Oklahoma College for Women alumni remain connected during COVID pandemic

Puzzles and putting practice are just a few of the ways the alumni of OCW are keeping themselves busy during social distancing
Puzzles and putting practice are just a few of the ways the alumni of OCW are keeping themselves busy during social distancing

Even though the institution currently known as the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma has undergone several name changes during its long history, it has always provided its select students with an interdisciplinary curriculum grounded firmly in the traditional liberal arts. When it began first conferring bachelor’s degrees as the Oklahoma College for Women, it was distinguished not simply as one of the only women’s universities in the western United States but that turned out graduates who would make a significant impact in the world.

Maintaining close connections with every facet of USAO’s history is crucial to continuing this school’s proud history long into the future. At a time when life has been utterly upended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several OCW alumni spoke to us about how they are adapting to this unprecedented situation.

“I am doing well and staying isolated,” said Barbara Ply. “My daughter brings my groceries and my neighbor checks if I need anything. My church calls and my friends check on me, so I am well-taken care of. My OCW friends are also checking in regularly so all is well.”

Echoing Ply’s statements and the situation for many of Oklahoma’s elderly and vulnerable population, other OCW alumni are doing what they can to abide by social distancing guidelines while also keeping active in various creative ways and still maintaining some sense of connection with others.

“I am trying to shelter in place as much as possible,” said Kathleen Black. “I go to the grocery store about once a week, usually at between 6:45 and 8:00 a.m., walk for 30-45 minutes a day—weather permitting, cook all my meals, work on my golf game in my ‘in-house golf course,’ and have finished five jigsaw puzzles. Every day I text OCW friends, family, golf buddies, my extended family. Just trying to stay busy and not go crazy.”

Besides keeping up with friends and family, the extra time at home has also given some of our alums a chance to reflect on how our pets are adapting to the new normal.

“Dennis and I are doing well as is Annie, since social distancing is not a cat’s problem. She is currently chasing a stupid fly who entered our house. That’s always entertaining to watch,” said Paulette Pogue. “I’ve been in contact with some of the [OCW] girls. All seems to be doing well, considering.”

Of course, many of the important celebrations and gatherings in our lives, both joyous and somber, have been put on hold, and even simple expressions of togetherness that many take for granted have become fraught, if not impossible for the time being.

“We have been trying so hard to stay in while needing to do our own shopping and help a friend who is in lockdown at Methodist Manor,” said Pogue. “He and his wife were dear friends. She passed away of cancer just as this social distancing started, so her family and friends haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate her life.”

And despite the distance making for a bit of an unorthodox event, Barbara Benton still found an outpouring of love and support as she recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

“I can't say that I am the happiest person about staying home, but I will say that I am healthy. Even though I had to spend my birthday at home without a family celebration, I had a shower of over 100 cards that I enjoyed opening and reading. I even had a parade of about 10 cars with signs filled with Rainbow Girls drive by my house and that was fun. My daughter Paula Sue cooked a nice meal with cake, but we ate apart and I didn't get a hug or a kiss from her.”

With USAO scheduled to resume traditional teaching this fall, the university is just as hopeful as its beloved OCW graduates about the future and the lessons we can learn from this experience.

“I pray this ends soon and we can get our lives back, but I hope we never forget who is in charge of our lives and give Him the glory! Cheers to the Green and Gold!” said Ply.

Pogue certainly does not pull any punches when talking about how she feels about this lockdown, but also notes that this experience is still an important part of life for everyone going through it.

“One day this crap will be over with. But today’s a time we will never forget,” she said.

Ultimately, the coronavirus pandemic has given everyone in the USAO family some time to reflect on their own lives, the people who have touched them, and the special place that we have all passed through that still bonds us together no matter the distance.

“This "new" adventure has given me time to remember my graduation from Paul’s Valley High School in 1948 and going over to OCW in Chickasha the fall, the joy of meeting my roommate, Betty Pat, and all the things we did together after that. I've been thinking of the faculty family that influenced my life. I am so glad that I have had this time to reflect on people who were an inspiration to me, and I am so grateful to have had a college like OCW to attend,” said Benton.

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