The recent tragedy at the Oklahoma State University homecoming spread a wave of grief across the state as Oklahomans mourned the death of four people, including a two-year-old boy. But for some, these recent events sparked memories from years past of another homecoming nightmare.
In the year 1977, three Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity members were electrocuted and three more injured during preparations for homecoming. They were moving metal scaffolding across a lawn when the metal made contact with a 7,200-volt power line, reported The Daily O’Collegian in its Oct. 15, 1977 issue.
Derrel Ground, municipal light department superintendent, told the paper he was surprised by what he saw.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The bodies were burned beyond recognition,” Ground told the newspaper.
The three fraternity members who died were working on their homecoming float. They were moving a metal rod scaffold in front of a mock castle when the accident occurred.
21-year-old Kevin B.Wilson, a senior majoring in agricultural economics; Randal D. Logan, 18-year-old agricultural economics freshman; and Merle Wayne George, a 17-year-old and an agricultural economics freshman, all died in the accident.
"I join other Oklahomans in expressing sorrow at the tragedy which occurred this morning at Oklahoma State University, and express my most sincere sympathy to the families of those students who were killed,” then-governor David Boren said at the time, according to a report in The Oklahoman. He offered similar condolences in 2015 in his role as the president of the University of Oklahoma.
The entire OU family sends our deepest sympathy to those impacted by the tragedy in Stillwater. Our prayers go out to the Cowboy community
— David Boren (@President_Boren) October 24, 2015
A memorial fund honoring the deceased was established in 1977 through the OSU Development Foundation.
Claudia Bartlett, an OSU alumna who attended the university in 1977, said she was in the Kappa Delta house during the incident. Although she did not know the men who died, she said she felt a sense of deep sadness because her friends were affected by the tragedy.
“There was this feeling of sadness and mourning for my friends who lost their friends. The event really put a damper on the enthusiasm of homecoming,” Bartlett said.
This year, Bartlett attended the homecoming parade in Stillwater to watch her son, who is part of the Oklahoma State University Cowboy Marching Band. One of her sorority sisters witnessed the incident. If the car turned the opposite direction, her family would have been hit.
“As soon as the word spread the news immediately changed from very happy to somber. It made me relive the same emotions of the loss of fellow Cowboys,” Bartlett said.
Although the incidents leave scars, Bartlett said the community in Stillwater is unique.
“I chose to stay here and how people step up is one reason that I chose to stay,” Bartlett said. “It’s like the slogan ‘live orange’ and Stillwater is a very unique place.”
Paula Burkes, an OSU alum who attended the university during the 1977 tragedy, said this weekend’s events sparked emotional memories for her.
“Like any trauma, it doesn’t sink in when you first read it, but then it picks up speed. It brought back a lot of those memories. It definitely did,” she said.
Burkes wrote a column for The Oklahoman where she described how the homecoming parade tragedy brought back her thoughts about the 1977 accident.
“Maybe we have not remembered as well as we should. I think all Cowboys were affected, not just the Greek community. It [the column] was a way to do my part to remember. It was my honor to be part of remembering,” she said.