NORMAN — Sometimes it’s hard being an Oklahoma State fan. Bleeding orange and black in a crimson and cream world can get the best of you at times. So when you meet another Pokes fan, usually there is an instant bond.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of OSU’s finest a few years ago.
Mabel Ruth “Mike” Stephanic not only served this country as a World War II Army nurse, but she was also a proud and, never quiet about it either, fan of OSU. She’d roll around the halls of the Norman Veterans Center in a wheelchair that was decked out in orange and black.
Being a true Cowgirl, her Eskimo Joe’s cup was never far from reach. “Mike,” a nickname she got at a young age, died on Oct. 18 at 94 years young.
During my last visit with Mike, she told me that she was the oldest of two children born in Topeka, Kan., but she grew up in Ponca City.
“My dad was a quintessential Virginia gentleman. But he was strange in one way that he thought a girl should be able to take care of herself,” Stephanic said. “I learned to box. I played tackle football. I was the only girl in a neighborhood of all boys. So while my name is Mabel Ruth — I was named for my mother’s sister and a cousin — the boys decided that was too much of a mouthful, so I was christened Mike. And I’ve been Mike ever since. I’ve been Mike since I was about 3 or 4 years old. Mother never did call me Mike, but practically everybody else did.”
Being a Cowpoke wasn’t the only thing that drew me to Mike. She always had a smile and a laugh to share. When I told her she was a trailblazer for being in the Army back in the day when women were supposed to keep the home fires burning, she disagreed. In fact, she argued with me. She told me she was too ornery to be a role model. Ornery, maybe, but Mike was a true hero.
“I remember hearing the reports on the seventh of December (1941) and I was starting my senior year. I knew right then, I was going to have to be there,” Stephanic said.
When leaving the states, Stephanic was with the 32nd Evacuation Hospital, an Oklahoma unit. While she was in Ireland, the 107th Evacuation Hospital needed one nurse.
“They were going in on the 12th of July. They were short one nurse. They literally put names in a helmet, and mine was one that got drawn out. In a way, it was funny because — talk about cultural shock — I went from an Oklahoma outfit to one from Boston, Mass.
“All of the time when we were overseas, if we got anyone in from Oklahoma or Texas, I was called on to interpret. I kept saying there was not a thing wrong with the Texans or the Oklahomans, it was just that they were in the wrong spot,” Stephanic said.
Growing up, Stephanic had all the intentions to be a doctor.
“But at that time, in the ’40s, there wasn’t much money and there wasn’t much (of a) way I could make my way, but I could manage nursing. But I was never really sorry because I found many things to do as a nurse that I enjoyed,” Stephanic said. “Because, maybe it sounds self serving, but really and truly, it was the first time I felt as though I had a reason for being.”
When Stephanic got back to the service, her father was transferred to Stillwater. Life later took Stephanic to Woodward for three years to teach practical nursing. After that, Stephanic came back to Stillwater, where she taught freshman chemistry at what was then Oklahoma A&M.
One thing we agreed on was when Stephanic encouraged other women to pursue their dreams.
“I’d say go for it. Because, let’s face it, when I was in, there were very few ‘jobs’ that you could do if you weren’t a nurse or a cook; that was about it. Now, a gal can do just about anything. A lot of girls growing up now are able to do many great things that they were not able to do, not even 10, 15 years ago.
“Consequently, they are trained and they need the jobs. Let’s face it, some of us just need to do things,” Stephanic said.
Stephanic was honored on Veterans Awareness Day during a joint House and Senate ceremony earlier this year, where she received a citation from Gov. Mary Fallin. And only a few weeks ago, she participated in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
It’s sad to have to say goodbye to a fellow Cowgirl and going to the Veterans Center will never be the same. But I’m certainly glad I had the chance to meet a hero. I certainly hope Mike has a great seat for the next OSU game; after all, she deserves it for all she did for others.