For more than 100 years the story of Connors State College has been one of hope, challenges, triumphs and excellence. From the first class that met in the Warner Public Schools Building in 1909, to the thousands of students studying in our state-of-the-art facilities today, we take pride in the honor of having shaped so many purposed and meaningful lives. We are committed to honoring our past as we chart a course of greatness for the future.
Judge John Pierre Connors was the first president of Oklahoma’s State Board of Agriculture. Born in Missouri, he moved to Indian Territory in 1880 and played a predominant role in both the Choctaw Nation and the formation of Oklahoma.
Around the time of Oklahoma statehood, Eastern Oklahoma was dotted with bustling rural communities and small family farms. The early years of statehood were lean ones. Drought, crop failures, poor roads, and practically nonexistent communication systems all served to isolate Eastern Oklahomans from the major commerce centers of the state and from educational opportunities for its citizens past the elementary school level.
As part of Oklahoma’s fledging education system, the first legislature created six agricultural schools to provide rural farm children secondary education with a farm-life emphasis, thus, Connors State School of Agriculture (CSSA) came into existence in 1907 and the first session opened in February 1909 in the Warner Public School Building.
The first decade of the school’s existence can best be described as a decade of uncertainty and constant change. The State Board of Agriculture, the schools governing entity, considered Connors’ first enrollment of 15 students unsatisfactory and the school was threatened with closure. The schools superintendent at the time, Walter Van Allen, toured area communities, speaking to local groups about the school, and enrollment increased to 75 students by 1910. This growth necessitated a move from the Warner Public Schools Building to the second floor of the Overstreet Building in downtown Warner.
Despite the growth in enrollment, Connors still faced threat of closure. In 1912 more than 200 Warner citizens signed an invitation to the Board to visit Connors. Members of the Agriculture Board did visit Warner. While the results of the meeting were not published, it can only be assumed that Warner’s citizens got their point across as CSSA was allowed to continue.
In 1918 Hiram C. King became the ninth superintendent of CSSA. King focused on updating and growing the school, which had fallen to disrepair. During his tenure a Dining Hall, Berry Cottage, a residence for women; a shop building; a central heating plant; Holloway Hall, a men’s dormitory; and Kinghurst Hall, a women’s dormitory were built. An additional 60 acres of farmland were added to the original 160 acres purchased by area citizens.
Connors became a state accredited two-year college in 1927 when the Oklahoma Legislature amended the Act that had established the district agriculture schools. Connors State School of Agriculture then became a state-accredited two-year college known as Connors State Agricultural College.
In 1933, Jacob Johnson was appointed as Connors’ tenth and longest-serving president to date. Under his leadership, the school witnessed a tremendous building boom. Many of the current buildings on Connors’ Warner Campus were built or remodeled during Johnson’s tenure as president.
In contrast to the building boom of the 1930s, World War II and its aftermath defined the decade of the 1940s. In 1941, Connors was one of nineteen state schools to offer civilian pilot training by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.
In 1942, Connors was called upon by the Army Air Force to assist in the training of administrative personnel in the Army Air Force Technical Training Corps. By 1946 the Veterans Agricultural Training Program (VATP) became a part of the Connors’ curriculum. The War had depleted and exploited America’s agricultural resources and the VATP was enacted to help rebuild farmlands and to help the veteran farmer rebuild his life.
Connors had its own National Guard unit in the late 1940s. This group became known as the Thunderbirds and was one of four National Guard Divisions activated in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The idyllic college experience was born in the postwar period of the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s. This era saw the building of the Jacob Johnson Library and Science Building, barrack-style housing for GIs returning from WWII, a new President’s Home, and homes for faculty and staff.
A defining moment in Connors’ history happened in the first half of the 1960s when Connors absorbed Muskogee Junior College as Connors Muskogee Branch. In addition, President Johnson decided to build new facilities on the Warner campus. In 1962-1963 construction began on a new women’s dormitory known as McClarren Hall, the Administration/Classroom Building, now known as the Education Building, and the Student Union. In 1967 the Field House was built and named for Connors’ twelfth president, Dr. Melvin Self.
In 1961-1962 the Bull Performance Project began with the intent of improving the quality of livestock in Eastern Oklahoma. At the end of each test period, a sale would be conducted drawing in ranchers and farmers from across the region. Fifty years later, the Bull Test still provides area ranchers and farms with quality, performance-tested bulls and provides agriculture students with hands-on agriculture production and sales experience.
The 1970s witnessed continued change marked by significant restructuring of Warner Campus buildings and the beginnings of Connors’ permanent presence in Muskogee. In 1974, the Classroom Building was renovated and the Gym was restructured as the Fine Arts Building.
In 1976-1977, the Maintenance Barn and bus shed were built on the south edge of the campus and in 1978 the first thermostatically controlled greenhouse was built as part of a new horticulture program and campus beautification project. In 1978 the third and current president’s home was under construction.
In 1976-1977 the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved Connors’ first off-campus extension classes to be offered at various public school locations in Muskogee.
Expansion of Connors, both in physical plant and increased presence in Muskogee, continued through the 1980s. In the first year of the decade, a pond was dug south of the former Shops Building, which was converted to the Administration Building. During the same year, the College Barn was remodeled and an outdoor arena and round pens were built to accommodate the new equine program. An indoor arena followed in 1981. An elevator was added to the Classroom Building and the Melvin Self Field House was expanded to include a fitness center, multipurpose room and office space.
The Westbrook library was built in 1983 and was expanded in 1985 to include a library auditorium and the president’s office suite.
Muskogee classes, which had been offered in various public schools, moved to the Graham-Sykes Building in downtown Muskogee in 1985. By 1988 Connors was authorized to operate a Branch Campus in Muskogee with exclusive rights to provide lower-division college course work.
By 1992, Connors had outgrown the Graham-Sykes Building and the eight-story C.N. Haskell Building was deeded to Connors by the State of Oklahoma to serve as the hub of Connors operation in downtown Muskogee.
In 1994, Connors acquired 1,316 acres of land located south of the Warner Campus known as Harding Ranch. The ranch continues to function as a laboratory for agriculture and science programs, as well as the site for Connors’ Summer Science Academy activities.
Also in 1994, Connors acquired forty-two acres of land in northeast Muskogee for the construction of a 28,500-square-foot classroom/science complex. This building, known as the Three Rivers Port Campus, was completed in 1995.
In 1999 Gatlin Hall was built as a women’s dorm, named after longtime business manager Anna Belle Gatlin, who attended school in the early 1940s and didn’t leave until her death in 1983.
In the spring of 2000, Dr. Donnie Nero was appointed as the fifteenth president and the first African-American president of a non-historically Black institution in Oklahoma. Dr. Nero’s greatest legacy may be in his dedication to community engagement and in helping young people fulfill their potential.
Another significant event in 2000 was the accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission to provide degree programs at the Eddie Warrior and Jess Dunn Correctional Centers. In 2010, Connors achieved reaccreditation through the Higher Learning Commission for ten years’ the gold standard for accreditation at the time.
In 2001 the groundbreaking ceremony for a $9.6 million apartment-style housing complex, known as Millers Crossing was held and construction was completed in 2002.
One of Connors’ most significant developments of the decade was the Orange to Green partnership with Northeastern State University. In 2008, the presidents of both colleges signed an agreement that would lay the groundwork to insure the smooth transition of Connors students to NSU, including the future joint campus operation of Connors and NSU on the existing NSU Muskogee Campus. The groundbreaking for Connors new $2.2 million Student Services facility on the NSU Muskogee campus, known as Muskogee West, was held in December of 2009 and the Connors nursing program moved out of the Downtown Muskogee building to the Muskogee West Campus.
Connors’ Second Century
While it can be argued that Connors Second Century actually began in 2009, the arrival of Dr. Tim Faltyn in 2011 with an energetic new vision for Connors truly signals the beginning of Connors’ second century.
Under Dr. Faltyn’s leadership, Connors has experienced an unprecedented period of growth. New building projects, new degrees, and many new programs and activities have welcomed a new breed of student, yet our goal to achieve excellence remains the same.
With our core values in mind, Connors State College aspires to do three things in our second century. First, we seek to develop degrees and activities that will connect our students with their future. Second, we will do all we can to provide facilities and resources that give our students the confidence they need to think for themselves in any situation. Finally, and most importantly, we will surround our students with people who care as much about their success as they do. As we have recounted our history, that is where our greatest strength has been, and will always be, our focus on people.
The manner in which we achieve excellence is directly linked to our mission of building futures one at a time. By valuing each individual, we are poised to become a national leader in higher education.