Building a Brighter Orange

Library study suite named in honor of donor

College of Arts and Sciences Library Spears School of Business

If you are from the Oklahoma community of Stilwell or Adair County, you know the names of Tom J. Carson and his sons, Jim and Drew. Yet, many are not aware that of Tom's numerous achievements over 93 years, he has no problem deciding which is most important. His most memorable lifetime distinction came 40 years before he was inducted into the Spears School of Business Hall of Fame in 1982. In fact, it was just after completing his Oklahoma A&M accounting degree in 1942.

"I was very glad that I had the opportunity to take ROTC and that my class had early graduation to allow us to enter World War II," Tom Carson says. "We fought to liberate the world from tyranny. Everything I did after that pales in comparison."

Carson served in the Army Air Corps from June 2, 1942, until March 10, 1946. He was stationed in the Pacific, which was quite a change for the Stilwell native. He credits his Oklahoma A&M ROTC training with helping him survive while so many of his friends died.

"In ROTC, we had a sergeant who was just brutal to us," Carson says. "One day, I walked into the bathroom while he was shaving. It was just the two of us, so I asked him, 'Why are you so tough on us?' He said, 'We're going to war. I want to have the best ROTC class there.'"

Carson not only survived but continued to serve through the Air Force Reserve from 1946 until 1987 including volunteering as an Air Force Academy liaison officer and rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also volunteered with many organizations, including the Spears School of Business Associates, American Legion, Freemasonry, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the First Christian Church.

He filled his life with service and achievements, both personally and professionally. His three children — Rita Fowlkes, Jim and Drew — joke that his greatest accomplishment was talking their mother, Edna Mae, into marrying him. The marriage lasted 50 years until she passed away in 2006.

Tom Carson

Tom Carson

Professionally, Carson has succeeded in a number of areas. He became director of Stilwell's Bank of Commerce in 1945, where he is now emeritus chairman of the board. He established Carson Loan and Investment Co. Inc., in 1946, running it until his retirement in 2011.

He owned Tom J. Carson Insurance Agency and was a partner in Stilwell Mercantile Co., Parrott's Jewelry, Garrett Carson Chevrolet, Spicer Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, Northside Auto and Home Supply Company. He was a director of Stilwell Foods Inc., Rio Grande Foods Inc. and Peoples Bank, Westville, along with co-founding Green Country Angus and East Oklahoma Cattle Co.

His sons, who are both two-time OSU alumni, manage the family banking, insurance and ranching businesses. They are also trustees of the Tom J. and Edna Mae Carson Foundation, which has supported local and regional charities for years.

The Carsons are key supporters for a variety of areas at OSU. Much of their giving was without fanfare, including establishing multiple endowed faculty positions in the Spears School of Business. The more recent gifts have included the Tom Carson Study Suite in the Edmon Low Library and a scholarship for students who work at the library — all contributions grown from a humble beginning.

When Tom Carson was 5, he walked across the street from his house and started attending elementary school.

"I'm sure my grandmother was glad to get him out of the house. So he started a year early, and I think he skipped one grade, so he was two years early," Jim Carson says. "I think he was looking to be challenged."

And that, at the age of 5, was just the beginning of his early journeys painted with the brush stroke of Cherokee heritage in small-town Oklahoma. His mother was born in 1900. By the time she passed away at 98, she was one of the oldest surviving members of the Dawes Commission Rolls.

"The thing to remember about my father and his accomplishments is his basic belief that what matters is not where you finish but how far you came from where you started," Jim Carson says. "That's the story."

Support from the Carsons and countless others helps OSU serve as a great starting place for anyone with the ambition to get across the street (or the country) to make a life, a family, a contribution.

Spaces evolving in Edmon Low Library

If it has been more than a year since you set foot in OSU's Edmon Low Library, you will be surprised at the changes. Wait another six months, and it will be different again.

The iconic library building is changing rapidly thanks in large part to space made available by moving older and duplicated books to the new Library Auxiliary Building. The library administration commissioned a comprehensive space utilization plan to make the most of reclaimed areas.

Sheila Johnson, who has served as dean of libraries since 2004, is the driving force behind the ongoing improvements.

"We are creating a building where we can deliver top-notch services for our students today, while constructing a flexible layout that can be reconfigured quickly as the needs of our students evolve," Johnson says.

The latest change is the addition of six new group study rooms and additional "Study Bar" seats on the first floor.

"The study rooms are one of our most popular services at this time," Johnson says. "It's common for every room to be booked throughout the day."

The Edmon Low Library currently has 12 group study rooms ranging in size to accommodate groups from two to 14. Students make reservations online and check out the keys using their OSU identification cards.

Nine of the existing 12 rooms are supported by private endowments and bear the name of the benefactors. These endowments ensure the rooms remain updated with attractive and practical furnishings as well as the latest equipment and technology students need in an effective meeting space.

"The rooms have changed a lot since we opened our first two in 1990," Johnson explains. "Twenty-five years ago, we were happy to provide chalkboards. Today's rooms offer smartboards and Wi-Fi. Our endowments ensure that as the technology continues to change, we'll have funds to continue offering our students the best."

Naming opportunities exist for new library group study rooms. To learn more about supporting group rooms or other projects related to the evolving spaces in the Edmon Low Library, contact the OSU Foundation at 800-622-4678, or visit

Named group study rooms

  1. Jessie Thatcher Bost Group Study Room
  2. Tom J. Carson Foundation Study Suite
  3. H. Louise and H.E. "Ed" Cobb Group Study Room
  4. Joe J. Hamilton Group Study Room
  5. Weslie & Laveta Hendren Group Study Room
  6. Dean & Carol Stringer Group Study Room
  7. Tompkin McCollum Group Study Room