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First-generation Cowboy supports future alumni

Richard Cochran uses bequest, outright gifts to establish history chair, scholarship, graduate fellowship


Richard Cochran’s parents did not go to college, but they taught him that a good education could empower him to pursue his dreams and fulfill his potential. Their advice inspired him to become a first-generation college graduate, which led to a successful accounting career. Now in his retirement years, Cochran, who earned an economics degree and MBA at OSU, is honoring his parents by supporting subsequent generations of Cowboys.

The Tulsan has established a bequest in his will to create the Betty J. Cochran Chair in History to honor his mother, the Milton B. Cochran Graduate Fellowship to honor his father, and the Cochran Family Scholarship to honor his family’s legacy.

Cochran worked as an economist before becoming an accountant for the majority of his career. He was also an auditor and an online professor. He spent about a decade working abroad, where he saw evidence of education’s transformational nature across the globe.

Richard Cochran OSU President Burns Hargis, left, presented a rosette to Richard Cochran as a Proud & Immortal Society inductee on March 31, 2017.

“I think that through funding higher education, I can do the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” he said. “Cowboys help other Cowboys, even ones we’ll never see.”

The Cochran fellowship and scholarship will both help non-traditional students facing medical or financial hardships, special circumstances or challenges to overcome.

“I didn’t want to restrict these funds to any particular academic discipline,” Cochran said. “I thought the need was throughout the university. There are so many people in this state in the same situation my parents were in during the 1940s – young and bright but without money.”

Diana Lasswell, the OSU Foundation’s associate vice president of gift planning, said Cochran’s gift is a fitting way to honor his parents.

“It has been so enjoyable working with Richard to determine how he could benefit the university in a way that reflects what his parents taught him,” Lasswell said. “Our mission is to unite donor and university passions and priorities to achieve excellence. I feel strongly that we have done that in this case.”

Cochran acquired a love of history from his mother, inspiring him to establish the first endowed faculty position in OSU’s Department of History.

The Cochran Chair will encourage excellence in teaching, research and scholarship, especially for someone with a focus on western United States history, which may include studies directly related to famous Oklahomans who have had a national or international impact.

A society’s understanding of the past leads to a better future, he said.

“I think that as a young state, Oklahoma has not really developed a deep culture,” Cochran said. “It’s easy to think that we can change ourselves or our politics without understanding who we are or what we’ve done. I believe this chair will help us to better understand ourselves.

“As a state and as a people, we have been too down on ourselves, particularly as a result of the Great Depression. We have had great people in this state going back 200 years.”

Cochran said we should increase the attention paid to those overlooked for taking heroic stands, and is hopeful the endowed chair will do just that. He points to the example of Oklahomans such as Carrie Dickerson, who in the 1970s and ’80s led the successful fight against a proposed Oklahoma nuclear power plant; Kate Barnard, who in 1907 became America’s second woman elected to statewide office; and Thomas Gore, a blind U.S. senator who went head to head with President Woodrow Wilson about whether to join World War I.

Laura Belmonte Laura Belmonte, Department Head and Professor of History

Laura Belmonte, head of the OSU Department of History, said the Cochran Chair is transformative.

“Endowed chairs are an important signifier of a department’s national reputation and commitment to innovative research,” she said. “Thanks to the generosity of Richard Cochran, the Department of History will be able to hire a nationally renowned scholar in the history of the U.S. West and to support top-notch graduate students who will come to OSU specifically to work with this scholar.

“It is a marvelous capstone to years of our building a strong reputation in the histories of the American West and Native America.”

All three of Cochran’s endowed gifts will eventually receive significant boosts when his estate gift is complete. In the meantime, he plans to make outright contributions so awards can be allocated during his lifetime.

“As my resources grow, there is an area beyond which I don’t need the funds to maintain my lifestyle,” Cochran said. “It makes sense to me to begin funding the donation. I’d like to see who gets this chair and who might receive scholarships.”