NORMAN — More than 20 years ago my exuberant young neighbor John English was overly excited about his pre-school field trip to the University of Oklahoma campus.
“We’re going to the snowball museum,” he told me.
“You mean the one with dinosaur bones and birds and totem poles? I asked.
“Yea, that’s the one,” he said. “The snowball museum.”
That snowball, or Stovall Museum, was named for Dr. J. Willis Stovall, OU’s curator of geology and paleontology, in the 1930s. He later had the title museum director added. It wasn’t until after his death in 1954 that the Stovall name was added to the museum.
The museum was first established by an act of the Territorial Legislature in 1899. As the university grew, collections began to pile up in academic departments. Fires in the administration building destroyed much of the early collections. Later display cases in various campus buildings housed the university’s growing collection.
In 1942, Stovall managed to coalesce most of the OU collections into a single museum when he obtained the barn, stable and main building of the ROTC units. World War II was underway and they no longer needed horses and caissons, and most ROTC students had joined the service.
Students recall seeing the totem poles outside, often the first Native American artifact ever shown to them.
Fast forward nearly 60 years to May 1, 2000, when the new museum opened in a beautiful ceremony. The $42.5 million, 198,000 square foot building began as a grassroot effort from Norman residents and OU supporters. Then OU President Richard Van Horn asked Mayor Dick Reynolds for help. It wasn’t the best of economic times.
“I told him there was no way this community would ever pass anything like that,” Reynolds recalls.
But the museum drive found some allies in Linda Lockett and Ruth Boyd.