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Oxley Nature Center

Oxley Nature Center is the crown jewel of the Tulsa Parks, and is one of Tulsa Audubon's proudest achievements. The idea was born in 1972, and in 1974 TAS president Dick Sherry approached the Park Board and worked with specialists from National Audubon to develop a master plan. To aid in fund-raising an independent organization of Audubon members and community leaders, now called the Friends of Oxley, was formed, and the nature center became a reality

For current information on Oxley and the many excellent programs it offers, visit:

www.oxleynaturecenter.org


Below is some historical and archival information about Oxley Nature Center

Oxley Newsletter Archive

Brief History of Oxley Nature Center

Detailed History of Oxley Nature Center

The John T. Oxley Family

Bob Jennings, 1939-2004

John Tomer, 1917-2007

Redbud Valley Nature Preserve

Damselflies & Dragonflies of Oxley Nature Center

Butterflies of Oxley Nature Center


Oxley Nature Center Newsletter Archive

 

2017

January/February 2017

March/April 2017

May/June 2017

2016

January/February 2016

March/April 2016

May/June 2016

July/August 2016

September/October 2016

November/December 2016

2015

January/February 2015

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July/August 2015

September/October 2015

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2014

January/February 2014

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2012

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November/December

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2009

January/February

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2008

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2007

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2002

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2001

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November/December

 

Brief History of Oxley Nature Center

The idea for a Nature Center in Tulsa began with a concept and plan presented to the Tulsa Parks Department by Philip Nelson in 1972. The Tulsa Audubon Society became involved, working to get the idea off the ground. Our non-profit organization was established in early 1975 by those involved in the project and was named Mohawk Nature Center Development, Inc., (MNCDI.) We raised the funds for the Master Plan that was created by the National Audubon Society. Once that plan was approved by the Park Board and City Commission, MNCDI raised the initial funds for the shelter, trail system and other improvements.

In 1979, through a challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation and another major gift from John and Mary Oxley, funding was provided for the construction of the Oxley-Yetter Interpretive Building. MNCDI contracted for all the construction work, and then turned the completed facilities over to the City of Tulsa as each was finished. Once the physical improvements were in place, the role of the organization changed from that of fund raising and construction to being a membership/support organization for the Nature Center, and the name was officially changed to the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center Association, Inc. We provide advice and expertise as well as financial support to continue growth and development of Oklahoma's finest Nature Center.

It is important to know that this special place was the result of citizen action and involvement with the City government to push for, fund and build a worthwhile facility that the City would not have done on its own.


A More Detailed History of Oxley Nature Center

As with most things that one treasures, a certain amount of suffering, disappointment, frustration, and hard work are necessary for the final achievement to have any satisfaction. The evolution of the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center did not just become a reality because everybody welcomed it with open arms, but rather grew from the embryo of an idea to its reality through a gauntlet of delays, growing pains, and related problems. Perseverance characterizes the success of the story and the following short history clearly shows the effort and time required to achieve the desired.

1972 - Phil Nelson, a citizen with the idea for a nature center, made overlay maps and a slide presentation to the Tulsa Park Board. The idea was endorsed and $5,600 in the 1972 Park Bond Issue was marked for security of the "Mohawk Nature Center." Shortly after passing of the bond issue Mr. Nelson left Tulsa and the project became dormant.

March, 1974 - Tulsa Audubon Society (TAS) President Dick Sherry appeared before the Park Board to express the interest of the Society in the project and requested the funds be expended. The Park Board endorsed the project but did not know when the funds would become available. 

June, 1974 - A workshop on Nature Centers was conducted by the TAS to explain what the concept was.

July, 1974 - A member of the National Audubon Society (NAS) Nature Center Planning Division visited Tulsa to inspect the Mohawk area.

Sept., 1974 - The TAS again asked the Park Board for the funds from the 1972 Bond Issue and the Board said that they again endorsed the idea but funds were not available at this time. It was also pointed out that the amount originally designated would only accomplish approximately one-half of the job due to the high inflation since the passing of the Bond Issue.

Nov.-Dec., 1974 - The Nature Center Planning Division of National Audubon was asked to prepare an estimate of our costs for developing a master plan for the nature center. The master plan cost was presented to the Park Board. Again the idea was endorsed, but the funds were not available.

Jan., 1975 - The realization that if the nature center was ever to be a reality it was going to have to get support outside City Hall prompted the formation of Mohawk Nature Center Development Inc. (MNCDI). This group of interested Audubon members and community leaders arranged an agreement with the City to allow MNCDI to fund the master plan and develop the nature center with the City approving the project development, but not assuming any financial obligation. 

March, 1975 - Without a penny in the bank MNCDI signed a contract with the Nature Center Planning Division of National Audubon for the master plan with payment of $8,700 due on completion of the plan.

April, 1975 - the field work was conducted by National Audubon and the master was scheduled for a rough draft copy to be provided in the fall.

April, 1975 - MNCDI began trying to raise funds to pay for the plan.

Aug., 1975 - Rough draft copies of the master plan were circulated to the City, MNCDI, and Park Board members for comment and returned to National Audubon for preparation of the final draft. 

Jan., 1976 - The master plan was delivered to MNCDI.

Feb., 1976 - The plan was made public at the Park Board meeting and a Public hearing was scheduled for March.

March, 1976 - Plan was approved by the Park Board.

April, 1976 - The plan was approved by the City Commission.

March, 1977 - Mr. and Mrs. John T. Oxley contribute $200,000 to implement the improvements called for by the plan. 

April, 1977 - The Tulsa Junior League offered to undertake a volunteer program in conjunction with the nature center. The League also agreed to provide partial support for the nature center naturalist's salary with the city providing the balance.

May, 1977 - The search for a naturalist began.

Sept., 1977 - Robert G. Jennings hired as naturalist.


The John T. Oxley Family

The high risk and pressure of the petroleum industry executive, the love of the game of polo and the horses and men that play it, and the quiet, peaceful, natural surroundings of a nature center which in days past was only a park, is an unlikely trinity at best. Yet, these are three facets of John Thurman Oxley's life, and his generosity has made the Mary K. Oxley not the dream of a few, but a reality for every citizen of Tulsa. It is without question appropriate that the support for this center come from an oilman, as much of what makes Tulsa the unique city it is has been the philanthropic character of the oilmen who made their fortunes here.

Mr. Oxley was a native Oklahoman born in Bromide, Oklahoma in 1909. He married Mary K. Yetter in 1935 and they had two sons and a daughter. He attended East Central College, Tulsa Business College, and The University of Tulsa Law School. His business activities were varied within the petroleum industry and included jobs with Amerada Petroleum Corporation and Warren Petroleum Corporation. He started Texas Natural Gasoline Corporation and had a part interest in Oxley Petroleum Company. He was Chairman of the Board of Arkansas Valley Industries and Director of Apco Oil Corp. 

The Oxley's also owned Hereford Cattle ranches in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and Colorado. 

His interest in the game of polo was reflected by his own abilities to play the game. He was the playing captain of eight National Winning 12-Goal teams, more than anyone else. He Captained the 1970 Boca Raton team which defeated Prince Philip's team for England's Gold Cup. It was the first time a United States team had ever won that title. 

Thus, Mary K. Oxley Nature Center was launched by a man of varied interests and abilities, and more importantly an obvious desire to leave a legacy not built by man, but rather preserved by his recognition of the world he shared with nature.

A note from Dick Sherry about John & Mary Oxley:

"I do know why Mohawk Park was so special to them. John Oxley worked a second job as a young man in the photography studio owned by Mary's father. They started dating and would often rent horses at Mohawk and ride the old Roosevelt Bridle Trail that wound through the park. They later lived on a property at 36th Street North and Memorial (which was just west of the north end of the main runway at Tulsa International), and had several barns and corrals for their many horses. John became quite a polo enthusiast and player, and was responsible for the polo fields within Mohawk Park being established. My father had known John Oxley for many years, and was the main contact person to talk with them about the proposed nature center. In September of 1976, my father and I met with the Oxleys and talked about a lot of different subjects including what a nature center could mean to Tulsa. At one point, John asked "What can you do with $300,000?" I nearly fell out of my chair! I told him we could do everything called for in the master plan except the building. He said that he and Mary wanted to make that contribution, and that was the springboard that really launched the nature center."

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified: March 15, 2017

 

 

 

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