Joan Elson Kirkpatrick

Joan Elson Kirkpatrick was born on August 7, 1933 in Long Beach, California. She is the only child of John Elson and Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick.

Because of her father’s position with the Navy, Joan’s family lived in an apartment in Vallejo, California and later moved to San Diego. Her maternal grandparents, Mack and Kathryn “Kittie” (Talbot) Blake, visited Joan and her parents from time to time. Mack, concerned that his son-in-law was missing his wife and daughter due to naval service, offered John a pay scale equal to his naval salary if he returned home. The young Kirkpatrick family soon returned to Oklahoma for a period of time.

In 1935, Joan and her parents moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Joan and Eleanor lived in the area while John completed two semesters at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. The family returned to Oklahoma in the summer of 1936 and, as John later recalled in an autobiographical sketch, he took Joan to the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. In September the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Joan began attending the Country Day school.

After the family moved to Tulsa, Joan frequently visited her grandparents in Oklahoma City and other places as they travelled. In 1938 she went with her grandmother Kittie Blake to Long Beach, California and was joined later by her mother and father. In 1939 she visited her aunt Mary E. (Kirkpatrick) Moorman and her husband J.D. in San Antonio, Texas. In 1939, she began at Betty Rombaugh Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In January 1941, Joan accompanied Mack and Kittie Blake to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Two months later, her father was recalled to active duty and assigned to the battleship USS North Carolina located in Brooklyn, New York. Joan and Eleanor moved to take an apartment in Forrest Hills, New York. In May, Joan’s grandmother Kittie Blake came to visit, and the family visited the USS North Carolina together. Joan returned to Oklahoma City in June and served as a flower girl at the wedding of her cousin Margaret (Hanna) Dudley.  She returned with her great aunt Katherine Marshall the following month.

Joan remained in New York from July until she returned to Oklahoma City with her mother the following year. She saw many of the sights including opportunities to visit the North Carolina. In August she came aboard on her birthday where not only was a cake served, but also the band aboard the ship played “Happy Birthday” for the eight year old. She attended Public School 101 in Forest Hills during the school year.

On November 30, 1941 Joan, John, and Eleanor travelled together to visit the family of John’s oldest brother, Lewis Spencer Kirkpatrick. On December 20, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and increased German submarine attacks along the east coast, Eleanor and Joan returned to Oklahoma City. They lived with Eleanor’s parents until April 1942 when they saw John again whose work on the North Carolina had increased significantly. They stayed in Portland, Maine until the ship left for the west coast in June. Eleanor and Joan returned to Oklahoma City where they once again lived with Mack and Kittie Blake.

Although Eleanor briefly saw John again in San Francisco just before his ship set sail in July 1942, Joan and John were apart until 1944. She filled in the time by taking a public speaking course and spending time with her grandparents, Mack and Kittie Blake. Joan and her grandfather played games in the evening, or he sometimes read to her in the midst of conducting his other business affairs. Throughout 1942, Joan often wrote brief notes to her father in letters sent by Eleanor. Joan told him hello and ask how he was doing. She collected scrap metal to help the war effort, and she began taking piano lessons. In response, her father wrote his daughter often, noting in one letter, “I was just your age when they had the last world’s war and can remember enough of it to have a pretty good idea of how you must feel about it.”

Mack Blake continued to play a prominent role in Joan’s life. A January 17, 1943 feature in The Daily Oklahoman pictured Joan and Mack playing cards together.  Joan also helped in the war effort itself by volunteering on the food rationing board and even buying war bonds. Later that same month, Eleanor noted that Joan was reading about her father in the 1931 Naval Academy’s annual. She wrote above her father’s youthful picture a caption describing him as “Dads.” Between June 1942 until John’s return in October 1945, Joan saw her father only briefly for a couple of weeks in April 1944.

Joan had not yet graduated from high school before the family took an extended Caribbean Cruise which included the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, and Venezuela. Both she and Eleanor visited John as he became more involved with the Kirkpatrick & Bale Oil, Company and its wells in Pampa, Texas. When her father ventured on his own to form an oil business in 1950, Joan was designated as a director of the new company. That same year she graduated from Classen High School. She started classes at Mount Vernon Junior College in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

In 1951, Joan attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs where she remained until her senior year when she transferred to Oklahoma City University. In 1954, Joan travelled with her friend Camilla Ambrose to New Orleans where the pair painted murals at Sophie Newcomb College, a coordinate college of Tulane University. In November she began working in the art department of KMPT-TV Channel 19 in Oklahoma City. She also received her Bachelor of English degree from Oklahoma City University in December 1954.

In 1955 Joan began working at the Bookhouse in Casady Square in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The following year she became involved in the Beaux Arts Ball, an event associated with her parents and hosted at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club. Later that year, Joan worked with organizing an artists’ series with the Oklahoma City Symphony orchestra. In 1956, Joan completed Weaver real estate coursework at Blackwood Davis Business College in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She later began working with Karnes real estate company.

Over the next few years, Joan travelled extensively with her family. As part of her twenty-fourth birthday she was able to go to an Army facility 40 miles away from the Yucca Flats in Nevada to observe an atomic testing blast in 1957. And in May 1958 she was able to visit her uncle Elmer E. Kirkpatrick, Jr. who was stationed in Italy with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, Joan kept up with community and civic interests including the Junior League of Oklahoma and the Women’s Committee of the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra.

On May 10, 1960 Joan married Konrad Kent Keesee, a real estate broker located in Oklahoma City. Boarding a train dubbed the “Honeymoon Special,” over one hundred guests travelled from the Santa Fe Railroad Station in downtown Oklahoma City to Arkansas City, Kansas.  The following year on December 27, Joan and Konrad had Christian Kent Keesee, the couple’s only child.  The couple divorced in 1963.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Joan continued her involvement with civic organizations in addition to raising Christian with the help of his grandparents. Between 1973 until 1981 she volunteered twice a week at Deaconess Hospital in both the emergency room and the records department. In May 1976 Joan began serving on the board of the Kirkpatrick Foundation. In 1981 she also served on the Board of Trustees for the Oklahoma Orthopedic and Arthritis Foundation which owned and operated Saint Anthony’s Bone and Joint Hospital in Oklahoma City.

In 1996 Joan became a board member for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. It marked a continuation of her longstanding support for animal welfare and environmental projects. As President of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, Joan worked on several animal-related programs including the implementation of the Zoological Residency program at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Science in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She was also later elected to the board of the Free to Live Animal Sanctuary.

In 1998, Joan served as vice-president of the Oklahoma City Art Museum’s board of trustees and is a trustee on the board of the Kirkpatrick Family Fund. After becoming President of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, Joan continued her support of the museum through making a large donation on her behalf and successfully encouraging a matching contribution by her father to towards the eventual move of the Art Museum from the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds to downtown Oklahoma City. The museum broke ground on the building in April 2000, and two years later, the new museum opened. Joan lead the way for the dedication of the Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Memorial tower at the center of the new facility.

As President of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, Joan supported the Oklahoma Zoological Society to improve and expand the Oklahoma City Zoo. On December 13, 2006, the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Health and Welfare Complex was dedicated at the zoo in recognition of her work.

In 2008, two years after the death of her father, Joan became chair of the Kirkpatrick Foundation. Later that year, the Joan Kirkpatrick Chair in Small Animal Internal Medicine Veterinary Medicine was created through a $500,000 gift from the Kirkpatrick Family Fund to Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.

On August 4, 2009, Joan died of a leukemia related illness at Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her work in civic and community organizations continues through the Kirkpatrick Foundation which has concentrated mainly on funding education, arts, veterinary medical research and environmental 501(c)(3) agencies.

JK wrote prior to her death: On a more personal note I would like to add that Kitty and Mack Blake were a lovely and gracious couple. I recall during the ‘40s while living in Okla. City how much they enjoyed gathering with friends at each others’ homes. They were especially close to the extended families of Baker, Hanna and Blake. Even then I could recognize an unmistakable sense of community and fellowship within their little group of cousins, spouses and children which was most enjoyable. Mr. Blake possessed a very keen work ethic and continued going to his office within days of his rather sudden death of heart failure in 1946.

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