In a little more than three months, El Reno will rededicate Memorial Stadium. The reason the football stadium needs a dedication do-over, if you ask Brian Rukes, is simple.
“People matter,” said Rukes. “This is our El Reno history. It’s our community. These are real people and people matter."
Rukes was addressing the audience at the El Reno Now breakfast Thursday morning.
A 1997 graduate of El Reno High School, Rukes teaches English at his alma mater. He’s a history enthusiast as well as an ordained minister.
Memorial Stadium was first dedicated in 1949, according to an article published in The El Reno Tribune. One of Rukes’ students found the information while working on a research assignment.
The problem, Rukes said, is no one he has found so far, even people who attended the original dedication, could remember why El Reno chose the name Memorial Stadium.
The research shows the original dedication took place Sept. 29, 1949, before an EHS football game. The ceremony recognized 38 men who attended El Reno Public Schools who lost their lives as a result of World War II. It was supposed to also include a plaque recognizing the names of each man who died. For some reason, no one knows if the plaque was created or if it was, where it is today. Rukes said it’s never been found.
The rededication will take place Oct. 4, also before the Indians kickoff that Friday evening.
For well over a year, Rukes has been on a mission to gather information about the El Reno men who died as the result of World War II.
Rukes said he and his students have found that 44 men from El Reno actually fall into the category.
The rededication will include the dedication of a prominent memorial listing each man’s name, their photo and a brief description of how they died and when. It's being created by Arnold Monument and will be placed at the entrance to the stadium, near historic Route 66.
School spokeswoman Brooke Roberston said it was decided the memorial should be available to be viewed by the public and not placed behind a fence.
The rededication will also include a fly-over by a B-17, one of the most notable aircraft of World War II and one that Rukes said nine of the El Reno 44 had a connection with.
The B-17 will arrive in El Reno prior to the ceremony and will stay until Oct. 9.
Rukes said schoolchildren will be allowed to inspect and touch the aircraft while it’s parked at El Reno Regional Airpark. He said the experience students will encounter will be “immersive education” and predicted it will have a lasting impact.
“You not only see and hear a B-17 when it flies over, you feel it,” Rukes said.
For a fee, citizens will be allowed to fly in the aircraft, he said.
At times during his talk to the El Reno Now gathering, Rukes choked back emotion. He’s invested much into this project, talking with relatives of those who died. Many told him they will be making the trip to El Reno for the Oct. 4 ceremony.
“They will be coming to El Reno from California, Nevada, Florida, Illinois and Missouri,” said Rukes.
“When you hear the emotion in some of their voices,” he said, himself pausing.
Rukes said the U.S. Census reported in 1940 that El Reno had a population of 10,000. He said for a town the size of El Reno back then, to lose 44 sons to the war was “above the national average.”
Help is still needed to pay for the memorial. To donate, send checks to Shannon Ward, P.O. Box 580, El Reno, Oklahoma 73036.