Helen Hodges is a 1979 accounting graduate who has been involved in several transformational projects at OSU, including The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, the new building for Spears Business and New Frontiers, which will replace the aging Agricultural Hall for the Ferguson College of Agriculture. She’s also an avid supporter of OSU athletics and has contributed to several scholarships.
“There are few people who love Oklahoma State like Helen does,” said OSU President Burns Hargis. “She proves it not just with her financial support but also with her presence and the various areas on campus she loves. She may have physically moved to California, but she’s never left Oklahoma State.”
Both her parents were Oklahoma A&M graduates, and when Hodges headed off to Oklahoma State, it was her pragmatic father who encouraged her to major in accounting rather than political science. As a student, she learned to fly. She was a member of the 1980 Flying Aggies team that took top honors at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association SAFECON. She was also active in Mortar Board, Beta Gamma Sigma and Beta Alpha Psi.
Hodges said her OSU accounting degree made her career. After graduating from OSU, she earned a law degree in 1983 at the University of Oklahoma and was the managing editor of the Oklahoma Law Review. A shortage of jobs in the legal sector led her to take a position as a staff accountant with Arthur Andersen after law school. Hodges went on to serve as the law clerk for the Penn Square Bank cases. Beginning in 2001, she helped prosecute the securities fraud case on behalf of Enron investors, which received a record recovery of $7.2 billion.
Decades after graduating, she honored her parents by establishing the Dillon and Lois Hodges Professorship in Plant and Soil Sciences in 2008 at OSU. This position strengthens the Oklahoma Wheat Improvement Team through cutting-edge technologies and next generation sequencing and follows the university’s land-grant mission.
“Even though Helen isn’t a graduate of the Ferguson College of Agriculture, she was born of and raised on a farm, and she wanted to find a way to honor her parents,” said Thomas Coon, dean of the Ferguson College of Agriculture. “She ended up making an investment that is having a fundamental impact on the wheat industry in Oklahoma. I think of her having a broad impact not just at OSU but also on society with her generous philanthropy.”
That impact was on full display during the October 2019 opening of The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts where Hodges and other Patron donors celebrated the audacious vision to bring world-class artistic performances to Stillwater with a concert by the New York Philharmonic.
"There are few people who love Oklahoma State like Helen does. She proves it not just with her financial support but also with her presence."
The McKnights’ idea to host the famous philharmonic in Stillwater, and thus the inspiration to create the programming endowment that made it possible, was born from an invitation from Hodges to attend a concert at BravoVail! in 2015.
“I’m just happy to be able to come here and see how much joy it brings to others,” she said, adding that it’s hard to quantify the impact of The McKnight Center’s inclusion on OSU’s campus. Some students have told her it’s been life-changing.
“Helen Hodges’ impact, in particular on The McKnight Center, goes well beyond her financial support and generosity,” said Mark Blakeman, Marilynn and Carl Thoma Executive Director of The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University. “She operated, very quietly, in the background as an important connector for us with BravoVail! and Anne-Marie McDermott, who is now the artistic director for our Chamber Music Festival.
“So not only has she supported us with a generous contribution, but she has also really invested herself in helping us be successful.” Hodges said there have been three main role models who have inspired her to give: her mother Lois Hodges, Ann Phillips — who established scholarships and donated her entire estate to OSU — and Ross and Billie McKnight.
Hodges made it a habit to send roses to her mother monthly when she lived in a retirement community in Yukon, Oklahoma. She said her mother would keep some for herself and share the rest with residents who couldn’t leave home due to their health.
“That was a powerful example,” Hodges said. Ann Phillips was her mother’s neighbor, and Hodges didn’t realize she was a fellow OSU alumna until she read about Phillips’ gift to establish an endowed scholarship fund.
Everyone wants to have a legacy and make a difference, Phillips told her. “She left her entire estate to OSU and set up scholarships for education,” Hodges said.
Hodges said she hopes people remember her as someone who loved OSU. Her actions are ensuring that will be so.