Storytelling about Great Plains Technology Center’s half-century of history as told by several former superintendents and legislators capped the tech center’s first day of local in-service.
The Great Plains 50th Anniversary Celebration was for current staff members.
Storytellers included former GPTC superintendents Kenneth Bridges and Tom Thomas, former GPTC instructor and Deputy Superintendent Diane Denham, current superintendent Clarence Fortney, former state representative Don Armes and former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Loyd Benson.
Denham spoke about the close professional relationship she had with the school, then known as vo-tech, and its first superintendent, Milton Worley. She described Worley as serious but fair and a supporter of bold thinking that would push the school forward from its start in August 1971.
She also recalled how Lawton Goodyear was housed in and conducted training and job interviews in the south wing of Building 100 in 1977 before the tire plant opened.
Thomas, whose DNA is found on many of the tech center’s programs over a 27-year period from the ‘80s through 2015, endorsed Worley’s idea of bold thinking. Thomas encouraged current employees to “look over the horizon for what’s next” in career education that will benefit local communities and the importance of getting the right people in the right positions.
He cited several “firsts” Great Plains was known for statewide among Oklahoma’s 29 Career Tech schools. They included its maintenance tech training with Lawton Goodyear, the Economic Development Center and SCORE, its dropout recovery program.
Bridges, who served as superintendent from 1985-1995, recalled the school’s commitment to expand the school’s health and medical programs. That expansion included respiratory care, radiologic technology, practical nursing and surgical technology and construction of a Health Occupations Center. Bridges said the driving force was employment of GPTC graduates by local hospitals and clinics.
Fortney, who has begun his 42nd year at the tech center, said the school has changed in so many ways from its beginning when it focused on 16 traditional vocational-technical programs. While Great Plains Tech still offers most of those programs, it has added career education in public safety, health, entrepreneurship, STEM and information technology, Fortney said.
The former lawmakers explained how Great Plains’ solid reputation helped pass legislation that resulted in funding for and creation of a Great Plains campus at Frederick and bringing many additional public school districts into the Great Plains service area. Former Speaker Benson was instrumental in gaining approval and funding for creation of Great Plains campus at Frederick. Armes led the legislative effort to gain funds for creation of the Emergency Operations Building at the Lawton campus. The center not only houses GPTC’s Law Enforcement Program, but the City of Lawton Police Training Division. In the building’s below ground bunker you’ll find the City of Lawton/Comanche County Emergency 911 Communication Center, the Emergency Operations Center, and MERC, the Medical Emergency Response Center.
The celebration was topped off by presentation of a three-tier cake created by new Culinary Arts instructor Ginger Siebold and the culinary arts program staff led by Lori Grant.