Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick

Born on March 10th, 1909 in Mangum, Oklahoma to Mack and Kathryn (Talbott) Blake, Mary Eleanor Blake moved with her family to Oklahoma City at the tender age of one. She completed her elementary education at McKinley and Eugene Field Schools before shifting to Lawton for high school. Subsequently enrolling in Washington D.C.’s esteemed Miss Madeira’s School for further secondary learning, Eleanor excelled throughout her educational journey. In the Autumn of 1926, she began her studies at Fontaine School for Girls located in Villa Montmorency in Cannes, France. The following year was a landmark one for this young woman as she started school at the University of Oklahoma and pledged to Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority. From September 1927 to May 1929, she prospectively earned an education there before continuing on with other endeavors.

Mary Eleanor Blake was born March 10, 1909 in Mangum, Oklahoma to Mack and Kathryn (Talbott) Blake. The family moved to Oklahoma City when Eleanor was one year old. She attended McKinley and Eugene Field Schools in Oklahoma City, began her first year of high school in Lawton, Oklahoma and continued her secondary education at Miss Madeira’s School, Washington, D. C. She entered the Fontaine School for Girls at the Villa Montmorency in Cannes, France in the fall of 1926. In September of 1927 she began her studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, pledging to Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority and attending school there through May 1929.

In the summer of 1929, Eleanor met John E. Kirkpatrick while both were in Oklahoma City. John was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland while Eleanor was preparing to start her junior year at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. They began corresponding and their romance blossomed over the next two years. They both became graduates in June of 1931, with Eleanor receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree in French. John was assigned to the USS Arizona, docked in California where Eleanor and her family visited relatives and him that summer. John proposed to Eleanor during her visit, but she did not give him an answer at that time.

Eleanor returned to Oklahoma City, and in October of that year she began working as a volunteer at the YWCA. She also began working for Community Fund at the Black Hotel. 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.

On May 12, 1932 John wrote Eleanor a letter asking her to marry him if he could get leave in June. She replied with a telegram dated May 17 saying, “Accept with pleasure your kind invitation later part of June.” They were married June 20, 1932 in her parent’s home in Oklahoma City, the wedding performed by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. They spent their honeymoon at the Kirkpatrick Family cabin in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado. John was still assigned to the USS Arizona, which was at Bremerton, Washington. Eleanor and John continued driving across country in her 1931 Packard Roadster, a graduation gift from her parents, so he could return to the ship. Eleanor drove on to California where the ship would later dock.

During their first year of marriage they lived in Long Beach, California, while John was assigned to the Arizona then reassigned to the USS California in May 1933. 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 for a brief stay, and while there she volunteered at the Crippled Children’s Hospital. She met John in New York City during Fleet Week, and then they all returned to California, where John was assigned aboard the USS Cincinnati, and they moved to a house in San Diego .

After John resigned his commission in March 1935 they lived in Oklahoma City for a few months before he entered Harvard Business School in the fall, and the three of them moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eleanor continued her interest in the arts and began attending auctions while Joan was at nursery school. She began her collection of rare books and art work during this time.

Following John’s second semester at Cambridge, the Kirkpatrick’s moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father, Dr. E. E. Kirkpatrick had died earlier that spring, in March 1936. While living in Tulsa, Eleanor began her involvement with the Junior Welfare League.
John joined in partnership with E. C. Hinkefent and Duke B. Merill to form the Allied Steel Products Corporation of Tulsa in October 1936. The family became members of the Ozark Club, making numerous life long friendships.

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 lived in an apartment in Forest Hills, New York where John joined them on his time off. They would often go aboard ship to visit John and join him for dinner.

After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, John’s ship was on high alert and continued its shakedown for preparation of war. In late December Eleanor and Joan left New York and went to stay with her parents in Oklahoma City. They were able to join family and friends for the Christmas and New Year holidays, and Eleanor kept up a steady flow of letters to John. Eleanor visited John in New York in February 1942. She and Joan soon stayed in Portland, Maine to be closer to John for a few weeks during April and May, before his ship left for the West coast and they returned to Oklahoma.

Eleanor took her first plane ride on June 27, 1942 when she flew to meet John in San Francisco. They spent a week together before the North Carolina left for Pearl Harbor and then sailed on to the South Pacific war zone. Eleanor went back to Oklahoma City and soon returned to volunteer work. She took a child welfare course and also began volunteering for the sugar rationing board.

Due to John and Mack Blake’s concern about any hardships that might occur during the war, leaving Eleanor with responsibilities of the business, the partnership in Allied Steel was sold in October 1942. Also in October Eleanor resumed business school.

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 would include attending an Army-Navy tea with John’s mother, Claudia, or going to the Rainbow Room for dinner with friends. Other forms of entertainment in Oklahoma City included taking Joan and a friend to a movie, then 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 her correspondence of late 1942 Eleanor often mentioned rationing of food and gasoline. She wrote that she was thankful for good walking shoes and that Joan liked to ride her bike and skate. She bought Christmas gifts, but they did not have a Christmas tree that year. Eleanor and Joan spent the holidays with family and friends, before she enrolled in Blackwood-Davis Business School for a six-month course in accounting and bookkeeping.

In February 1943 Eleanor and her father participated in a KOCY Radio recruiting program for the Women’s Army Air Corp. Around this same time Eleanor wrote in a letter about another form of war rationing which asked individuals not to exceed purchasing three pair of shoes a year. 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.

As World War II continued, Eleanor added more social and civic duties to her life. She participated in the Junior Bookshelf Program aired over WKY Radio in Oklahoma City. At home she began planning and preparing meals and helping her mother care for the “Victory” garden.

In the fall of 1943 she attended an art exhibit at the Civic Center. She soon 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 and John saw one another for the first time in almost two years when John was given a thirty day leave and returned home to Oklahoma to visit his family. Eleanor continued her Red Cross work after John left and also worked with the Radio Committee to plan for the Junior League fall and winter programs. Along with her work schedule, Eleanor often mentioned in her letters that she had dinner with friends, took Joan to her piano lesson or swimming with friends or to a movie. Bridge games in the evening was also a favorite past time. She often mentioned going to the Skirvin Hotel for dinner and occasionally dancing. Once she mentioned being called one evening, as part of her volunteer work for the war effort, and asked if she could hand out candy to sailors at the train station as the train passed through the city.

In her letter to John on June 7, 1944, Eleanor was referring to D-Day as she wrote, “We slept through the sirens and bells that announced the invasion, but were awakened about five thirty five when the news boys threw out their EXTRAS. These are history making days…”

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.

Eleanor continued with her Red Cross work during the last year of the war and became chair of the Home Service Corp. Following the end of the war, John returned to the United States in October 1945. After deciding to make their home in Oklahoma City, instead of returning to Tulsa, John and Eleanor were soon deeply involved in business, civic and social interests.

Eleanor’s father told John that he would need to handle the family estate after he was gone. Mack Blake had suffered with a heart condition for several years, and on June 16, 1946 he died. 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.

Interest in the arts had led Eleanor to become acquainted with Nan Sheets, an artist and director of the first Oklahoma City art gallery during the 1930’s. In 1946 Eleanor began to find ways to raise funds for the Oklahoma Art Center. She was the chair that year of the first Oklahoma City Beaux Arts Ball which benefited the Center. In 1947 she became co-chair of the benefit in addition to being a member of the budget committee of the Oklahoma City YWCA. She was chair of the Interdenominational Choir concert committee in 1948 as well as president of the Women’s Association of the Oklahoma Art Center. She took the presidency of the Classen High School Parent-Teachers Association in 1949-1950.

In 1949 Eleanor was elected president to the Oklahoma Chapter of The National Society of Colonial Dames, one of her favorite organizations, and she held that office through 1953. In 1950 the company of Kirkpatrick and Bale split with Bale . A new company name of Kirkpatrick Oil Company was given to the business and John became president and treasurer, Eleanor, vice president and secretary and Joan, director.

John and Eleanor formed the Kirkpatrick Foundation in 1955, with the initial investment of $10,000. 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. Eleanor and John’s philanthropic involvement continued and prior to the birth of their grandson, in the fall of 1961, they attempted to locate a new home for the Oklahoma Science and Arts Foundation. A new building was eventually constructed at the Fair Grounds with their $400,000 donation for construction of a 42,000 square foot planetarium and science museum. The opening of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium later took place during the opening of the State Fair in September 1962. Before this took place, Eleanor had become a member of the executive committee for the Diamond Ball in New York City held on January 31, 1962. The ball was to benefit the Institute of International Education.
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 Oklahoma City Civic Ballet, formed by the Oklahoma Science and Arts Foundation opened in 1963 as part of the Fair Grounds complex. That same year Eleanor and John helped found Lyric Theater, located on the campus of Oklahoma City University. She was once again recognized when she received the “Outstanding Woman of Oklahoma” by the Soroptimist Club of Oklahoma City in 1966.

The Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Auditorium located at Oklahoma City University opened its doors in September 1967 with John and Eleanor donating $400,000 towards the building project. Also in 1967 Eleanor and John contributed part of the funds to construct the Payne-Kirkpatrick Memorial next to the Cowboy Hall of Fame (now – and Western Heritage Center) to house the “End of the Trail” by sculptor James Earl Fraser. They also gifted other works by Fraser. Eleanor was the recipient of Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Oklahoma City University in January 1968.

The Kirkpatrick’s announced the formation of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation on October 26, 1969, allowing them to manage philanthropic funds to be distributed to various non-profit organizations.

During the 1970’s the Kirkpatrick’s increased their community work including the announcement of $57,000 in gifts to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to forty Oklahoma City non-profit organizations. They also established an endowment fund for Mercy Hospital.

The National Society of the Colonial Dames, which Eleanor was a state chapter member, supported Gunston Hall, the historic home of George Mason near Mount Vernon, Virginia. Eleanor was appointed to the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall from December 1971 through October 1979. At the Byliners Banquet, Theta Sigma Phi presented Eleanor with Woman of the Year, Civic Philanthropy Award in 1971. The Institute of International Education elected Eleanor vice chairman of its Southern Regional Advisory Board in late 1974, and the Oklahoma Heritage Association inducted Eleanor into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1975.

Close to this same time it was announced that John’s intentions were to build a new science and arts center near the Oklahoma City Zoo. Eleanor participated in the ground breaking ceremony on her sixty-seventh birthday. The Kirkpatrick Center opened its door on John’s seventieth birthday, February 13, 1978. The Center held the Omniplex Science Museum and various other museums and galleries. The Kappa Alpha Theta sorority honored Eleanor for her fiftieth year as a member in 1979.

On November 11, 1981 ground was broken for an expansion of the Center, and John and Eleanor celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, June 20, 1982, by dedicating the expansion of the Kirkpatrick Center facility which opened in 1983. A special memorabilia collection honoring Eleanor and John was showcased in 1988 at the Center.

In 1982 Eleanor received the American Institute of Architects annual award. And that same year she and John received the Evergreen Distinguished Service Award for Public Service. The Paul Harris Fellowship Award was bestowed on Eleanor in 1983, and the following year she received the Omniplex Board of Trustees Award, the Lyric Theater Phoenix Award and Oklahoma City University presented her with its Distinguished Service award.

In 1990 two distinguished awards were given to Eleanor, including the National Conference of Christians & Jews Humanitarian Award and the “Wall of Fame Award” given by the Oklahoma City Public School Foundation, which were also bestowed on John. The following year she was recognized by the Redlands Council of Girl Scouts with the “Woman of the Year” in Philanthropy and the World Neighbors “Partners” Award.

Five more awards were headed Eleanor’s way in 1992 including: Oklahoma City University Kirkpatrick/Petree Opera & Music Theater Society Award; Ballet Oklahoma Grande Reverence Award; Oklahoma County Historical Society “Pathmaker” Award; the Oklahoma City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. “Achievement Award” given to both she and John, and the Junior League of Oklahoma City made her Honoree of Mary Baker Rumsey Lifetime Commitment Award.

In 1993 she was presented the “Theta of the Year by the Oklahoma City Alumnae Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta and was given the “Humanitarian Award” from the National Arthritis Foundation. The Kirkpatrick Family Fund, an Affiliated Fund of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, was created in 1989 and Eleanor was an officer from the onset. Both Eleanor and John received the “Outstanding Philanthropist Award” at the annual banquet of the Civic Music Association in 1996.

In later years Eleanor was a member of the Ladies Music Club; Art League; Co-founder, first President, and then Honorary President of the Alliance Francaise, a French language club; Oklahoma City University Opera and Library Society, in addition to numerous social clubs and literary groups.

Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick died on May 20, 1997. Her funeral service was held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, where she and John and were members. Her interment was at Fairlawn Cemetery, Oklahoma City.


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