J. Harper and Mary Ellen Thomas Scholarship

The scholarship is awarded to a deaf education or speech language pathology major.

For more than 45 years, Harper and Mary Ellen were residents of the Chickasha community.  During World War II, Harper served four and a half years in the Navy and was discharged as a lieutenant commander.  Over the years he actively participated in community activities in the school, chamber of commerce, Rotary, his church, banking industry, Salvation Army and politics.

He appreciated being given the key to the city and having an expressway named after him.  Harper, as well as his wife Mary Ellen, became acutely aware of the meaning of the word “handicapped.”  As they aged, their thoughts turned to how best they could pay back to the community for all it had given them.  They decided that by lending support to USAO they could be assisting the university, which in turn would aid the city of Chickasha. 

Harper was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in mechanical engineering and held a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin.  He was an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Oklahoma for 14 years.

Mary Ellen took a class in pottery at USAO in 1986 and, after exhausting the classes in ceramics, set up her own studio marketing her creations under the logo of “St. Anton’s Pottery.” 

“I consider myself a traditional, functional vessel-oriented potter, deriving much satisfaction in creating utilitarian objects that are also pleasing to the senses.  I continue in the pot making process, turning clay into stone, which is, after all microcosmic reversal of the vast geological experience.” 

In 1989, she was awarded “Best of Show” in advanced ceramics at the Oklahoma State Fair.  That same year, a creation entitled “The Golden Bowl” was accepted in the Fletcher Challenge competition in Auckland, New Zealand.  The bowl was displayed in the Masterworks Gallery in Auckland in June 1990.  She completed a one-year contract with Geil Gas Kilns company of Los Angeles endorsing Geil Products in 1990.  Her endorsement, in the form of a letter and picture, was featured in Geil advertisements in the trade journal “Ceramics Monthly” from April 1992 until September 1993.

While traveling with her husband in Australia and Japan in the early 1990’s she discovered crystalline glazes and was completely enthralled with the beauty and science of this unique technique.  She taught herself the intricacies of this difficult glaze with a multitude of test firings, computations and charts to map her way. 

“Glassy materials are entirely different from crystalline materials in that they are amorphous solids which have no repeating structure or orderly atomic arrangement. A double phenomena occurs in a crystalline glaze in that symmetrical crystals are formed in molten glass while it is flowing down the side of the pot.  The essential difference between liquid/solid or ‘crystalline state’ is the difference in the relative mobility of the atoms of molecules.”

In January 2003, she donated “There was a Ship,” a glazed crystalline porcelain vase, to the USAO permanent art collection.

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