By BOB LEWIS
TRUE LEADER: Dr. Clarence Oliver, Jr. has served in many leadership positions in his career, including Army officer, editor, Dean of Education at ORU and Superintendent of Schools in B.A.
KELSY LORIN TAYLOR for GTR Newspapers
Growing up in Ada during the Great Depression, it’s probably safe to say the furthest thing from this youngster’s mind was someday becoming an icon in a community half a state away. But that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Clarence G. Oliver, Jr., a quiet, unassuming man who seems genuinely embarrassed when terms like “living legend” are associated with his name.
Fortunately that flash of red in his cheeks doesn’t stop those who know and admire him – which seems like almost everybody in the community – from applying that tag as often as possible.
Kim Goddard, executive director of Broken Arrow Neighbors, says she doesn’t know of any local charity or civic organization that doesn’t proudly claim Oliver as a supporter.
“When his wife passed away, we were selected as one of her memorial benefactors,” Goddard noted. “I consider that perhaps the greatest honor ever bestowed on Broken Arrow Neighbors. We are truly blessed to have him in our lives.”
Oliver and his young family settled in Broken Arrow in 1955 when he joined the staff of Broken Arrow High School as an English and journalism teacher. It was from there he took the first steps down a career path that was about to make an abrupt and unexpected turn.
Influenced by a life-long love of writing, in 1956, he accepted an offer by C.A. McWilliams to become managing editor of the Broken Arrow Ledger. It was a task he adored, but the lure of education was simply too strong to ignore. So, in 1961, he found himself back at as marketing education teacher. From there he became assistant superintendent and, later, superintendent – a role he would fill with distinction until his retirement in 1992.
Expressing the feelings of many past and present employees of the school system, Jo Ellen Clow, a retired teacher and administrator, called Oliver “a close colleague, friend and mentor.”
In recognition of his contributions to the district and community at large – not the least of which was “keeping the wheels on the wagon” at a time when Broken Arrow Public Schools was growing at the explosive rate of one new classroom every week – the Board of Education in 1995 named its newest facility the Clarence G. Oliver, Jr. Middle School.
The ink on Oliver’s school departure papers was barely dry when long-time friend Bill Retherford launched what friends called a spectacular selling job to get Oliver to assume the reigns as publisher of Retherford’s Broken Arrow Scout newspaper. Again, it was a job Oliver loved, but what he felt certain was his final career path held yet another unexpected turn.
It seemed Oral Roberts University needed a firm hand at the controls to establish a new graduate degree program. Enter Dr. Clarence G. Oliver, Jr. as the university’s first dean of the School of Education. It was a role he would fill until 1999 when he was honored with “faculty emeritus” status.
Since earning his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Tulsa, Oliver has received enough education, military, community service, distinguished alumnus and hall of fame awards to fill several large trophy cases. While justifiably proud of these accomplishments, he notes that as a writer at heart some of his greatest personal successes have come as the result of hours sitting alone behind a typewriter.
His book on ethics for school administrators was published in 2002 and proved so valuable it was chosen as a supplemental text in a number of graduate school courses at universities and colleges across the country. It was followed by his memories of growing up as a depression era kid.
For a four-year period prior to Broken Arrow’s Centennial year, Oliver served as chairman of the editorial committee and was general editor and co-author of the comprehensive history, Broken Arrow: The First Hundred Years.
A look into the depths of his personality came with publication of Tony Dufflebag and Other Remembrances of the War In Korea, a book that told the story of an often scared, half-frozen GI and a band of frontline infantry soldiers who broke more rules than any of them wished to count in saving the life of a six-year old Korean orphan.
Truly, he is a man who has seen and done more than most people can even imagine, Oliver says of all his accomplishments the ones that take the top spot in his heart are the solid 60-year marriage he forged with his late wife, Vinita, their three children, Mark, Paul and Shirley – all graduates of Broken Arrow Public Schools – his seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Former mayor Jim Newcomb, who first met Oliver in 1957, says he is amazed at the level of involvement Oliver maintains in a diversity of undertakings, ranging from his church to public education, community needs and state military operations.
Echoing the feelings of many, Newcomb noted, “It’s too bad every community doesn’t have a Clarence Oliver to count on.”