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Wanda L. Bass

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Wanda L. Bass, the Oklahoma banker and philanthropist whose unprecedented gift of more than 100 Steinway pianos made news around the world, died Feb. 12, 2008 in Oklahoma City. She was 81. The family will receive friends for visitation 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Bishop Funeral Home in Mc- Alester, OK. Interment will be held at noon Monday, Feb. 18, 2008, in Oak Hill Cemetery in McAlester. Funeral services will follow at 1 p.m. at McAlester's First Presbyterian Church, with Bishop Robert Hayes, Dr. Tom Murray, and Rev. Stephanie Swinnea officiating. Pallbearers will be Tony Fields, Bruce Hall, Gerald Monte, Roi Nelson, Justice Steven Taylor, and Lance Woodliff. Mrs. Bass was chairman of the First National Bank and Trust Company of McAlester. She and her late husband, Clark Bass, contributed countless hours and millions of dollars to arts, educational and civic projects in McAlester and around the state. She was known for her purchase of 105 pianos from Steinway & Sons. At the time, it was the single largest order in the history of the 150-year-old New York piano maker. Her donation of the Steinways to the music school at Oklahoma City University made headlines from New York to Japan. In her honor, the school became the Wanda L. Bass School of Music and, in 2002, the university presented her with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. 'All of us at Oklahoma City University are grieving the loss of Dr. Wanda L. Bass,' OCU President Tom J. McDaniel said. 'Wanda's generosity, kindness and wonderful spirit have had a tremendous impact on this university and its future. Each time she visited our campus, it was clear how much she genuinely loved our students and they loved her. She was committed to giving them the best educational experience possible. Wanda's love for OCU was matched by the love and respect each of us in the OCU family feels for her.' Mrs. Bass was born Wanda Louise Jones on Jan. 5, 1927 in Ewing, Texas, to Talmadge Jones and Ina Pearl Laird Jones. She graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition, minoring in Management. She was hired as a dietician at Humble Oil Company and soon changed careers to become a division director in Lone Star Gas Company's home service department, helping develop retail markets. She married Clark Bass on Nov. 25, 1951. The newlyweds moved to Durant, where he was president of Durant Bank and Trust. The couple and their three children, Boyd, Louise, and Carlton, eventually relocated to Dallas, where Mr. Bass organized a bank in 1961. They returned to Oklahoma with his purchase of the First National Bank and Trust Co. of McAlester. 'We felt McAlester needed us, and we could do something for the community,' Mrs. Bass told a reporter in 2003. 'The community is no better than their local banker, and the local banker is no better than the community. It's a partnership.' Through the family-owned bank and its First National Development Corporation, the Basses offered grants and gifts to fund area projects including McAlester High School's fine arts center, an all-weather running track, and the science, computer and library expansion. They worked to bring a branch campus of Eastern Oklahoma State College to McAlester, offering a matching grant for a bond issue. The McAlester campus opened in 1998. 'Education is the only thing you can give someone and can't take back,' she said. 'To me, it's a beautiful gift.' Clark and Wanda Bass also had leadership roles in the construction of the McAlester Regional Hospital and, later, in the adjoining physicians' building; as well as Burgundy Place, senior retirement housing, and Van Buren House, an assisted living center. They sponsored McAlester's annual Fourth of July fireworks displays for more than a decade, free community Christmas concerts by the Tulsa Philharmonic, and the Steel Drum Band of McAlester High School. When her husband's health began to fail in the late 1990s, Mrs. Bass took a greater role in the operation of the First National Bank and Trust. She succeeded him as chairman in 1999. Mrs. Bass was instrumental in bringing classical music radio to southeastern Oklahoma. Through a five-year letter-writing campaign and matching grant, KCSC - the public radio station out of University of Central Oklahoma - established a repeater station in McAlester. Its call letters, KBCW, stand for 'Bass, Clark and Wanda.' The Basses are a rare Oklahoma couple, with both husband and wife inducted into the state's Hall of Fame. Mr. Bass died in 1999, after 48 years of marriage. Mrs. Bass became involved with Oklahoma City University when her daughter enrolled as a music student. Mrs. Bass eventually became a trustee of Oklahoma City University and was a founding member of its Music Executive Advisory Board. 'Wanda was an angel among us,' said Mark Parker, dean of the Bass School of Music. 'She was a humble woman who cared so much for this school, for its students, and for its future. Music moved her deeply. She felt that music was an essential element in being human. Her hope was to inspire others to give and to realize the importance of assuring that students receive a great education. I will miss her as a champion of the arts, as an unbelievable patron and - most of all - as a friend.' In addition to her Steinway gift to OCU, Mrs. Bass moved the historic school into the 21st century by funding Apple Computer technology and training for the music faculty. She also established the Bass School's first endowed chairs, funded scholarships, helped establish the school's partnership with Canterbury Choral Society, and funded the restoration of the university organ. Parker noted that her 'extraordinary' lead gift for the Bass School addition, now known as the Wanda L. Bass Music Center, encouraged other patrons to contribute. Her spirit of giving also inspired 'Cradle of Dreams' and 'To the Stars,' two full-scale orchestra works dedicated to her, premiered by OCU's Festival Orchestra and Chorus, recorded commercially in Europe, and released internationally. Mrs. Bass said she considered her gifts to the school 'not so much a donation, but an investment. It is an investment in the future of Oklahoma City and in the promise of a new century of American musicians, educators, and citizens.' 'Dr. B,' as she was called by OCU students, became a fixture at campus concerts and celebrations. Music students would line up to get a hug or an autograph. She admired hard work, and insisted that the first people to be honored with a dinner in the grand atrium of the new Bass Music Center would be the construction workers who built it. In New York, she toured the Steinway factory to ask questions and shake hands with the craftsmen assembling the pianos bound for OCU. Each year, she sponsored a spring ice cream social before finals week, donning a hat and scooping up bowls for the students. In a 2002 interview with 'Oklahoma Banker' newspaper, she expressed astonishment at the ovation she received when she was awarded her honorary degree. 'It was exciting and exhilarating and all the students were very gracious to me. When I was introduced on the podium, a cheer came up from the crowd. I thought the basketball or some other team was up there behind me and people were cheering for them. It was certainly an honor I shall treasure. What a wonderful surprise.' Mrs. Bass received the Governor's Art Award in 1994 and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in 1996. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1998, the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2003, the Journal Record Woman of the Year Circle of Excellence in 2003, and the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2003, she was selected as one of five 'Oklahoma Stars' by Gov. Brad Henry. In addition, she was one of only four people awarded the 15
Published in The Oklahoman on Feb. 16, 2008
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