Three Forks History: Connors was first a high school for rural students

At Oklahoma statehood in 1907, many of its small, rural communities offered education only through the eighth grade. Since rural students were needed to work on the farm, an eighth-grade education was all they ever attained. But state leaders wanted to see that change.

The first state legislature authorized six agricultural schools for the state to provide rural children with a secondary education. Their emphasis on farm life and agricultural improvements provided the incentives for farm families to keep their children in school.

An effort led by Warner resident Russell Campbell ensured that Warner would receive one of these six rural high schools. It was named for John Connors, the first president of Oklahoma’s Board of Agriculture. The Connors State School of Agriculture opened in the Warner Public School building in 1909 with an initial enrollment of 15 students.

Such a low enrollment didn’t bode well for the fledgling school and it was threatened with closure. So the school’s superintendent, Walter Van Allen, went on the road to visit area communities and encourage more families to send their children to the school. His efforts were successful, and the next school year saw an enrollment of 75 students. This jump in numbers necessitated a move to a larger building in downtown Warner.

With continued support from the citizens of Warner, the school eventually purchased land west of town and began a building program. Beside the classroom building, a dining hall, dormitories and other outbuildings were added during the 1910s.

By 1927, most rural communities had added a high school to their public education system. The state legislature amended the act that created the six agricultural high schools to create district agricultural colleges. Connors became a state-accredited two-year college and given the name Connors State Agricultural College.

Under the tenure of Jacob Johnson, Connors’ longest-serving president, many new buildings were added to the campus. During World War II, a National Guard unit operated at the school and became a part of the famed Thunderbirds. Connors also offered civilian pilot training and following the war provided agricultural training for GIs returning to their farms.

Connors moved into Muskogee when it absorbed the Muskogee Junior College in the early 1960s. New facilities were added to the Warner campus, and over the next decades Connors expanded into new facilities in Muskogee. Today Connors works in tandem with Northeastern State University to provide a seamless four-year college education for students in Oklahoma.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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