete the memorial,’ ” his wife said.
The son of a freed slave, Woods grew up in Mississippi, where he attended Rust College in preparation for a career in education.
After graduating, he relocated to Memphis, but few opportunities there led him to look west.
A flier from Oklahoma calling for “colored teachers” was all the prompting he needed.
Lacking other transportation options, Woods, the story goes, proceeded to cover the distance on foot, crossing fields and following railroad tracks to reach the Tulsa area.
The new high school opened its doors in 1913. Woods, as principal, used segregation to his students’ advantage, shielding them from an often unfriendly white society and instilling in them a sense of self-worth.
“He gave us the belief that we could do whatever we wanted to do as long as we prepared ourselves,” said Dunn, a 1949 graduate.
“He had this saying to students that ‘You are as good as 90 percent of the people and better than the other 10 percent.’”
Preparing themselves meant taking advantage of your education.
“He would see to it that you went to college, if you graduated from high school. And many who did, then came back and taught” at BTW.
At 87, Dunn is one of few alumni left with personal memories of Woods.
“He was a person who was present on campus and approachable,” she said. “He showed a lot of concern for his students.”
Maxine Horner, who graduated in 1951, missed by a year the chance to have Woods as principal and said it was her “biggest disappointment.”
“I had a great admiration and love for him just from what the other students said,” she added.
However, Horner, who later became one of Oklahoma’s first black female legislators, benefited directly from what Woods had established, including being part of the first class to graduate from the newly built BTW high school.
Woods had pushed for successful passage of the bond issue that funded the facility, helping secure the school’s future before his death.
Although he didn’t live to see it finished, his presence seemed to fill the new site, Horner said.
“Mr. Woods established Booker T. as a place of high expectations,” she said. “He was one of those rare great persons that comes along and I’m excited to see him honored with this memorial.”
Woods’ influence extended well beyond the school. A civic and church leader as well, he served as the voice for Tulsa’s black community to local and state leaders.
“He was the go-to person in north Tulsa for years until he passed,” Dunn said.
When Woods died, his service was held at the Tulsa convention center. It was the only place in town that could accommodate the legion of mourners.
Paying tribute to a man with that kind of impact has “been worth the effort,” said Julius Pegues, project manager behind the memorial.
Pegues, a 1953 BTW graduate, was in middle school when Woods died, but had the chance to see and hear him more than once.
“I remember he was tall and smart,” Pegues chuckled. “Wherever he was, he was in command of the situation, and when he spoke he had your attention. He really loved his students and commanded great respect from them.”
In an era when so much was denied to them, Woods’ recurring message was one really needed by young African Americans, Pegues said.
“He told students that there wasn’t anything you could not do,” he said.
“He inspired them to do bigger and better things.”
Lorene Bible on the newly resumed search for her daughter Lauria Bible
Earlier this year, Tulsans Jay Krottinger and Ryan Jude Tanner helped to bring the legendary musical “Oklahoma!” to new audiences as co-producers of the acclaimed Broadway revival and earned their second Tony Award in the process.
Now, with the help of a new partner, they are working to give another iconic Oklahoma story new life on the musical stage as co-producers of the forthcoming adaptation of “The Outsiders.”
“A colleague of ours happened to mention that a musical of ‘The Outsiders’ was in the works, and I immediately knew I had to find out how to get involved,” Krottinger said. “It’s still in the development stage, but it’s definitely a Broadway-bound show.”
It is also a show that appeals to the vision of Tanninger Entertainment, the company the team originally founded under the name Square 1 Theatrics.
“Part of our mission is to seek out shows that have some relevance to Oklahoma and its heritage,” Krottinger said.
Patricia Chernicky, the newest partner in the team, said, “I just think it’s going to be really cool to see something on Broadway that’s all about Tulsa.”
The musical is set to premiere June 19-Aug. 2, 2020, at Chicago’s Goodman Theater. Playwright Adam Rapp is writing the show’s book, which is based on Tulsa author S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel, as well as the script for the 1983 film version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
The musical’s score and lyrics are being written by Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance of the band Jamestown Revival, with the assistance of the show’s music supervisor Justin Levine. Jamestown Revival performed Aug. 1 at the Vanguard in Tulsa as well as the The Hop Jam festival in 2015.
The creative team also includes award-winning choreographer Lorin Latarro (“Waitress,” “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”) and director Liesl Tommy, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the acclaimed drama “Eclipsed” and will direct Jennifer Hudson in a film biography of Aretha Franklin.
“They recently held an industry reading, which is when they invite potential producers and theater owners to get an idea of what the show will be, to determine if they want to invest in the project,” Krottinger said. “If there’s enough interest, they move on to the enhancement stage, where things get fine-tuned for a performance.
“After that, the next stop would be Broadway,” Tanner said. “And this is the first time that we’ve gotten involved in a show at this level, where we will be able to have some real impact on the show, where it’s more of a collaboration.”
“The Outsiders” is one of nine shows that Tanninger Entertainment has helped produce, beginning in 2012 with “Flipside: The Patti Page Musical” and continuing with the Tony Award-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz’s “Pippin” and such acclaimed musicals as “Waitress,” “Memphis” and “Come From Away.”
The team’s success rate at backing successful shows has been impressive.
“The national rate of recouping one’s investment in a Broadway show is nationally around 22%,” Tanner said. “Currently, we have recouped, or are recouping and returning on the investment, with an 85% success rate.”
Krottinger added, “That doesn’t mean everything we’ve backed has been a success. We invested in ‘A Time to Kill’ (the stage version of the John Grisham novel), and it closed after 33 performances. That hurt.”
One idea for easing that hurt in the future is the establishment of a “Broadway Entertainment Fund” to help mitigate risk to accredited investors by investing in a number of projects over a three-year period.
The fund, which is currently at $3.5 million, has investments in “The Outsiders,” the revival of “Oklahoma!,” the London productions of “Come From Away” and “Waitress,” and the forthcoming show “Becoming Nancy,” which will open Sept. 6 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.
Chernicky, a philanthropist and entrepreneur who is the principal and managing partner of TPC Studios, said she has been an investor in Tanninger Entertainment projects for several years.
“I looked at it as a way of contributing to the arts, with no expectation of getting the money back,” she said. “But now, looking at the numbers, I realized that once you understand the process and the financials — once I saw the full picture — I saw that I could have a role in this, that I had something to add.
“Backing a Broadway show is always a high-risk investment,” Chernicky said. “That’s just the nature of the game. But spreading one’s money over several projects is a bit like diversifying one’s stock portfolio.”
She laughed, then said, “And you can’t deny the fun factor. If you’re interested in the arts, it’s a lot more fun to invest in Broadway than the stock market.”
Tanner said that having Chernicky as part of Tanninger Entertainment “expands our reach and brings a fresh perspective to our long-term strategic goals.”
“Her talents can only be described as bold,” Krottinger said. “We could not ask for a better business partner.”
In addition to her expertise in working with a wide array of nonprofit organizations, as well as her own businesses, Chernicky’s presence in Tanninger Entertainment offers the company something unique and necessary.
“We sometimes need a tie-breaker,” Tanner said, laughing.
“Each of us comes to the process of selecting a show differently,” Krottinger said. “We all view things through our own knowledge, expertise and biases. For example, I said no to our backing ‘Waitress.’ It wasn’t because I thought it was a bad show. I loved the show, but I also knew it was going to go up against ‘Hamilton,’ and I didn’t think it had a chance. But these two ...”
“Were right,” Tanner interjected.
“They were right,” Krottinger said. “Because ‘Waitress’ turned out to be the only show that season that made a profit against ‘Hamilton.’ ”
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With the application deadline looming, Tulsa County residents have received $8.5 million so far in federal disaster assistance to recover from spring flooding and storms.
Wednesday marks the final day for Oklahoma residents to apply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial help in the wake of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that took place from May 7 to June 9. The deadline also applies to low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Tulsa County Emergency Management Director Joseph Kralicek on Friday said FEMA has disbursed $8,522,896 in individual assistance in Tulsa County and $29,083,447 in Oklahoma.
There have been 1,220 applications in Tulsa County, of which about 53% were eligible. There have been 5,180 applications submitted in Oklahoma, of which about 41% have been approved.
“We do anticipate those numbers going up between now and the 14th,” Kralicek said.
Federal disaster assistance can include money for rental assistance, essential home repairs, personal property losses and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance, according to a FEMA news release.
Carl Henderson, a FEMA spokesperson, said that often denials are because of insufficient paperwork or documentation. He said those types of issues probably can be rectified to gain some assistance.
“Anyone can register if they feel that they’ve had damage,” Henderson said. “And some people may have had damage to their homes and don’t realize it. It costs nothing to register with FEMA.”
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management requested and was granted an extra two weeks to give victims more time to update insurance information or find other necessary documents to complete or supplement applications.
Mike McDaniel was impressed with how fast FEMA was able to help him.
Two and a half feet of water flooded McDaniel’s trailer home near Sand Springs. He found asbestos in the 1958 trailer’s walls, so federal disaster assistance dollars went toward an RV instead of a remodel.
He said FEMA helped him write a letter to the agency itself to OK the funds be used for an RV.
“FEMA did an excellent job taking care of me,” McDaniel said, noting that he received advice or suggestions on several follow-up phone calls the agency made to him.
Designated counties for homeowners and renters include: Tulsa, Alfalfa, Canadian, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Garfield, Kay, Kingfisher, LeFlore, Logan, Mayes, Muskogee, Noble, Nowata, Ottawa, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Payne, Pottawatomie, Rogers, Sequoyah, Wagoner, Washington and Woods.
Lorene Bible on the newly resumed search for her daughter Lauria Bible