Randy Talley

Regent Chesley Herndon Dead at 83

Monday, April 12, 2010

 

Geologist Chesley C. Herndon Jr. of Oklahoma City, whose family has served or been connected to the University of Science and Arts for more than 100 years, died April 7 after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.

 

 “The Herndon family has been involved in this institution’s history for more than a century,” said USAO President John Feaver. “Ches served with profound energy, loyalty and dedication on the USAO Board of Regents – just like his mom did 50 years before. In 1909, she came to Chickasha to teach music to the very first students of the college.

 

That’s when the Herndon Legacy at USAO began. And it continues. Even after Ches retired from the board in 2002, he has maintained a steady and thoughtful advisory role ever since. We will be forever indebted to the Herndon family.”

 

Ches Herndon was appointed to the USAO Board of Regents in 1995 by Gov. Frank Keating, more than 50 years after Gov. Leon Phillips appointed his mother to the Oklahoma College for Women Board of Regents in 1941.

 

But the Herndon influence at this college actually began long before World War I.  Chesley's mother, the late Ethel Dunn Herndon, came to Chickasha in 1909 to teach music at the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls, the very first incarnation of the school.

 

Chesley Coleman Herndon was born in Tulsa on Jan. 18, 1927.  He attended the University of Texas and then finished his bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Tulsa in 1948.  Two years later he entered the University of Michigan with his brother, Tom, and they earned degrees in geology together.

 

What should people remember about Ches Herndon's years here? "The students must be everything," Herndon said, as a Regent.  "Without them, there is no college.  The rest of us serve only to ensure that they get their education."

 

"The Herndon legacy cannot soon be forgotten," Feaver said.  "This family has invested three decades of direct service to the college and a century of interest and support.

 

Serving on the board of regents is an uncompensated position.  You must possess an extraordinary dedication to do it well.  And the Herndons have done it very well."

 

In fact, the Herndons are among an elite few families to continuously share a connection with the college during each of its four eras:  the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls (1908-1916), the Oklahoma College for Women (1916-65), the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (1965-74) and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (1974 to present).

 

The first college catalog of 1910 introduced Ethel Alta Dunn as professor and chair of the music department.  The brand new school -- the first women's college west of the Mississippi -- had barely 100 students and met in the local high school, all during construction of the first building on campus, dedicated in 1910.

 

Ethel Herndon served three years before marrying a local attorney, C.C. Herndon.  The couple moved to Tulsa to start a family. Thirty years later, she was more than elated, she said, when she was appointed to the Board of Regents. She was reappointed twice and served from 1941-61. She died in 1965.

 

As chairman of the USAO Board, Ches Herndon led the search committee that appointed John Feaver as president in 2000. During his years on the board, USAO’s student life initiative invested more than $25 million in capital improvements to the campus.

Chesley was married for 60 years to Roseann Evans Herndon, who survives him.

 

Survivors also include his children and grandchildren: Chesley Coleman Herndon Jr. of Guam; Mary Jane and Dr. Ransom Kilgore and Evan, Christian, Chesley, and Kendall Kilgore of Wichita, Kansas; Dr. James Noel and Marcie Herndon and Noel, Matthew, and Anna Herndon of Washington, Oklahoma; and by Anne Elizabeth and Jeff Cloninger and Katherine, Caroline, and Elizabeth Cloninger of Palm Beach, Florida and many nieces and nephews.