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La Verne Ford Wimberly (right) poses for a photo with Barbara Eikner Thompson, owner of Trabar and Associates.

Inaugural Ellis Walker Woods Award ceremony honors retired TPS educator

Friday, February 23, 2024

Media Contact: Aaron Campbell | OSU-Tulsa Communications Coordinator | 918-594-8046 |

Dr. La Verne Ford Wimberly, a veteran Tulsa Public Schools educator and administrator who played a role in desegregating the Tulsa Public Schools system, received the inaugural Ellis Walker Woods Award in a ceremony filled with family members, educators and community members yesterday at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

The Ellis Walker Woods Award was created by the Brock Institute for Education Innovation, an effort that aims to fuel a culture of idea-generation in Tulsa schools and beyond. The faculty leading OSU’s Educational Leadership graduate programs in Tulsa and Stillwater work closely with the Institute to help prepare the next generation of school administrators in the state.

“I am truly grateful to the Brock Institute in partnership with OSU-Tulsa for such an illustrious award,” Wimberly said to the gathering after a standing ovation. “This award is one of the highest honors I have received, and it will serve as a symbol of inspiration for me to continue to advocate for a status of excellence in Tulsa Public Schools.”

The award, named for the first principal of Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, is given to a recipient who has displayed a distinguished history of innovation and service to the local school community and includes a cash prize of $1,000. Nominations for the 2025 award are open now.

“The Brock Institute is proud tonight to institutionalize this distinguished leader,” said Jentre Olsen, assistant professor and Brock Chair of Innovative Educational Leadership at OSU-Tulsa. “Teachers, and those working in schools, struggle to always see the community rallying behind them. This is what we need, truly, in our society – more times to pause and celebrate.”

Wimberly’s career with Tulsa Public Schools spanned nearly 40 years. During her time there, she served in many roles, most notably as the first Black female interim superintendent. Wimberly was most recently the chairperson of the Greenwood Cultural Center board of directors and the chair of the board of trustees at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

After posting inspirational messages alongside selfies in her Sunday church attire for fifty-two consecutive weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimberly became a viral sensation for her hats, smile and joy. This led to a book released in 2023 titled “My Sunday Best.”

The library at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School, is named after Wimberly and there are murals of her in schools throughout Tulsa.

Wimberly was also a member of the committee responsible for the creation of the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial, located on the OSU-Tulsa campus.

“Like Dr. Wimberly, Ellis Walker Woods was an innovative educator and change-maker, who had a profound impact on his students, Tulsa and Oklahoma,” said Craig Freeman, interim vice provost and dean of the OSU College of Professional Studies at OSU-Tulsa. “We’re proud to be home to his memorial and now this award, and we’re committed to elevating his legacy through service to our community, increasing access to higher education and continuing to create opportunities for learning at all levels.”

Woods served as principal of Booker T. Washington High School from 1913 until his death in 1948. His high standards for teachers and students began a tradition of academic excellence at the high school that has grown as the school outgrew its original home and moved to its current location. He was a pillar of the community in segregated Tulsa and a champion for academic integration in Oklahoma.

“It is my belief that because of the impressive memorial and what it means to the community, the evolution of Ellis Walker Woods came to fruition,” Wimberly said. “As the first recipient of this award, I thank you for the distinguished honor – an honor that will be cherished for a lifetime.”

An interview with Wimberly discussing her legacy in Tulsa education and the Ellis Walker Woods Award was recently featured on the Brock Institute’s Innovating Education podcast, which can be listened to on Apple Podcasts.

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