NORMAN — Bob Goins’ footprints can be traced in Norman and beyond. In addition to the careers of hundreds of students he has mentored over the years, there are many points of interest and organizations in Norman that have benefited from his talents and his interests not only in history, but in the generations that lie ahead.
A resident of Norman for more than 80 years, his earliest memories are of the family home on Gray Street, where the library is located now. The areas surrounding the railroad tracks were good play areas, he recalls, “The sidings were well used then. There were gondolas of sand and gravel. Cotton gins. I remember seeing boxcars roll through town with young men sitting in the open doorways. Headed for California, I suppose, because there were no jobs in Oklahoma.”
It was more than 60 years later that he played a key role in the design and implementation of Legacy Park and the plazas that tell the story of Norman’s founding and growth, of the statue of his boyhood playmate James (Bumgarner) Garner, and of a memorial to the men and women from the Norman area who have served in the armed forces.
But first, there was the railroad.
“Norman wouldn’t be here without the railroad,” he said. “Not only did they carry passengers and goods, they made it possible for many students to get to OU. I still get excited if I am nearby when a train goes through.”
He also points to the importance of the Navy pilot training and aircraft mechanic training center to Norman’s development. During the war years the Navy established what is referred to as the North Base, and used the area to train pilots. Goins recalls seeing the sky swarming with yellow biplanes as the pilots practiced.
On the South Base, young Navy recruits were trained as aircraft mechanics. At one time there were 30,000 Navy personnel in Norman, “more than there were civilians living here at that time.” The university and city benefited greatly from those facilities, he said, and they added colorful memories from his childhood and youth.
As an OU student in architecture, he was mentored by the renown Bruce Goff. The architecture classes were on the North Base “and I had very few classes on the main campus,” he recalls of the campus which would be his professional home for 40 years.
Two years of ROTC training was required of all male OU students then and he followed that with another two years in the advanced program “because it paid $30 a month and I wanted that money.” At the end of four years, still short of the 185 hours required for the architecture degree, he was commissioned and soon he was in the middle of the Korean War, “a company commander at 23 years of age.”
The Korean War truce came about the time his two-year commitment ended, so he returned to Norman and OU to finish the degree. His experiences in Korea, seeing how South Korea was dealing with the refugees that flooded the area “were an eye-opening thing.”
He began to think about how communities establish orderly growth, and began his graduate studies in regional and city planning. Trying to finish his master’s degree while working as an architect in Wichita wasn’t working out, and when he was offered work with OU’s Institute for Community Development, he jumped at the opportunity.
The job was as a research assistant, but soon he found himself teaching classes. Then more classes until he was a full-time professor. Goins still maintains an office in the College of Architecture, and is a senior fellow in the Institute for Quality Communities.
Over the years he has worked with many Oklahoma towns advising them on the development of ordinances for orderly growth and development.
“You never get a city finished,” he said.
It is little wonder that as he traveled around the state, he developed a deep interest in history, and is co-author (with John Morris) of the “Historical Atlas of Oklahoma” and similar atlases of other states.
It was while working on another book with Morris, “Oklahoma Homes: Past and Present” that he discovered his childhood wood frame home. Driving through Lexington, he recognized the home which had been moved from its location when sold to make room for the library. The home had been sold and moved while he was working in Wichita, and he didn’t know what had happened to it, “but I knew it was my old home. Sure enough, I found my name where I had put it with a punch from my dad’s shop.”
Focusing on the history of Norman, Goins designed and oversaw the development of Legacy Trail.
“We needed to clean up the area along the railroad tracks in downtown Norman,” he said. “Federal transportation money provided about 80 percent of the funding for walkways and bike paths.”
Knowing that there needed to be something of interest along those walkways, the idea for the five plazas was born. With the help of funding as an Oklahoma Centennial project, he designed five points of interest along the walkway.
“We used the plazas to tell the history of Norman,” he said. “Starting near Duffy Street, the plazas focus on Indian exploration, followed by the founding of Norman, the University, the period of the Navy presence and then the war years.”
With his help, the clock that once hung at the First National Bank on bank corner (Peters and Main) was pulled out of storage and mounted across from Sooner Theater. “We had it restored and it is again on Main Street.” Across the street from the clock is the statue of his boyhood friend, James Garner.
The Veteran’s Memorial in Reaves Park reflects Goins’ concept that the American eagle would pay homage to the efforts of the local men and women who served in any of the branches of the military.
Goins serves on the architectural review committee for the development of University North Park and is excited about the development of the new park, something that plays into another interest of his, conserving, protecting and improving urban and rural environments.
As a founding member of Norman Area Land Conservancy, he is helping promote positive changes in the Norman landscape.
“We need to tell the story and tirelessly strive to persuade developers, city planners and the public that today’s decisions will be their legacy,” he said.
It is that passion for responsible planning and community development that he has imparted to hundreds of students, many of whom are employed in city government in Oklahoma.
“Well,” he adds with a laugh reflecting on his years in academic life, “many of my students are retired by now.”
Although he isn’t in the classroom as a professor, he hasn’t quit educating and influencing decisions. “The actions of today determine Norman’s future quality of life.”