, Muskogee, OK

November 12, 2013

City Council restores Robison Park name

Move to limit public comment fails to pass

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Members of a community organization lauded the reversal of a decision they believe robbed them of recognition for their efforts that helped spur the development of a southeast Muskogee park.

City councilors voted unanimously to restore Robison Park to its original name, but the moment was marred by efforts to limit public comments. Ward III Councilor Randy Howard and Mayor Bob Coburn raised the prospect of suspending the rules of decorum, citing concerns about time.

But Deputy Mayor David Jones, who voted a week ago to retain the Ruby Park moniker, rebuked that effort. He maintained his position that the decision to honor Russell Ruby for his philanthropy by naming the park after him was the “right thing” to do, but he said there was no way he would vote to suspend the rules.

“I really think we did the right thing at the time we did it with the information we had,” Jones said, recalling some of the issues presented in 2012 when councilors voted to change the park’s name. “I thought maybe somebody would come to me and say they wanted to keep it as Ruby Park, but nobody did so I would favor the decision to change it back.”

With Jones’ opposition to the rules change and an admonition from Robison Park Community Association President Ivory Vann about the proposed “injustice,” members and supporters got a chance to set straight the some of the history of the park. They also commended councilors for listening — and responding — to citizens’ concerns.

“This was a good opportunity to show people that their voices will be heard,” Sylvia Swan said, recalling concerns she heard while circulating Action In Muskogee surveys earlier this year. “This was a wonderful exercise that shows the city can do the right thing.”

Cedric Johnson praised the Ruby family for their support of RPCA members and their efforts to restore Robison Park to its original name. He said the 2012 decision to rename the park resulted with a perception “that we worship money, and that is not the case.”

“You can’t make a wrong right,” Johnson said before councilors cast their unanimous vote. “But you can right a wrong.”

Henry Wheeler, a relative of William Robison, who sold the 30-acre tract to the city in 1916 for park development, presented information found in Muskogee Times-Democrat articles documenting the park’s beginnings. Those articles show the land was sold for $10,000 with proceeds from an $80,000 bond approved for improvements in Midland Valley where many of its main shops had been destroyed by fire.

While the purchase became a campaign issue during a subsequent election, headlines from the era show the city ended up making money after the tract began producing oil. The city also leased the land later for agricultural purposes before plans were announced in 1922 to build a golf course.

While an elementary school was built on the northeast corner of the parcel, most of the land was idled for years. While parks officials had plans to develop the park as early as the 1990s, it wasn’t until RPCA members organized the nonprofit and began lobbying for development and helping to raise money.

Development began in 2009 with the help of funding from the Ruby family trust, the City of Muskogee Foundation, the state and the support of the community organization. After three phases of construction, the popular park now has a splash pad, basketball courts, a playground and trails.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or