Carlson: Why Boone Pickens statue stands testament to impact on not just Cowboys football but all of OSU
STILLWATER — Boone Pickens worried about making the largest donation in the history of college athletics.
Not because it would remove $165 million from his bank account.
Not because he didn’t think OSU would put the money to good use.
No, he was concerned back in 2005 because he thought a gift that size might scuttle donations and discourage giving at OSU. Other alums might see his super-sized donation and think, “Why would I give? Boone will take care of things.”
Pickens fretted his donation might deter.
Instead, it inspired.
On the day a statue of Pickens will be unveiled outside the stadium bearing his name, his impact on OSU in general and football in specific will be celebrated. Pickens is only the third person memorialized with a statue on the campus, joining Henry Bennett, the long-serving university president, and Nancy Randolph Davis, the first Black student at OSU.
Even though Pickens gave significant dollars to academics at OSU, most notably the geology department where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951, the biggest chunk of his $652 million in total donations went to football.
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That’s why his statue will stand on the west side of the stadium, the BOONE PICKENS STADIUM sign that glows orange providing a halo.
(Pickens’ statue will soon have a neighbor, by the way. A Barry Sanders statue was commissioned at the same time as the Boone statue, so the addition seems likely next season.)
It seems fitting Boone’s bronze will look across an athletic landscape that has been transformed because of him. Not so much because of his individual philanthropy but because of his outsized influence.
To the north is the Sherman Smith Training Center, the indoor facility used mostly by football. A little farther north is the Greenwood Tennis Center, and just beyond it is O’Brate Stadium, the new home of OSU baseball.
None of those facilities stood when Pickens made his big donation in 2006.
All carry the name of benefactors who followed Pickens’ lead.
“That is the gift, the absolute gift, that we got from Boone Pickens,” Anne Greenwood said during Pickens’ memorial last year. “When he stepped up, he said, ‘Maybe somebody’s going to be inspired, and maybe somebody’s going to join me,’ and in every case, absolutely they did.”
Rick Pedigo is among them.
Along with wife, Terri, he became an OSU fan in 2014 when daughter Kendall joined the equestrian team. Over the next few years, he made dozens of trips to Stillwater from the family’s home in Vancouver, Washington, and watched the Cowgirls win three Big 12 titles.
But Pedigo also saw how much OSU lagged.
“We would go to the barn for equestrian, and the poor girls were having to use port-a-potties because they didn’t have bathrooms,” he said. “And they didn’t really have a team room or anything like that.”
When OSU equestrian coach Larry Sanchez brought together several families to present a vision for new facilities, Pedigo immediately wanted to help.
“You had the tennis center being built, the soccer stadium, baseball was talking about what they were going to do,” Pedigo said. “Just being around what was happening there with athletics and the campus … couldn’t help but want to get involved with equestrian and do what we could.”
Now, OSU has the Pedigo-Hull Equestrian Center.
And even though Kendall is no longer part of the program, the Pedigos are still giving. They teamed up with the Hulls, John and Kaye, whose name is also on the equestrian facility, to provide new saddles for the team this year.
“It’s an inspiration to see what’s happened at Oklahoma State with Boone and his giving,” Pedigo said. “Once an initial donation like that occurs, I think others want to follow, they want to be part of it, and they want to see the same thing happen.
“That’s certainly the approach that we took.”
It’s the approach many have taken.
When Pickens died in 2019, OSU had raised more than $2 billion in private donations and added nearly 70,000 new donors in the dozen years prior.
In school history, OSU has received 372 one-time gifts of $1 million or more; 328 have come since 2003 when Pickens made his first big donation to athletics, a $70 million gift with $20 million earmarked for football stadium expansion.
What’s more, all but one of the 46 one-time gifts of $5 million or more have come since that first big Boone donation.
“Boone’s unprecedented generosity truly changed the mindset of what is possible at Oklahoma State,” said Larry Reece, senior associate athletic director of development.
Folks at OSU say the Pickens’ statue is an outstanding replica of the megabooster. They say it's 9 feet tall, too, which frankly doesn’t seem big enough.
Then again, no height would match the size of his influence.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
What: Boone Pickens statue unveiling
When: 8:45 a.m. Saturday
Where: Outside west end zone, Boone Pickens Stadium
Watch: Facebook.com/OSUAthletics or on YouTube.com OSU Athletics channel