By Dennie Hall
That gleam in the eye of Dr. Ray Tassin in the late 1960s grew brighter as plans to honor Oklahoma’s outstanding journalists began to hatch. As chairman of the journalism department at Central State College, now the University of Central Oklahoma, he believed an Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame would add stature to the department and aid its visibility.
He gained an enthusiastic supporter of the plans when Dennie Hall joined the journalism faculty in 1969. Hall had a double major in journalism and history and was assigned to teach the department’s course in journalism history. The plan was to use the department’s chapter of Pi Delta Epsilon, honorary journalism fraternity, as the early sponsoring group for the Journalism Hall of Fame. That was the case when the first nine members were inducted into the Hall in 1971, 45 years ago.
Meantime, plans were underway to add a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, then known as Sigma Delta Chi, which would become the sponsoring organization for the Hall of Fame.
Hall, who had become a SDX member in 1963 while working for a Nashville newspaper, took a journalism student, Ted Coombes, to the organization’s national convention in Washington in fall, 1971, and they petitioned for a charter to be granted. That was preceded by the extensive paperwork required to gain a chapter of SDX.
The first year’s inductees into the Hall of Fame included men who had become legends in journalism Will Rogers, Roscoe Dunjee, Jim Lucas, E. K. Gaylord, Stanley Vestal, Richard Lloyd Jones Sr. H.H. Herbert, Milt Reynolds and Bill Martineau. No women were included at the beginning, but that would slowly change.
The Hall of Fame sought—and—received cooperation from the Oklahoma Press Association. The OPA gave it publicity and allowed the citations to be presented to the inductees at its annual February meeting. OPA members often served on the committee named each year to choose the honorees. With a few exceptions, the number named each year has been nine.
Although the Hall of Fame was well received in the journalistic community—honorees seemed delighted with being chosen—there were a few problems concerning time and funding. Ray Tassin directed the Hall of Fame as part of his administrative activities in the department. Those duties were heavy enough without the added responsibilities of the Hall of Fame. After the first 10 years, Dr. Tassin asked Hall to assume those duties, and for the next 15 years Hall carried them out at the same time he was maintaining a full teaching load, serving in several capacities in the UCO Faculty Senate and was engaged in other professional activities.
Another problem was that expenses for printing, mailing and other facets had to be supplied by the journalism department’s budget, which often was inadequate. When Hall took on the directorship of the Hall of Fame in late 1981, he designed the first letterhead and brochure for the Hall of Fame.
When Hall was looking for 1982 inductees, he was concerned that nominations often had come from the ranks of contemporaries of present-day journalists. Therefore, some prominent names had been omitted. For instance, he knew that early-day Guthrie had two rival publishers who were powerful and influential. Therefore, he researched the lives and careers of Frank Hilton Greer of the Oklahoma State Capital and Leslie G. Niblack of the Guthrie Daily Leader and included them in the 1982 class. Later he did similar research on scores of others.
Dr. Tassin was inducted in 1983.
Presentation of the honors posed another challenge. The committees planning the Oklahoma Press Association’s conventions often relegated the Hall of Fame ceremony to the OEA’s business meeting, causing it to be rushed several times. Exceptions came a few times when the ceremony followed a dinner meeting at the convention. The decision was made to separate the Hall of Fame inductions from the OEA convention and hold them on the UCO campus.
In 1993, the ceremony was held in the Heritage Room of the University Center. A 3 p.m. ceremony would be followed by a reception. Attendance was much larger than expected, and additional chairs had to be rounded up. Another hitch was that one honoree, Ted Ralston of the Lawton Constitution & Morning Press, died a few days before the ceremony. Another who died between selection and the ceremony was Wayne Maxey of Oklahoma City.
February weather can be disastrous for a ceremony. A snowstorm in 1983 kept two honorees in Washington because their plane couldn’t take off. They were Allen W. Cromley and Vivian Vahlberg, capitol correspondents of The Daily Oklahoman & Times. The ceremonies were moved to later in the spring in the 1990s.
The room housing the Hall of Fame framed citations was designated by Dr. Tassin when the Communications Building was opened in 1969.
However, few outside the department viewed the citations. or most of the Hall of Fame’s early history, only parchment citations were presented to the honorees, suitable for framing by the recipient. Duplicates were supplied for several years to the state Capital Publishing Museum in Guthrie. The building housing the museum was the one in which Frank Greer published his newspaper, but that museum is now closed.
When Hall retired from UCO in 1997, he ended his 15 years as director of the Hall of Fame and two years later was inducted as a member.