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Hissom Memorial Center

Hissom Memorial Center

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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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Ginnyfromtheblock
Ginnyfromtheblock
12 years ago

My Uncle was born with Downs Syndrome and the Doctors at the time he was born told my grandmother to put him in an institution because he would be a "vegetable" My grandma kept him at home with the family for several years but, after hearing about how "great" Hissom was for people like my Uncle she thought they would give it a shot… he was not there very long. The first time my grandmother went to go visit him and he had lost so much weight, he was filthy, wouldn't talk and a bunch of other unmentionable things. SO,… Read more »

Hailey
Hailey
Reply to  Ginnyfromtheblock
6 years ago

Same here my second cousin has a handicap that gives her being 34 ish the mind of six year old and when people use the term retarded around me and my mom it makes us mad because she is not retarded just a little different than us but we still love her ,love you chrissy Michelle.

Hailey
Hailey
6 years ago

It makes me sick to think about the abuse that these poor people went through because they were different then us

Brenda brown
Brenda brown
1 month ago

Where did they move the people that was there when it closed
I had a brother there in they sent him there in the late in the late 60s

Robert Dixie
Robert Dixie
3 months ago

in 1965 I was employed at at the Hissom memorial center with it being titled the 1st intergrated rehabilitated center in the South and south west also becoming part of the first African Americans to be employed there.l was selected by Lloyd Rader secretary of health and human services of Oklahoma State

trackback
1 year ago

[…] Big changes came just three years later when all schools and hospitals run by the State Department of Mental Health and Retardation were transferred to the State Department of Public Welfare, today that is the Department of Human Services. At the time there were more than a few hundred employees at Pauls Valley, for decades it continued to be Garvin County’s largest employer. With more than 2,000 patients in the Enid and Pauls Valley State Schools overcrowding was a major issue. This lead to a third facility being built in Sand Springs in 1964, Hissom Memorial Center. […]

Kristen
Kristen
2 years ago

I would also like to see footage !!:) please and thank you !

Kathy Lynn Moore
Kathy Lynn Moore
2 years ago

I dont know if this is still there or not i would love to go in there , i probably did when i was a child , my older sister was here and died there

OriginalCeiling
Reply to  Kathy Lynn Moore
2 years ago

Hi Kathy, it has been demolished. Sorry to hear about your sister..

manfaat squalene
6 years ago

thanks for sharing. nice!

Hailey
Hailey
6 years ago

Guys it was not the place that was bad but the people working there a building can hurt someone

Hailey
Hailey
Reply to  Hailey
6 years ago

Can't*

Sharon
Sharon
Reply to  Hailey
5 years ago

I worked at Hissom in the summer of 1968 as a recreation assistant.. It was a wonderful job and I met many great people.. The residents were sweet children and I never saw any abuse or heard of anything negative happening at the center.. Later that year, I came back to Hissom as a practice teacher and lived with 3 other girls In site who were also students getting their degree at OSU.. Those two experiences I treasure and am so sorry that the center came to such a negative end.. I can only think that a lack of good… Read more »

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7 years ago

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Robert
Robert
7 years ago

Hissom has been completely destroyed. We went to explore there and found nothing but bulldozed lots.

Graham
Graham
8 years ago

so has hissom been demolished?

Peach
Peach
8 years ago

My sister in Hissom…when I went to visit her she was like a zombie, and laid like an over dosed human. It was sad…Yesterday..with all the red tape….she now lives with me. She is FREE! Its so difficult when you deal with DHS and other agency that were assigned to care of the clients. BUT yesterday..we freed our sister from the clutches of Hissom's nightmare!

T.Cook
T.Cook
8 years ago

I am a care provider for 2 individuals who transitioned out if Hissiom I have been with them now for over 20 years is there anyway to access pics that were taken there or acces their medical files? Both would b extremely helpul, one of my 'boys' came from a poor family and we have no pics of him at all from birth to18, please any info would b helpful on finding their records and photographs!

Brenda brown
Brenda brown
Reply to  T.Cook
1 month ago

Do you know where they moved the people after they closed I had a brother there

Lisa S
Lisa S
9 years ago

I had a older brother that lived in Hissom for 6yrs and the things that went on there some were good but of what i was told by my brother he was treated very badly. while there he ran his hand into a glass plate window and broke to finger's on one hand, i have been in this feild for yrs caring for disabled adults, i have had people stare at them talk bad about them, lets just put it this way u just better hope and pray that the one's that makes fun of these adults that u dont… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Lisa S
9 years ago

Im looking for info about to girls who live there their name was harbor can your brother help just drop a note here.thanks

tabitha s titsworth
tabitha s titsworth
10 years ago

Is the building still there or did it get demolished.

Kat
Kat
Reply to  tabitha s titsworth
9 years ago

I was wondering about that as well. Anyone have any info?

sanity
sanity
10 years ago

You know that there are open sewer lagoons there, don't you know. That's probably what you smelled. I worked there as an OT Aide. I know I worked with the kids and i have to say I was able to get a young severely retarded girl to chew her food after spending numerous days teaching her how to eat.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  sanity
9 years ago

Did you know 2girls named harbor

trackback
10 years ago

[…] Hissom Memorial Center REVISITED | Abandoned OklahomaOct 20, 2010… and legislation funding a new facility near Tulsa was approved in 1959. … Hissom operated an Angus cattle farm as a hobby on the 85 acres … […]

guest
guest
10 years ago

went by there today and the building are all gone

Seth
Seth
10 years ago

For anyone interested in learning more about Hissom, the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council produced a 50 minute documentary on it called "Living in the Freedom World". There is a lot of footage of site and interviews with former residents, parents, and workers. You can stream it for free on Vimeo:

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