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Maurine Garton

Maurine Garton

Mabel Davis Mickley devoted her life to educating others, quietly and without fanfare. She spent decades making a difference: first, after earning her master’s degrees in English and Latin from Northeastern Oklahoma State University, as a teacher in rural Oklahoma classrooms; and later, upon completing a master’s degree in library science in 1962 from OU, as a professor and librarian at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.

Her life’s work is now being recognized, and in a public way. Maurine Garton is honoring her mother’s legacy by establishing an endowed scholarship in her name. Garton’s $40,000 gift to OU from her estate will support students for generations to come. The scholarship will especially help those students who were near and dear to Mickley’s heart: student s from rural Oklahoma.

“She had a real heart for those rural kids. She would just take them under her wing,” Garton said. “My mother was such a low-key, understated kind of person who really did a lot, and she made it hard to thank her. And all of us, me included, just took it for granted. I don’t think any of us properly recognized her for her contributions.”

Mickley was born in Porter, Okla. The daughter of a Swedish mother who had come to the United States as an adult, Mickley witnessed her mother’s struggles with written and verbal communication. Perhaps because of this, Mickley strongly believed in education and devoted her life to the teaching profession; she would later add farmer to her list of professions, after Mickley and her husband bought a farm in Caddo County. Mickley’s twin sister also became a teacher, and both entered college at age 16.

Mickley was still a teenager when she took her first teaching job at an oil camp during the late 1920s oil boom. Working in small schools with no cafeterias, running water or indoor plumbing, she often served as the lone staff member, responsible for everything from sweeping floors to serving as a coach. “I remember her hitting fly balls to the older boys during recess breaks in the spring. In fact, she had a crooked little finger that was injured while she was catching a fly ball without a glove.”

Garton said her mother also made sure students always had supplies, even if they couldn’t afford them. “She was very interested in protecting the dignity of children so she tried to quietly help kids in a way that promoted their self-esteem. On the farm, when she milked cows and when there was extra milk, she would deliver it to poor families. To avoid embarrassing the child, she would quietly drive by and leave the milk at their home. This often added extra miles to her commute, driving from the farm to school, but she wanted to be discreet.”

She continued assisting students while a professor and librarian at SWOSU, frequently aiding students in their search for reference materials. Many of these students came from surrounding rural towns and found the library’s collection overwhelming, Garton said.

While Garton herself took a bit of an academic detour when she was a teen and young adult, she credits her mother with inspiring her to seek a college education. Garton and all her children have earned graduate-level or professional degrees, with Garton and two of her children, Theresa and Kirk, earning them at OU. “As an educator, she was always interested and supportive of our educations,” Garton said of her mother. “The endowment fund is my way to honor her for supporting my family. While she helped financially, her greatest gift was in her unending devotion. She was always so interested. It is also a way to acknowledge that my youthful decisions and indiscretions were not easy for her to accept or understand. Looking back, I can commend her for her courage during my youth. This honor is well-deserved.”