After 50 years of operation, the fundamentals SOTC has built itself on haven’t changed much.
The campus, however, is a different story.
The Southern Oklahoma Technology Center will celebrate its 50-year anniversary today, having been established on Aug. 29, 1966. The vocational center originally began as part of Ardmore City Schools, with ACS superintendent James Bruce pushing for a technical school. The citizens of Ardmore raised $300,000 in donations and then passed a bond for another $300,000. That total was then matched by the federal government, which provided $1.2 million to start the vocational school. With that, Ardmore had a unique facility unlike anything else in the district.
“The new school is essential to our ability to meet tomorrow’s requirements for business and industry, as well as to assure all of our boys and girls that they have a chance for beyond the high school educational opportunities,” Bruce was quoted saying in an August 1965 article in The Oklahoman.
In 1965, Jack Stone was employed to be the director of the vocational school and he first reported to work on Jan. 26, 1966. During this time, the first two buildings were under construction, which was overseen by Stone. Stone and his secretary, Wanda Glen, were the only two employees from Jan. 26 to Aug. 1 of 1966 and they worked out of an office in the Broadlawn Shopping Center. In August of that year, the school opened for enrollment.
“We opened twelve full-time programs in August, with an enrollment of 335 daytime students and 135 part-time adult evening students,” Stone said. “A total of thirteen high schools within a 40-mile radius of the Center sent students.”
The school continued to operate under ACS until 1977, when the Southern Oklahoma Area Vocational-Technical School District 20 was formed. A board of education was formed and Stone was named as the first superintendent of the institution. The school voted on a 3.5 mills of ad valorem tax for operating the school and eventually increased that number to six mills in 1978. Stone said the school was later renamed the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center in 2001.
Stone said bringing the technical school to the area had an immediate effect on the economy and brought in business that normally wouldn’t have come to the area.
“The school has had a terrific impact on the economy of the area. A prime example is the Michelin tire plant, which came in 1969,” Stone said. “When Michelin was trying to decide where to locate the plant, they got their options narrowed down to two cities, Ardmore and one other. They told us that they chose Ardmore over the other city because Ardmore had a vo-tech school and the other city didn’t.”
Stone served as superintendent for 30 years, retiring from the position in 1996. Bob Gregg became the school’s second superintendent in 1996, serving until 2006 when current superintendent David Powell took over. Stone said one of the main reasons he took the job was the challenge it presented.
“When I was being interviewed for the job of Director, in 1965, I was asked why I wanted the job. My reply was ‘Because I think it would be an interesting challenge.’ It was that,” Stone said. “For thirty years the job was interesting, challenging, and very enjoyable. I was able to surround myself with some great teachers and support personnel and was blessed with wonderful Board of Education members, which ensured the success of the school. We had excellent support from participating high schools and the communities we served. I consider myself to have been very privileged to have had the opportunity to start a new school from the ground up and to have guided its growth one brick at a time and one student at a time over a thirty-year period.
“I can’t imagine a better way to have spent thirty years of my life.”
Current SOTC superintendent David Powell said he has liked the challenge of being superintendent and also appreciates seeing students come through the school and find success.
“It’s one of the most rewarding jobs,” Powell said. “Helping people be the best they can be it’s very rewarding work. We get a lot of walks of life through here and when we get to see them come in and see the light bulb come on and they see their purpose, it’s very special.”
Powell said in the last 10 years the school has been “on a journey of continuous improvements.” During his tenure, the school’s campus has expanded by a third, and enrollment has increased with every expansion the institution makes. Powell said preparing for the festivities and activities for today’s celebration at SOTC has allowed him to reflect on the school’s rich past.
“We’re not just celebrating 50 years,” Powell said. “We’re celebrating the process. I’m just in awe of how it all started and the community involvement from the beginning.”
Stone said looking back from the beginning to now, SOTC has become something special for the community and the area. Stone said he is proud to have played a role in the school’s history and growth and has enjoyed seeing it grow into what it is today.
“I have enjoyed sitting on the sidelines during my twenty years of retirement and watching the school continue to grow and adjust to the ever changing training needs of Southern Oklahoma,” Stone said. “SOTC is here to stay. It will continue to serve the citizens of Southern Oklahoma and impact the economy for many years to come.”
SOTC will host a large celebration for the 50-year anniversary from 5:30-7:30 p.m. today, with a cake cutting at 6:30 p.m. Each building will have its own activities along with a photo booth, a car show and many other activities throughout the entire campus. A trolley will also be in operation to take guests to various destinations across campus.
Powell said that SOTC will continue to push toward goals that were started when Stone first saw the campus coming together and that SOTC will always cherish its beginnings.
“We’re going to continue to work to serve the need of the community,” Powell said. “We’re sad some of the founders aren’t here to celebrate and see what this has become. But we’re celebrating them and thinking of them.”