Frank Phillips, Woolaroc and the Last Week of Bartlesville’s Big Birthday Bash

Welcome back.    This will be the last segment of my three-part series about Bartlesville’s big 100th birthday party in 1997.  When the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion was brought back to life in September as part of Grand Finale Week it was a huge success but friends it wasn’t always like that. Let me take you to the beginning, back when Frank Phillips was still alive.

In 1927 Frank organized the first event to thank the cowboys and other workers at Woolaroc for all their hard work. Over time the guest list grew to include more townspeople as well as his friends and business associates. By 1930 more than 1,000 people were coming to what was now being called the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion where they ate Frank’s barbeque, drank his whiskey and were entertained not only by some real outlaws of the time but also by trick ropers, musicians and any other amusements Frank could dream up.

From what I could find out this popular yearly party came to an end when Frank’s wife Jane died in 1948. Then on August 23, 1950 the man locals called “Uncle Frank” also passed away and the history of the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion is a little sketchy from that point.

Don Doty was President of the Board of the Frank Phillips Foundation in the years following Frank’s death and he recalls that the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion was held off and on but it was a much smaller gathering up until 1997 when Bartlesville’s Centennial Celebration took place. With a gift from Dorothy Glynn Adams, the Centennial Commission was able to breathe new life into the event including appearances by reenactors such as Pawnee Bill, dance performances by members of the Delaware Tribe and a concert by Michael Martin Murphy. The picnic grounds at Clyde Lake were packed with people enjoying the same good food, drink and entertainment as Frank’s original guests.

1997 started a tradition that continues today because the Centennial Celebration had drawn people together for all kinds of events not only around town but also at Frank Phillips’ beloved Woolaroc. I know he would be happy that his party is still going strong and would love to have you come out for it. This year’s event is scheduled for October and it may be the biggest one yet.

As for Frank, after Jane died, he put the plans in motion for a mausoleum for himself and Jane right there on the grounds of the ranch. Using the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore as a blueprint construction workers blasted 18 feet deep into the sandstone, building a burial place fit for a king.   With air-conditioning and telephone service, the building took close to a year to complete. All the while Jane’s body sat waiting at the White Rose Cemetery mausoleum.  It was 1949 when their mausoleum was finished and Jane’s body was moved. That same year Frank resigned as Chairman of the Board of Phillips Petroleum Company.

In 1950 while vacationing with old friends in Atlantic City to escape the August heat in Oklahoma, Frank died from a gall bladder attack.    He was 76 and today he lies beside Jane in the place he loved the most, Woolaroc.

My sources this week are Don Doty who served as Chairman of the Board for 25 years, Bob Kane who replaced Don on the Board, Bob Frasier, Woolaroc’s Executive Director and Gail Morgan Kane whose book Frank’s Fancy is a must read.

Next week: it’s such a noble profession yet we seldom think about these workers until we need them. Yes folks, I’m talking about nurses and I’m about to tell you their story, starting with Florence Nightingale who founded the modern nursing profession.

Till then I’ll see ya down the road…….


Indian Summer, Woolaroc and Other Highlights from the 1997 Centennial Celebration

Welcome back.   I’m continuing last week’s story about the celebration of Bartlesville 100th birthday, hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far. Throughout the year Dee Ketchum, who was another friend of Tom Sears and Bill Creel, played a big role in highlighting the American Indians’ influence on the development of the city.

A chief of the Delaware tribe, Dee was also famous as a standout college basketball player at KU and later had a successful business career. During the Centennial the annual Indian Summer Festival had expanded its activities and attracted many new participants and attendees. Envisioned as an inter-tribal event to introduce people to Indian culture, Indian Summer included workshops for students, a fine art show and sale, craft vendors, food trucks and a two-day dance competition with some of the largest cash prizes in the region.

Dee had served as the Chairman of the festival and he saw the potential to build on its new found popularity but he needed money to promote the event and continue to attract vendors and participants as well as the general public. The festival was held at the Bartlesville Community Center and it was coordinated by Janet Odden who was an employee but who also donated hundreds of hours of her own time to the cause. Janet became an important part of Dee’s plan to grow the festival.

The need for additional income was solved by the redesign of the Indian Summer Festival program and the development of sponsorship opportunities for various activities which she oversaw. First Janet and Dee turned the existing program into a full color glossy magazine designed to both appeal to advertisers and inform festival goers. Sponsors would also be featured in the program. With the support of Phillps Petroleum Company which donated the printing for thousands of copies, the program would be free to anyone who came to Indian Summer and was also distributed to dozens of outlets in the surrounding area.

Next, they drew on the list of advertisers and sponsors from the Centennial for potential supporters of the festival. Owing to their many years of friendship with Dee and the value they saw in the festival, Tom and Bill got involved with the planning committee giving Dee and Janet access to their many contacts in the business community, many of whom became sponsors.

During the fifteen years that Dee served as Chairman Indian Summer attracted thousands of attendees each year as well as hundreds of pow wow participants, artists and vendors all of which resulted in millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for Bartlesville. The impetus for this growth came from the new energy injected into the festival during the Centennial and from Dee Ketchum’s leadership.

The local YMCA was another not for profit which was inspired by the success of the Centennial events to create its own fundraising event. As the Y did not have a professional development staff, the Board of Directors agreed to organize the event with a group of volunteers. Billed as the “YMCA Rocks Woolaroc” the fundraiser featured the popular Fabulous Mid Life Crisis Band out of Tulsa along with a great dinner and drinks, all giving the Y an opportunity to showcase its programs and accomplishments to the community. Drawing from Tom and Bill’s magical contact list, over twelve years this event raised several hundred thousand dollars for the Y and generated much needed publicity about its programs. Once again it all began with that 1997 celebration and its influence wasn’t over yet.

During the Centennial a Wild West Show had been held at Prairie Song Village in Dewey as part of the Grand Finale Week. As I hope you know, Prairie Song was built by Marilyn and Ken Tate to recreate an 1800s era frontier town and inspired by its success in the years following the Centennial they have hosted a Wild West Show for the Western Heritage Days festival held every fall in Dewey. These events have brought new tourists and revenue to the area which thanks to the Tates continues to this day.

Woolaroc, the place Frank Phillips called home, also got a boost from Tom and Bill’s list but that story is big my friends so it will have to wait until next week.

Till then I’ll see ya down the road…….


Bartlesville’s 100th Birthday Celebration Way Before Social Distancing

Welcome back.   Reflecting back to 1997 which was the 100th anniversary of the official incorporation of the city of Bartlesville and the biggest year long party in the city’s history had just wrapped up. But there was still unfinished business for the co-chairmen of this big event Bill Creel and Tom Sears.

Both men had had successful business careers, Tom as a Vice President at Phillips Petroleum Company where his father had been one of the first engineers and Bill as a major player at Price Pipeline Company supervising projects all over the world. After retiring these two men dedicated themselves to volunteering in the community and they had a vision of what Bartlesville could be in the future which the Centennial celebration highlighted.

Yes friends, there was one more gathering but this one wasn’t open to the public; it was a private event just for the volunteers and sponsors. Over three years of planning and coordination the hundreds of people who had devoted themselves to making the Centennial a success had themselves become friends. From every walk of life, income level and social standing they had become one big family. Now Tom and Bill wanted to thank them for their long hours of hard work but they were looking for a special location.

Woolaroc was one idea as the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion had just been revived as part of the Centennial and it had been a hugely attended gathering.  They had another place in mind which also had a rich history in the area, a place that was founded when Oklahoma was still called Indian Territory. It was remote, beautiful and since 1970 the 400,000-acre property had been mostly closed to the public. One of the last huge ranches in Oklahoma, the Crossbell Ranch was owned by Katsy Mullendore Mecom who was friends with Tom[O1]  and Bill.

Although she was living in Houston at the time Katsy was coming back to the area on a regular basis to help her mother and her oldest daughter run the Crossbell. She was a big supporter of the Centennial Commission and what her friends were trying to achieve so when they asked her about having the thank you party at the ranch she gladly agreed.

The party was a wonderful finale for everyone involved but when it was over Tom and Bill had one more big decision to make. They still had over 50,000 dollars in donations to the Centennial so the question was how should they allocate those funds? After some thought they came up with the perfect solution, a new facility for the Bartlesville History Museum. The museum had been looking for a larger space and with the money they received from the Centennial they were able to move to the new City Hall building and begin remodeling. Other donors joined in to create the professional gallery space which the museum currently occupies and which serves as a permanent legacy of the Centennial celebration.

That last big party at the Crossbell Ranch created its own legacy when Katsy and her mother Kathleen Mullendore invited Elder Care to continue the event as The Good, The Bad and The Barbeque.  They hosted the Barbeque at the ranch for twenty-one years and it grew into one of the largest special events in the area, raising over two million dollars for seniors and caregivers in the Bartlesville community and beyond.

But the impact of the Centennial extended even further. Next week the story of other events and organizations that benefited including the Indian Summer Festival, Prairie Song, Woolaroc and the YMCA.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…….