Ann Patton’s Career Culminates With an OSU-Tulsa Graduation


TULSA TREASURE: Ann Patton is all smiles after graduation from OSU-Tulsa just weeks shy of her 80th birthday

Courtesy photo

In 1955, Tulsan Ann Patton graduated from high school. In the 62 years since, she has done many things — helped transform Tulsa’s flood management system to one of the best in the country, written several well-regarded books, and raised four children.
One thing she didn’t do? Earn a college degree.

Until May 15, that is, when just weeks shy of her 80th birthday, the 79-year-old Tulsa treasure leaned on a walker to make her way slowly across the stage to thunderous applause and cheers at the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa graduation to receive, as the announcer called it, “a bachelor’s of everything!”

Commencement speaker Mayor G.T. Bynum cited Ann as an example of how one person can truly change their community. “Ann Patton has made a difference in this city for more than four decades,” Bynum said, encouraging her younger classmates to follow Ann’s example of working for things they believe in.

Patton said she dreamed of going to college her entire life. But when she graduated from high school, “College was not an option for poor kids like me. There was no Tulsa Community College, no Tulsa.  TU was the only option for students who could not leave Tulsa, and it might as well have been the moon.”

So instead, she focused on her family. She and her husband, former Tulsa police officer Bob Patton – they recently celebrated their 61st anniversary – had four children by the time Ann was 22. When the youngest was in kindergarten, she had to go to work to help support the family, and has been working ever since (continuing to write and do contract work even after her “retirement” more than a decade ago). “By the time we had enough money to think about college for me, I was too busy.”

She worked as a newspaper reporter for the Tulsa World and then helped create the city’s stormwater management department and build Tulsa’s into one of the most respected programs in the country – and Ann into a nationally recognized consultant, specializing in disaster management, urban affairs, and grassroots partnership building. Over the years, her interests have followed diverse paths, and she has authored three well-received books.  The most recent is UNMASKED! The Rise & Fall of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan. She is also the author of Dan’s War on Poverty, published in 2012, and The Tulsa River, published in 2014.

She started the decades-long quest for a college degree while a newspaper reporter at the Tulsa World in the 1970s, covering City Hall. She took her first course, “The City,”  taught by the Rev. Dr. Earl Reeves, because she wanted to understand more about city dynamics. “From then on, I took one course and then another for specific issues I wanted to understand in more depth,” she said. Over the course of more than 40 years, she assembled “a crazy-quilt collection of college hours from several schools that I always dreamed might add up to a degree.”  

It was -Tulsa and its staff that brought it all together, Patton said, helping her fill the holes in her courses. When she and Bob moved to Orlando for health reasons in 2015, they helped her find the online course that completed the circle. “A miracle! After all these years, I earned a liberal arts degree — exactly what I always dreamed could happen.” When asked why it mattered so much — after all, she accomplished everything she did in her life without the degree, so why care about graduating now?

“Mostly, it is just for me.  But also, I want my grandchildren to know not to give up on their dreams. Even more important, I want them to know that education has inherent value. People today argue that education has to translate directly to making money, but the higher goal is to help us live a full life.”

She recalls a young man she interviewed as a reporter, who had escaped from communism by swimming through shark-infested waters. “I will never forget something he said: ‘My teacher is life.’ Many people can get their college hours all together at the beginning, and good for them — but it has been pretty fine to collect mine along slowly as a life pursuit, a lifetime of learning.”

Anna America, who serves on the Tulsa City Council, is the daughter-in-law of Ann Patton.

Updated 05-31-2017

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