Story by Anna McDougal, OSU Library intern
On our second trip to Comanche County, Oklahoma, the Cowboys in Every County team met up with Cowboy alum, Ira Kennedy. Ira came to Stillwater in 1958, right after Oklahoma A&M made the transition to Oklahoma State University. He never considered going anywhere else but OSU, and the decision paid off greatly for his future career.
About Comanche County and Geronimo
The fourth-most populous county in Oklahoma, Comanche County was created in 1901, and named for the Comanche tribe. The county’s economy is largely based in the government sector and is home to Cameron University. Comanche County is comprised of the Great Plains topography and rolling hills, yet the northern landscape is marked by the beautiful Wichita Mountains. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge located near Lawton is a great place for hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife tours. Every year hunters are chosen by lottery in order to keep elk and deer hunting from excessively diminishing the population.
The small agricultural town of Geronimo, Oklahoma, is home to our alum and miles of crops. Did you know that in 1984, one of the deadliest bank robberies in Oklahoma history took place in Geronimo? The horrifying event still scars the town and Oklahoma as a whole.
Ira Kennedy was born in Elmore City, Oklahoma, on his family’s farm. Both sides of his family homesteaded in the area and produced broom corn at the time. During the early 1940s, Ira and his family moved to California, but returned to Elmore City in 1945. When it came time to graduate from high school, Ira felt as though he had two options: farming or oil field work. All of his siblings had gone to college but hadn’t graduated, so when Ira expressed to his mother that he wanted to give college a shot, she was elated. He took a paper sack and a pillowcase full of his belongings and went to Murray College for a year. His sophomore year, Ira transferred to OSU, claiming he had never considered going anywhere else.
While at OSU, Ira worked in the animal barns for $40 a month. The workers slept in a 3-high bunk bed right in the little barn with the animals. During his senior year, Ira worked in the experimental swine barn and got a $5 raise – talk about making it big! Tuition was $9 a credit hour at the time, so the dollars he earned were quickly spent on school. Ira was also involved with the OSU’s livestock judging team in addition to the Block and Bridle club. He fully immersed himself in the agricultural experience, including the engineer vs aggie feud. Apparently at the time, these two colleges were at odds. The judging team won a bronze bull statue from their win at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago, and the engineers stole and castrated it! Yikes!
Ira graduated from Oklahoma State in 1960 and was all but assured a job because of his work in the animal barns. Instead, he went to work on the farm with his family for a short time before he got a job at a huge swine operation in Dodge City, Kansas. He only worked there for two months before moving to Fort Reno, Oklahoma. Soon after marrying, Ira became a Cooperative Extension Agent in Durant, Oklahoma. He served in this position for three years before he got the opportunity to go to Cameron State Agricultural College (now Cameron University) in 1965 as a professor of animal husbandry. All the while he farmed, producing wheat, cattle and leasing his land.
During his time at Cameron, Ira remembers losing students to the draft board frequently, as the Vietnam War was at the height of its term. When the war was over, Cameron was flooded with retired soldiers and GI Bill students. Through the seasons of his teaching career and farming experience, Ira made a lot of connections and friendships that he still cherishes. One of the most important connections he still fosters is his love of his alma mater. To this day, Ira is one of the brightest orange individuals you will meet and looks forward to seeing the future of the university.
Here are a few more images from our trip to Comanche County:
We’ve wrapped up interviewing for Cowboys in Every County, but we’ll continue to highlight our adventures on this blog. Check back often for more stories from the road.