The 1990s axiom that “it takes a village” is proved year-round in the northern Oklahoma town of Tonkawa, where the community spirit is paramount in pulling off events such as giant Christmas and Independence Day celebrations, and the city’s very own film festival. 

 “We have many community partners,” says Cristy Crumrine, executive director of the Tonkawa Chamber of Commerce, which annually spearheads most of the town’s activities. “We are the hub, but we couldn’t do it all without everyone working with us. This community works well together.”

Indeed, the town’s very name, Tonkawa, is translated from the Tonkawa Indian Tribe’s language, and means “they all stay together,” according to the Chamber’s website.

Tonkawa, with an estimated population of just over 3,500, is in Kay County, ten miles west of Ponca City. It was founded after the Land Run of 1893 and incorporated a year later.

The community spirit is perhaps demonstrated best by a heart-shaped, 45-foot-wide labyrinth in downtown’s Centennial Park that Crumrine says attracts visitors annually, and by the Tonkawa Film Festival, started four years ago. This year’s iteration is set for April 19-20 at Northern Oklahoma College (NOC).

Tonkawa’s annual film festival runs April 19-20 this year. Photo courtesy Tonkawa Film Festival

The festival, featuring a variety of short films – 20 minutes or less, says festival director James Oxford – has grown significantly since its launch as a Tonkawa Chamber project. Oxford says that going forward, the festival will be sponsored by the newly formed Tonkawa Film Commission, with any profits going toward putting on future festivals. Oxford says the film festival is an outgrowth of his longtime interest in film making, but couldn’t happen without the community and NOC’s backing.

Crumrine and Scott Cloud, NOC’s public information director, each say taking on an undertaking as daunting as a film festival represents another example of Tonkawa pulling together for the common good. The Tonkawa Film Festival has grown from just over 50 submissions the first year to some 240 entered so far this year, Oxford says. Entries cover the gamut, including drama, comedy, horror, animation and documentary.

 “Anything under 20 minutes, we’ll at least consider it,” he says.

Oxford says the festival is a “great cultural thing” for Tonkawa, with a goal of attracting filmmakers from everywhere. Last year, he said, about 30 filmmakers attended, including one from Australia.

To make the festival stand out from the thousands of others worldwide, Oxford says the idea of a coinciding parade was conceived. Past parades have featured police cars, fire trucks, filmmakers riding in mule-pulled wagons, and local residents dressed as movie characters. This year’s parade will be April 20 in the downtown area. The festival itself will include sessions Friday and Saturday night in NOC’s Wilkin Hall.

Cloud says the college is heavily involved in community projects, and is one of Tonkawa’s largest employers.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship, where both parties utilize each other. We try to be a good partner with our community,” he says.

Did You Know?

Northern Oklahoma College is a community college located in Tonkawa, offering 45 associate degree programs with branch campuses in Enid and Stillwater. It was Oklahoma’s first publicly-supported community college. 

Fall student enrollment totaled about 3,200, says Cloud, with about 250 students living on campus. The A.D. Buck Museum of Science and History is also located on campus, and private tours can be arranged through NOC.

The McCarter Museum, owned by the Tonkawa Historical Society, is located in downtown Tonkawa and features artifacts from the 1893 Land Run, Tonkawa’s early days and a World War II German prisoner of war camp that was located just outside the city.

For More Information:

Tonkawa Chamber of Commerce

City of Tonkawa

Northern Oklahoma College

Tonkawa Film Festival

Main image cutline: Tonkawa’s Heart in the Park labyrinth draws townsfolk and visitors alike. Photo by Ken Crowder

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