OMA, the Oklahoma Military Academy, occupied 800 acres in Claremore, Oklahoma on a hill overlooking beautiful rolling heavily treed grasslands. OMA opened in a series of iterations complicated initially by the fact that Claremore was in the IT and while the government wished to fund higher education in Oklahoma they did not have the right to allocate Cherokee land.
By 1912 there was a prep school on the hill which carried forward to 1917. By 1919 there was officially a military academy modeled after West Point which encompassed a secondary school preparing students to enter a four-year college or university.
Students who attended OMA were called cadets and during part of their first year were subjected to the usual kind of humiliating experiences plebes experience such as having their head shaved and responding to the orders–no matter how absurd–of more senior cadets. This was called the “rabbit year.”
The cadets were housed two to a room with a bunk, a desk, a chest of drawer and a closet. They were required to be in their chairs studying from 7-9 p.m. every evening.
To attend OMA the cadet had to be appointed by an Oklahoma state legislator; out of state cadets could not be appointees and paid a higher tuition, others received scholarships.
My father began his career at OMA in 1930. He is pictured in the yearbook, the Guidon, in Company “B” and mentioned as an excellent athlete in both boxing and football. He “annexed the Middleweight Crown at the S.W.A.A.U. Tournament at Wichita Kansas in 1930.
In the 1931 Guidon speaking of their football team “Jack Smith played everything but quarterback in the backfield, and though he had plenty of opposition, he seemed to get past it.” Dad was a very talented athlete. It is interesting to note that in the Guidon he lists his hometown as Tulsa. He does not use his legal name but uses Jack or James Smith or Jack T. Smith. Could he have had strong feelings about using his first name which was that of his father?
During my visit at Rogers State University yesterday located on the former OMA site, I had a tour of the OMA Museum. I was curious about what it cost in 1930 to attend OMA. If you were an appointed cadet it was about $438 for the school year in addition to small fees for lab courses, personal spending and so on. Out-of- state and unappointed students paid about $100 more per academic year.
The Great Depression will soon be in full sway and the ravages of the dust bowl will engulf this region. I cannot fathom who paid my father’s tuition. His mother died in 1919, his elderly twice-widowed grandmother in 1937. Dad may have had an athletic scholarship but someone had to provide him with a home during the summer, transportation and spending money. In 1930 he was 19 years old–probably older than some of his peers–nevertheless he must have had someone looking out for him–or maybe he didn’t.
As kids we learned about demerits, about “assuming the position,” (bending over and holding our ankles) to get paddled for our misbehavior, how to march and “cut a corner,” and how to make a bed so a coin could be bounced on it. Saturday mornings we could be found in our Kansas City backyard shouldering our make believe rifles and marching off our demerits. While Dad learned all this he also learned self-discipline and high ethical standards which he passed along to all of us.