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Speakers at the Celebration of Life for Boone Pickens included (from left) Larry Reece, Gov. Kevin Stitt, Anne Greenwood, Burns Hargis, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy.

Celebrating the Life of a Great Cowboy

Friday, November 15, 2019

Boone Pickens' legacy brings thousands together at Gallagher-Iba Arena

Two weeks after Boone Pickens’ death, the Cowboy faithful amassed to celebrate the life of the Ultimate Cowboy. In front of thousands at Gallagher-Iba Arena, big names took the stage to honor an unmatched legacy that reshaped OSU. There were laughs and tears, stories of inspiration and wit, all punctuated by a pep rally feel and a swelling of orange pride.

Though the speakers expressed sadness at Mr. Pickens’ passing, they praised him for his philanthropy and his generous spirit, noting that the impact of his big heart and bigger gifts will continue to shape OSU and inspire others.

OSU Band
A pep rally atmosphere permeates the Celebration of Life with participation from OSU’s marching band, drum majors and more.

Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said there’s no denying that Mr. Pickens’ generosity — totaling more than $652 million — revolutionized OSU, turning it into a household name. But his biggest gift remains immeasurable.

"Since he gave that $150 million gift, we have now raised in cash and pledges over $2 billion," Hargis said. "With 70,000 new donors, our endowment here at the university has more than doubled, and we’ve added about 200 new $1 million-plus donors. So, clearly Boone’s impact, his inspiration, has gone way beyond his own gifts. He really has inspired our university forever.

“He got the ball rolling, and it’s our job to honor his legacy and keep it going. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Fearless ambition was woven throughout Mr. Pickens’ life, a message he often shared. Regardless of how that message was delivered — whether with a folksy, western witticism or via an optimistic speech both lofty in its ideals and pragmatic in its approach — it’s one that resonates.

Echoing through the arena on Sept. 25, 2019, the voice of another philanthropist drove the point home: His words, like his actions, inspired others to make a difference.

Anne Greenwood, who along with her husband Michael have given generously to the university, offered a personal, emotionally charged remembrance, crediting Mr. Pickens for their decision to donate to the university sooner rather than later.

“Mr. Pickens always gave with the hope that his gifts would inspire others to join him. And they absolutely did,” Anne Greenwood said. “His vision and inspiration have forever changed our lives for the better. He taught us to dream big and to never stop trying to make a difference.”

Anne Greenwood
Anne Greenwood speaks about how Boone Pickens' vision has impacted OSU.

Like many donors, the Greenwoods had already given to OSU for student scholarships and programs, but they were waiting to make their large donation through their estate plan.

One fateful afternoon, Mr. Pickens’ words inspired them to act.

“Right here on the campus, on the OSU Library Lawn, as we were all gathered here to celebrate Boone’s 80th birthday, he made a statement that forever changed [our lives]," Anne Greenwood said. "He said, quite simply, ‘I don’t understand why people wait until they’re gone to give back so they can’t see the difference that they have made.’ That profound statement absolutely struck a chord with us, and Michael and I thought about it."

Gracious as always, Mr. Pickens sent a personal thank-you to the couple after their first major gift. They ran into him at the next football game, and Anne Greenwood said it was her turn to thank him. 

“I told him we should be thanking him, that his comments that day were indeed the inspiration behind our giving. We thought it was so important that he understood the impact he had on our lives … and how he was reaching so many thousands of loyal OSU supporters.” 

Mr. Pickens’ efforts continue to ripple, building on the transformative effect on OSU he had in life. 

“We have watched many things happen but I think the most dynamic thing that has happened to Stillwater is the gift from Boone Pickens, which instigated other people to give,” said two-time OSU graduate Nelda Helt, an audience member who first graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1963. 

“Campus has totally transformed.”

Darrel Dominick, another two-time OSU graduate who first graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1980, came to the celebration to show his respect for Mr. Pickens’ enormous impact on the university.

“Boone Pickens deserves all the respect we can give him for what he has done,” he said. “He made a difference, not only for Oklahoma State University but for Stillwater, for the state of Oklahoma and future graduates … The guy did the right thing with his money.”

Fellow OSU alumnus Gov. Kevin Stitt also spoke highly of the late oilman. His speech acknowledged Mr. Pickens’ values, his love for Oklahoma, OSU and hope for the future.

“Because of his love for Oklahoma’s next generation, he also ensured that they have access to every opportunity for a bright future. … We can be confident that his legacy will live on with each Cowboy or Cowgirl and with each future leader who crosses the stage with a diploma in hand," Stitt said.

Mike Holder
Mike Holder offers memories of his best friend during the Celebration of Life.

OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder began his speech musing on how he would remember his best friend, a man he described as “like a father” to him: “He was really a giant among men who acted like a common man.”

“Mr. Pickens generated all of this, and we just followed through,” Gundy added. “He never forgot where he came from in Holdenville, he never forgot Oklahoma, and he never forgot Stillwater.”

OSU football coach Mike Gundy remembered the grand opening of the newly renovated Boone Pickens Stadium at OSU in 2009, counting it among his favorite memories of the man.

“For me, that day that we opened the stadium, when he was able to cut that ribbon, … I could see it in his face, I could see it in his eyes, … he was bursting with pride. It was pride in his university, in the place that he loved."

Fittingly, Mr. Pickens was buried next to his childhood home, which was relocated to OSU’s Karsten Creek golf course.

Boone Pickens never forgot his roots, and his actions in life ensured that they will continue to grow for generations to come.

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