Nearly six decades ago, an Oklahoma journalist took exception to an east-coast writer’s snooty characterization of Ada as a “hick town.”
Ada News columnist Ernest Thompson said back then that even with a few minor flaws, his hometown offered close to the best to be had in terms of overall quality of life. And while the times have changed and the city has expanded in many ways, his characterization remains true, at least in the eyes of those who know it best.
The Pontotoc County seat, with a population of just over 17,000, offers a good business climate, educational and employment opportunities, and with it, a strong community spirit.
“We are a progressive, quality-oriented community … imbued with ingenuity, a pioneering spirit and hospitality,” says Lisa Bratcher, the City of Ada’s public information director. “Ada is large enough to offer many bigger city amenities, such as a four-year university and a thriving business climate, yet still small enough to provide a safe and fun place to raise a family.”
Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Shana Wood agrees.
“We have access to everything we need here,” she says, “but you still have that small town, community feel.”
Ada began as a Chickasaw settlement and was incorporated in 1901. The city’s early life was dominated by the cotton trade, and according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, was once one of the disorderly places in Indian Territory, with a reported 36 killings in 1908.
High among Ada’s attributes today is East Central University, part of Oklahoma’s Regional University System. ECU offers science and arts baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees and sports programs. Among ECU’s noted alumni are Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, plus two former Oklahoma governors – George Nigh and Robert S. Kerr, an Ada native and three-term U.S. senator, whose burial site is located in south Ada.
The Chickasaw Nation is headquartered in Ada, and by the Ada Chamber of Commerce’s count, is the city’s largest employer, with a wide array of offices that oversee its business enterprises, health services and housing.
“They are amazing; they do so much for our community,” says Wood. “Our partnership with them is truly unique. They give so much to our community to make it better in every way.”
Count Bob Vavricka, a resident of Ada for nearly 30 years, is among Ada’s many enthusiastic cheerleaders. After moving from rural Kansas, Vavricka says Ada “seemed like a metropolis.” Vavricka is treasurer of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Ada, which is spearheading a fundraising drive to restore the recreational train that encircles part of the city’s scenic Frances Wintersmith Park.
That effort – a “Save the Train” drive to raise $840,000 to replace the locomotive that has operated in the park since 1958 – includes replacing the train, two rail cars, two bridges, and rebuilding the track, storage barn and loading platform for handicap-accessibility.
“We’re getting the train ready for the next 60 years,” he says. He mentions the Chickasaw Nation has been most generous in assisting the fund drive.
Wintersmith Park is one of the most beautiful city parks in Oklahoma, adds Wood. It was a 1930s project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and is the site of a spectacular Christmas lights display and annual Independence Day fireworks show.
Recently, the City of Ada completed a water park pad in the park. And speaking of water, Ada is also home to the $2.5 million Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center, a world-class EPA water laboratory opened in 1966.
The city of Ada has a lot to offer now, as well as back in the ’60s. In fact, Ernest Thompson ended his printed huff by extolling an Ada virtue that might apply today:
“So, go ahead and call me ‘hick’ if you wish,” he wrote then. “I’ll get mad for a moment, but then I’ll pity you, because, you see, you really don’t know what living is until you’ve been a ‘hick’ – Ada style.”