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Hissom Memorial Center

Hissom Memorial Center

Location Class:
Built: 1964 | Abandoned: 1993
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: Billy DixonDavid LindeJohnny Fletcher

In the 1950s Oklahoma’s mental health facilities Enid and Pauls Valley State Schools were suffering from severe overcrowding. In addition, they both were decades old, built around statehood. A children’s facility was needed to provide modern care and comfort and building such a facility became a priority for Governors Raymond Gary and J. Howard Edmondson. Only a million dollars was approved for a new state school in 1958 but Person Woodall, chairman of the Mental Health Board estimated the new school would cost more around seven million dollars. State Bond Issue 393 approved the funding in 1960 with the new hospitals’ location being Sand Springs. Wiley G. Hissom, a local hobby cattle farmer donated all of the land to the Oklahoma State University for the state’s new hospital.

Hissom Memorial CenterConstruction on the facility began in the fall of 1961, and the name Hissom Memorial Center was chosen. Murray Jones Murray were hired as the principal architect and McCune, McCune & Associates as the associated architect firm. After almost five years in the making, the center finally opened on March 5, 1964, as a diagnostic treatment, rehabilitation, training, and research community center providing in and outpatient services. The twenty-four buildings spanned across 85 of the 226 acres donated forming a campus. The capacity of the hospital was 1200 and the first patients were brought in from Eastern State Hospital with those from Pauls Valley and Enid State Schools following.

Children would first go through the diagnostics and evaluation step of the process when an application to admit is made. The child’s needs are assessed to see if entering the program or receiving outpatient services would be better instead. If deemed necessary the child would enter the residential program and begin treatment. The center also provided training and teaching for those wanting to be involved in health care allowing those that graduate the program to work and live on the grounds. Children attended classes for two and a half hours a day during the school term and special classes during the summer months. In addition a number of physical and recreational programs as well making use of a swimming pool, gymnasium, and other outdoor activities. Students would occasionally go on field trips for educational exposure.

Hissom employed around five hundred people and housed around six hundred pupils in the 1970s. The maximum fee for a child was $75 per month with some paying less or none at all. Age requirements for admittance were six to eighteen and the child will stay in the program until the staff believes they have reached maximum potential. An annual Parent Guardian Association open house was held to celebrate the children’s accomplishments over the year. But the once marveled ‘City of Hope’ didn’t last for long.

The year 1985 was one that uprooted a handful of misconduct at the Hissom Memorial Center. Starting with a lawsuit against the facility by a nurse and the parents of six children that attended. Claims that the center was a dangerous place to live and should be shut down. One of those suits named Herbito Martinez as a defendant. He was fired and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for using fake credentials to practice as a doctor. Investigators were appointed by a federal judge to investigate the conditions. They found and reported a “prison-like atmosphere” and considered Hissom Memorial a “human-development emergency” and an “educational disaster.” Two more men were charged with abusing the children in the facility. U.S. District Judge James Ellison ordered the facility to close in 1987 and that its residents must be moved to community homes. But in 1988 the state of Oklahoma appealed Ellison’s ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. This eventually led to Homeward Bound Inc., organized by the parents, and the Department of Human Services to agree to a consent decree. This gave a deadline of October 1994 for moving the remaining four hundred Hissom Memorial Center patients into the community and putting an end to the appeals. They chose the nine-year anniversary of the lawsuit, May 2, 1994, as the date to officially close the center after spending $133 million to move all of its patients.

Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

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Emily Cowan

Emily is a two-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" and "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World". With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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