I attended a couple of meetings this week of the team that is putting together the new strategic plan for the city of Ponca City. At one of the meetings I had the chance to talk about how Ponca City's identity is linked to it's history first as a Land Rush Frontier Town, then as a Boom Town in the early twentieth century, and finally as the Company Town that I grew up in during the 1960's when Ponca City was the headquarters for a huge company and there were several hundred Ph.D's working at Conoco's R&D facility.
A community is like a person. A community has an identity, a community has a personality, and a community has traits that are defined by it's history. How Ponca City's identity has been affected by these three eras (and by the transitions between the eras) is something I have been thinking about for a long time and I am working on an essay to expand my thoughts that I expect to publish soon.
The most interesting thing to me is that different traits of Ponca City's character came out of each of the three eras:
- A focus on science, technology and education came out of the Company Town era,
- A love of art, architecture and music came out of the "roaring twenties" Boom Town era, and
- An emphasis on entrepreneurship and enterprise was here from the beginning that comes from the Frontier era.
I think that Ponca City is still a work in progress. Communities can suffer traumatic loss just like individuals can. When Marland lost his fortune and his company in 1928, it took something out of the soul of Ponca City and it took many years for people to come to terms with the loss. When I was growing up in the 1960's nobody talked about Marland. It was like the community had suffered mass amnesia. His statue was down on the plaza but nobody my age knew who he was or talked about what he had done. This was 20 years after Marland died. It took a generation to pass before people in Ponca City could talk about Marland again. I know this is true because I have talked to other people of my generation and many of them had the same experience.
When DuPont bought Conoco in the 1980's it was another traumatic experience that took something from the soul of the community and it has taken another twenty years for the community to understand the loss. I think we are now at the point where we have come to terms with the fact that the days of Conoco as the dominant force in the community are gone and will never be coming back. Our community is now ready to define and enter a new era.
I am very hopeful for the future that I think we are in the process of defining now. The past eras have been defined in terms of what the majority population has done and wanted. Now we need a new synthesis that respects and includes contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans to our community. Standing Bear was here before the Land Rush.
If Ponca City can combine the best characteristics from the three eras and is able to come together as a community and create something new then we will really have something.
To be continued...