Bartlesville...the All American City
The streets of Bartlesville were lined with 20,000 spectators in 1963 as the community celebrated its selection as an “All-America City.”
Community spirit was at perhaps its highest level ever during that era of Bartlesville’s history when volunteerism and pulling together became a way of life for 30,000 residents who repeatedly pooled their talents and resources to make sure needs were met. The spirit of cooperation so wowed the National Municipal League and Look Magazine that they named Bartlesville as an All-America City award winner – an honor designated for municipalities who work together to tackle community challenges with over-the-top results.
The handwritten notes by community members involved in the effort say much about the philosophy of Bartlesville’s leaders of the day.
“Set a goal – anything is possible,” according to these Junior Chamber of Commerce members. “Make plans. Work hard, play hard – serve your community and you will serve yourself.”
Robert Thompson, Bartlesville Junior Chamber of Commerce president, submitted the community’s application for the national award – an essay he entitled “The Mr. Citizen Story of Bartlesville.” It tells how the Jaycees rallied the community to raise in five months more than $612,000 in private money to develop Sooner Park and Golf Course. The successful campaign included contributions from 92 local businesses, 89 civic clubs and thousands of individuals.
It details how Bartlesville rallied Oklahomans in a statewide call for reapportionment to bring legislative office boundaries in line with what was intended when the state constitution was written. An initiative petition drive started with 300 volunteers in Bartlesville and moved to a statewide effort that brought 220,000 signatures from Oklahomans seeking change.
The Mr. Citizen story continues detailing a campaign organized by the Jaycees to help raise money for what was known then as the United Community Fund and today is call Bartlesville Regional United Way. The group held an April breakfast for 3,700 volunteers who polished off their orange juice and coffee, then turned around and contacted within one hour 10,000 people raising $290,000 for organizations committed to the health and welfare of the community.
“With these accomplishments, Mr. Citizen of Bartlesville is confident that he can meet other challenges that confront him, thereby continuing the dynamic growth of his city,” Thompson stated.
Mr. Citizen was joined by many state officials and celebrities in April 1963 when special ceremonies and a grand parade were held to honor Bartlesville’s national designation. An All-America City flag was raised at the public library, actress Gretchen Wyler presented parade awards and Gov. Henry Bellmon gave a speech.
Phillips Petroleum’s “Philnews” publication in its coverage of the big event noted Les Suhler, Look Magazine vice president, was impressed by Bartlesville – saying this was “no ordinary city.”
“There is something typically American about the whole history of Bartlesville telescoped into the period of only one long lifetime,” Suhler said. “From Indian trading post to boom town, and from boom town to All-America City. If one were searching for the story of America in miniature, one need only come to Bartlesville.”