Mary Eleanor (Blake) Kirkpatrick
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Mary Eleanor Blake was born March 10, 1909 in Mangum, Oklahoma to Mack and Kathryn (Talbott) Blake. The family moved to Oklahoma City where Eleanor attended Oklahoma schools including high school in Lawton before attending Miss Madeira’s School, Washington, D. C. In the Fall of 1926, she entered the Fontaine School for Girls at the Villa Montmorency in Cannes, France and then continued her studies the following year at the University of Oklahoma where she pledged to Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority.
Eleanor met John E. Kirkpatrick, also from Oklahoma City the summer before she began her junior year at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. John was beginning his third year at the Nava Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, and they began corresponding over the next two years. Eleanor graduated in 1931, receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree in French.
Eleanor returned to Oklahoma City, and in October 1931 began working as a volunteer at the YWCA. In January 1932 she began taking secretarial courses at Blackwood-Davis Business College and continued her correspondence with John. She began working in her father’s office in the afternoons while attending business school in the mornings.
In May 1932 John proposed to Eleanor, and they were married June 20 in her parent’s home in Oklahoma City. They spent their honeymoon at the Kirkpatrick Family cabin in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado. Eleanor and John drove from Colorado to across country to Bremerton, Washington where John’s ship the USS Arizona was docked. She later drove on to California when the ship sailed.
During their first year of marriage they lived in Long Beach, California. On August 7, 1933 their daughter Joan was born. They continued to live in California with Eleanor making frequent visits to her Aunt Rhena (Blake) and Uncle Jessie Gully’s in Anaheim.
She and Joan returned to Oklahoma City by train in April 1934 where Eleanor volunteered at the Crippled Children’s Hospital. When John’s new ship, the USS Cincinnati sailed west, Joan and Eleanor moved to San Diego .
After John resigned his commission in March 1935 the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts while John attended Harvard Business School. Afterward, the Kirkpatrick’s moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Eleanor began her involvement with the Junior Welfare League. JThe family became members of the Ozark Club.
Eleanor and John’s involvement in business, social and civic life in Tulsa came to a stand still when John was called back to active duty reporting to the USS North Carolina on April 1, 1941 in New York City. Eleanor and Joan moved to an apartment in Forest Hills, New York.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eleanor and Joan left New York and went to stay with her parents in Oklahoma City. They were able to join family and friends, though Eleanor kept up a steady flow of letters to John. Eleanor and Joan visited Portland, Maine to be closer to John for a few weeks during April and May 1942, before his ship left for the West coast and they returned to Oklahoma.
Eleanor wrote John everyday about their life at home. She would include their social gatherings with family and friends, which often included a swim at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club, and stopping by for a hamburger at Delores’s Restaurant. Other events included going to the Rainbow Room for dinner with friends or stopping at Veasey’s Drug Store for a chocolate soda. Eleanor also worked part time in her father’s office and attended to the business of renting out John’s family farm in Yukon.
In February 1943 Eleanor and her father participated in a KOCY Radio recruiting program for the Women’s Army Air Corp. In March of that year Eleanor interviewed for and received a job as a volunteer caseworker for the Sunbeam Home.
Mr. Blake had helped John and Eleanor invest their returns from Allied Steel into two other businesses. On May 21, 1943 Eleanor signed papers to begin the new company Kirkpatrick and Bale, Inc., an oil exploration firm partnered with Hubert Bale. The second business was the Twin Hills Golf Course.
In 1943, Eleanor discontinued her work at the Sunbeam Home but took the Home Service course with the Red Cross. Her first assignment with the Home Service Corps was for the Bureau of Naval Personnel for which she made calls on dependents of Navy men. In December, her job for Home Services was with the Department of Prisoners of War.
In April 1944 Eleanor continued her Red Cross work and also worked with the Radio Committee to plan for the Junior League fall and winter programs. In July, Eleanor was given an unexpected message that John was being sent to San Francisco for a three day conference. She met him there, and they were able to spend a few extra days together. This was the last time they saw each other until after the war.
Life in Oklahoma City
Eleanor continued with her Red Cross work during the last year of the war and became chair of the Home Service Corp. The following year, Mack Blake died as John took on the responsibility and continued in the oil and gas exploration business, often taking Eleanor and Joan with him when he did field work.
Eleanor met Nan Sheets, an artist and director of the first Oklahoma City art gallery, became friends in the 1930s and after the war they worked together to raise funds for the Oklahoma Art Center. Eleanor chaired the first Oklahoma City Beaux Arts Ball which benefited the Center. In 1947 she became a member of the budget committee of the Oklahoma City YWCA. She was also chair of the Interdenominational Choir concert committee in 1948, president of the Women’s Association of the Oklahoma Art Center, and president of the Classen High School Parent-Teachers Association between 1949-1950.
John and Eleanor formed the Kirkpatrick Foundation in 1955, and Eleanor served as an officer and trustee of the Foundation from its inception. In November 1957 they gave $250,000 for the construction of a new Oklahoma Art Center located at the State Fair Grounds in Oklahoma City.
On May 10, 1960, Eleanor and John saw their daughter, Joan, marry Konrad Keesee, and on December 27, 1961 they welcomed in their only grandchild, Christian Keesee. During this period as well, Eleanor became a member of the executive committee for the Diamond Ball held in New York City in 1962. She was also very active in the founding of the Oklahoma Arts and Science Foundation.
Eleanor was recognized as “Woman of the Year” in the fall of 1962 by the Oklahoma Chapters of American Women in Radio and Television. The couple helped found the Oklahoma City Civic Ballet, Lyric Theatre, and worked in the completion of the Oklahoma City University’s Fine Arts Auditorium. Eleanor would receive an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Oklahoma City University in January 1968.
Eleanor was appointed to the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, the historic home of George Mason near Mount Vernon, Virginia. In 1974, the Institute of International Education elected Eleanor vice chairman of its Southern Regional Advisory Board, and the Oklahoma Heritage Association inducted Eleanor into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1975.
Throughout out her lifetime, countless social, civic, and arts groups inducted Eleanor Kirkpatrick or presented her with their most prestigious recognition awards for her leadership and generosity to their organizations. These groups spanned beyond Oklahoma and across the United States.
Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick died on May 20, 1997.