Portion of State Highway 51 dedicated to OSU philanthropist Boone Pickens
Friday, November 11, 2022
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A portion of State Highway 51 in Stillwater now bears the name of the late T. Boone Pickens — record-setting Oklahoma State University philanthropist, alumnus and captain of industry.
The portion of Highway 51 beginning at the intersection of Country Club Road in Stillwater and extending west to the intersection of Karsten Creek Road in Payne County was officially dedicated Friday at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
During the recent legislative session, Sen. Tom Dugger co-authored a bill that included renaming the portion of Highway 51. Dugger was present with Tim Gatz, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation secretary, to unveil the replica highway sign Friday.
Mike Holder, OSU athletic director emeritus, was a longtime friend of Pickens, dating back to Holder’s time as OSU’s men’s golf coach when they met at a fundraiser in 1973. He said Pickens’ impact on OSU remains immeasurable.
“When I think of Boone, I think of the ultimate friend, the greatest teammate of all time,” Holder said. “You couldn’t have a better leader, you couldn’t have a better promoter. He promoted Oklahoma State wherever he went. He gave generously. He always said there are two types of people: the givers and takers. There is no question what Boone Pickens was.”
Pickens passed away on Sept. 11, 2019, but his legacy continues to elevate his beloved alma mater. He has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading philanthropists with a total giving impact of more than $1 billion.
In 2006, Pickens made history with a $165 million commitment to build Boone Pickens Stadium — the single-largest gift ever made to a collegiate athletic program. Boone Pickens Stadium sparked the expansion of OSU’s athletic village with state-of-the-art facilities. Pickens’ contributions inspired other OSU alumni to make gifts, including those responsible for O’Brate Stadium, the Sherman E. Smith Training Center, Neal Patterson Stadium, and the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.
“Boone’s contribution to Oklahoma State was over the top and incredible, and he used to get calls all the time. 'What do you want in return?' And Boone would say, 'Well, I've already got the best parking spot, what else can they do for me?’ Well, they went and named the highway after him,” said Jay Rosser, Pickens’ vice president of public affairs and chief of staff.
In the years since his transformational gifts, the university has raised more than $2 billion in private support, more than doubled its endowment and welcomed more than 70,000 new donors, with over 200 of those making gifts of $1 million or more.
OSU President Kayse Shrum said because Pickens made that first donation, many more followed in his footsteps.
“The Cowboy Code calls for us to dream as big as the sky, and Boone embodied that to the fullest extent,” Dr. Shrum said. “We can continue to honor Boone by boldly approaching the future and doing everything we can to elevate Oklahoma State University beyond what we ever imagined. For generations to come, the Boone Pickens Memorial Highway will usher the Cowboy family home, and that’s a fitting tribute.”
Mary Elizabeth Cordia, Pickens’ granddaughter, said she’s proud of his legacy and happy to see it continue to flourish.
“It's just nice to see how everything he's done here is overflowing into other places,” she said. “So not only has it overflowed into different parts of academics and athletics, but it's even overflowed into the city.”
Pickens’ grandson, Michael Pickens, said he was struck by the thought of what his grandfather’s hometown of Holdenville, Oklahoma, would have thought in the 1940s if they knew young T. Boone Pickens would go on to have his name on a stretch of state highway.
“That made me think about his humble beginnings coming from a blue-collar family and a little itty-bitty town in Oklahoma,” he said. “Who would have thought?”
Rep. John Talley thanked Dugger for his leadership on the bill, as well as Rep. Trish Ranson, and said the dedication was a fitting honor for Pickens.
“I was a nobody, really, and [Pickens] wrote to me every few months, ‘Hang in there.’ ‘Don’t give up.’ ‘I got your back,’” Talley said. “I don’t understand why he did that. But, boy was it special when I got that in the mail from an important person who looked at the average farm kid and said, ‘Don’t give up.’
“So, at the State Capitol, I try to write 10 letters to people who have blessed my life. I try to give back to them because T. Boone did that to me."