Ambling through Atoka County Cora McKown: Oklahoma State University alum by design

Story by Laurel Henagan, OSU Library intern

The Cowboys in Every County team traveled south to Atoka County to chat with Cora McKown, professor and interior designer. Cora knew early on that she wanted to pursue higher education, and she fell in love with design along the way. During our visit with her, she told us about both of those passions.

About Atoka County and Atoka

Atoka County is located in the southeast corner of Oklahoma and was a county as early as 1854, long before Oklahoma’s statehood. It was named for a Choctaw warrior who brought Native Americans to the area from Mississippi in the 1830s during Indian Removal.

The three Boggy River Creeks (North, Muddy, and Clear) of the area are the base locations of much of the county’s history. The Choctaw settled there upon their arrival and established Boggy Depot, which was later the site of a Confederate Army supply camp during the Civil War. The man who came up with the name of Oklahoma (it means “red people”) was from there, as well.

The first post-Civil War Indian Territory Masonic Lodge was founded in the region, and the man who made that happen, Reverend Joseph Murrow, was the same man who helped establish the town of Atoka with churches, organizations, and an orphanage. (Murrow also helped create Bacone College in Muskogee.)

Today, the ghost town of Boggy Depot is part of a Choctaw-owned-and-operated park just outside of Atoka.

Atoka is the county seat, and the Atoka Museum and Confederate Cemetery holds lots of interesting information and artifacts about the county, the town, and the Civil War.

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Cora McKown

About Cora McKown

Cora McKown was born and raised on her family’s land in Atoka County. The property has been in her family since 1919, and she has many fond memories of growing up there.

Her stepfather owned rental properties which she helped paint and prep when she was very young, and she helped her mother refinish and reupholster furniture. The decoration work and early-learned sewing skills quickly developed her love of interior design at an early age.

After graduating high school in 1961, Cora enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, graduating in three short years. A month after graduation, she married her husband, Jim, and then went to work for the Cherokee County extension office while Jim taught at Northeastern State University. Cora then decided to enroll at Oklahoma State University to earn her master’s degree, living in Stillwater for school during the week and going home to Tahlequah on weekends.

After Cora completed her master’s degree in 1968, the couple moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Jim went to work on his doctorate. While there, Cora was offered a faculty position, teaching introductory design classes. She fell in love with teaching, and after a couple years at Arkansas, she went to University of Missouri for her PhD, believing that she could easily be a full-time student for many more years because she loved it so much.

After her school years and during the span of her career, Cora taught interior design for approximately twenty years, designed countless homes and buildings, and helped develop interior design degree programs at universities in multiple states. She even spent five years as owner-operator of an interior design studio / art gallery in Colorado which was a huge success.

Today, Cora and her husband split their time between homes in Santa Fe for summers, and Atoka during the harsh winter months. Oh, and it’s not much of a surprise that she designed their Atoka home, building it partially with wood and stones from their property.

Her love of art and design hasn’t wavered over time, and she’s even done a number of watercolor illustrations for children’s books. During her chat with us, Cora recalls the generosity and kindness of OSU faculty, some campus activities she enjoyed, and the fact that she considers OSU her “home university.”

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.

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