Will of the people
John M. Wylie II, Oologah Lake Leader
When Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers died in 1935, the people of Oklahoma, of America, and around the world mourned.
The people of Claremore and Oologah like to claim Will Rogers, but Will was bigger than those two communities.
His weekly and daily newspaper columns were carried in 600 newspapers and reached 40 million readers.
His top-rated Sunday evening radio show was carried across the country.
He starred in 71 movies and was Hollywood's top paid actor.
He embraced new-fangled ideas like talking movies, radio and aviation. With his down home style, he helped ordinary people adjust to a rapidly changing world.
He spoke for and to the people. The State of Oklahoma vied with California and the nation for the honor of being the final resting place of Oklahoma's Will Rogers. Despite the Great Depression, the Oklahoma legislature scraped together $200,000 to finance the main building. The east wing was added in 1982, also with state money.
Following Rogers' untimely death, his widow and children donated the 20 acres in Oklahoma that Will and Betty had purchased for their retirement home, along with much of the collection. They could have sold the prime land and artifacts, but instead they gave them to the people of Oklahoma who had been so important to Will Rogers.
The State of Oklahoma lovingly accepted responsibility for the final resting place of America's ambassador to the world and his collection.
For 75 years, Oklahoma has carried out this mission: to collect, preserve, and share the life, wisdom, and humor of Will Rogers for all generations.
The priceless archives draw scholars from around the world. Will Rogers still represents Oklahoma's common- sense, compassionate values to the rest of the nation and world.
Has the current generation of Oklahomans forgotten our responsibility to Will Rogers?
The state faces a budget crisis. Gov. Mary Fallin calls for cuts of three to five percent for most state agencies. But she singles out Will Rogers for an almost 25% budget cut.
Legislator Leslie Osborn has an even more drastic idea. She suggests cutting funding 15% a year, eventually reaching a 90% cut.
Why should the Will Rogers Memorial Museum be any different than any of the other 500-plus museums across the state that depends mostly on local and private funds, she asks.
Why? Because the people of Oklahoma asked for this special gift and responsibility. Because Will was of the people. It was the will of the people of Oklahoma to remember and honor their favorite son.
But perhaps Oklahoma no longer cares about meeting its obligations, or preserving the graves of its heroes. Maybe it's all about dollars and cents now.
Just five months ago, the Governor's Commission on Tourism named the Will Rogers Memorial Museum as the outstanding tourist attraction in the state. In 2009 visitors came from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 30 foreign countries. In an average month, according to the director, the Memorial welcomed guests from 44 states and 12 nations. Only about one-third came from Oklahoma.
According to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, the economic impact of visitors to the Memorial Museum in 2009 was $17,696,250.
The legislature provided $803,217 dollars for fiscal year 2010 (which runs July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010).
That's a 2,203 percent return on investment. That sounds like a good investment to us. We'd take a 2,000 percent return on our IRAs.
The legislature cut Will Rogers' funding to $744,984 for fiscal year 2011. Working with less, the museum still increased attendance 11.8 percent in 2010 and an additional 24 percent so far this year.
Gov. Fallin would cut that to $570,089 for fiscal year 2012.
Why would Oklahoma cut an investment that returns 2,000 percent? It makes no sense.
Will Rogers said, "Remember, write to your Congressman. Even if he can't read, write to him."
What can we do to uphold our obligation to Will Rogers and get a 2,000 percent return on investment?
Write to State Rep. Osborn and Gov. Mary Fallin. They're both smart women who know how to read.
Perhaps they will listen to the will of the people.
Contact State Rep. Leslie Osborn at 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 303-B, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 or leslie.osborn@ okhouse.gov.
Contact Gov. Mary Fallin at Oklahoma State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212, Oklahoma City, OK 73105.
Wed, May 18, 2011