The Blakes

Mack Barkley Blake (1874–1946) & Kathryn (Kittie) Talbott Blake (1892–1959)

Mack Blake was born to an entrepreneurial family. His father, Samuel Diggs Blake, brokered real estate in and around Dallas, Texas, as well as founding the Dallas Manufacturing Association and a cotton mill in Fort Worth. As young Mack entered college, however, Samuel’s financial fortunes reversed. Samuel moved his family to Quanah, Texas, where he joined his brothers-in-law in a dry goods enterprise, Evans Baker Company. Mack also joined the family business and later became partners with his cousins, forming Baker, Hanna & Blake and expanding into Oklahoma. As they were establishing their first store in Oklahoma Territory, Mack met his bride-to-be, Kittie Talbott, when she came in to shop at the Quanah store. They courted and were married in 1905. Their only child, Eleanor, was born in 1909. In 1910, the company opened a store in Oklahoma City and the new family moved from Quanah. As Blake continued to grow his business and his reputation as a community leader, he invested in Liberty National Bank and was later named an officer. Blake also partnered with his brother-in-law, forming Skelton Creek Oil Company. He invested in oil and gas royalties in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Blake formed a strong bond with his son-in-law, John E. Kirkpatrick, encouraging him in his business pursuits and investments. While John Kirkpatrick served his country in World War II, Blake managed the sale of his son-in-law’s business, Allied Steel, and subsequent reinvestment in an oil exploration firm with Hubert Bale called Kirkpatrick & Bale, Inc., as well as the Twin Hills Golf Course.

The Kirkpatricks

John E. Kirkpatrick (1908–2006)

John Elson Kirkpatrick was the third of five children born to Dr. Elmer E. and Helene Claudia Spencer Kirkpatrick. John entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis in the fall of 1927, a fateful decision, as he would meet his bride-to-be, Eleanor Blake, while she was attending Smith College. The two courted by correspondence as he completed his studies, being commissioned as an ensign aboard the USS Arizona. The couple married in the summer of 1932 at her parents’ home in Oklahoma City and honeymooned at the Kirkpatrick family cabin in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado. In 1933, the couple welcomed their only child, Joan. Kirkpatrick resigned his active naval commission two years later, attended Harvard Business School and returned to Oklahoma to launch Allied Steel Products Corporation in 1936 with the financial backing of his father-in-law. The company designed and built steel buildings for petroleum and oil businesses in four states. By 1939, Kirkpatrick had achieved the rank of Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves and was called back to active duty. During his war service, he commanded the battery division on various ships, ultimately receiving a Bronze Star for his work as Air Defense Commander during the battle for the Solomon Islands in 1942. He authored the Fire Control Officer’s Manual, which was adopted for the entire fleet. In 1944, while stationed in Oahu and assigned as Commander of the anti-aircraft training center and fleet machine gun school, Kirkpatrick updated the manual on gun sights for submarines, for which he was awarded a second Bronze Star. In 1945, Kirkpatrick was again released from active duty and returned to Oklahoma and his oil business partnership. Upon the death of Mack Blake, Kirkpatrick assumed the shares and responsibilities of his father-in-law’s position in Liberty National Bank. In 1950, Kirkpatrick and Hubert Bale liquidated their partnership and John launched Kirkpatrick Oil Company, which shortly generated other related business opportunities. By 1957, Kirkpatrick was able to turn his focus on the needs of his community. Over the next thirty years, Kirkpatrick would profoundly influence most of the community’s significant cultural and educational institutions, including the Kirkpatrick Foundation and the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which houses the Kirkpatrick Family Fund, its largest single endowment. Kirkpatrick was recognized with many distinguished awards for his achievements in industry, philanthropy and education. Lifelong friend, Clay Ross, eloquently summed the measure of the man: “John Kirkpatrick was a compassionate but action-oriented fellow with a fearless pursuit of his objectives.”

Mary Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick (1909–1997)

Mary Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick was the only child of Mack and Kathryn Blake. Born and raised in Oklahoma, she completed her secondary education in Washington, D.C., and Cannes, France. In her junior year at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, she met her husband-to-be, John Kirkpatrick. Upon her graduations, Eleanor Blake returned to Oklahoma City, where she began what would become a lifetime passion of community service by volunteering at the YWCA. She attended Blackwood-Davis Business College and began working in her father’s office. John and Eleanor were married in 1932, honeymooned at the Kirkpatrick family cabin in Green Mountain Falls and proceeded west by car to John’s first naval assignment. Their only child, Joan, was born the next year. During the war years, Eleanor and Joan remained in Oklahoma City, where Eleanor maintained an active volunteer career, including participation in war efforts of the day. Together with her father, she participated in a radio recruiting program for the Women’s Army Air Corp, as well as the Junior Bookshelf Program. She worked as a volunteer caseworker for the Sunbeam Home and later as a volunteer in the Home Service Corps for the Bureau of Naval Personnel. However, Eleanor’s passion was art, an interest that led to her acquaintance with Nan Sheets, an artist and director of the first Oklahoma City art gallery. The two women collaborated to raise funds to establish the Oklahoma Art Center launching the Beaux Arts Ball for this purpose in 1946. The event continues to this present day. She served as vice president and secretary for the new Kirkpatrick Oil Company and partnered with John in all of his philanthropic endeavors. Her interests in music, theater and the arts shaped many of those endeavors. Eleanor Kirkpatrick served in leadership roles on many nonprofit boards at the city, state and national levels throughout her life. As a result, she received many awards and accolades for her philanthropy and community service, including Woman of the Year in 1962 by the Oklahoma Chapter of Women in Radio and Television and an honorary doctorate degree from Oklahoma City University in 1968. Longtime friend Mex Frates described Eleanor Kirkpatrick: “She was a true scholar. She was a person you could absolutely depend on.”

Joan Elson Kirkpatrick

JJoan Elson Kirkpatrick was the only child of John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick. During her early childhood, she and her mother lived, whenever feasible, in cities near her father’s homeport. During the war years, Oklahoma City was home and loving grandparents helped fill the gap of his absence. Mack Blake, in particular, played a prominent role, supporting and encouraging her engagement in war efforts through volunteer work with the food rationing board. Joan attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. She finished her studies in English at Oklahoma City University while working in the art department of a local TV station. She soon became involved in some of her mother’s interests, including the Beaux Arts Ball. She also branched out on her own, organizing an artists’ series with the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra. Joan completed real estate coursework and joined a local firm. She also maintained her civic involvements, including the Symphony. Through her real estate work, she met Konrad Kent Keesee and the two were married in 1960. They welcomed their only child the following year, Christian Kirkpatrick Keesee. Over the next twenty years, Joan maintained a very active role in various civic organizations, including volunteer work at Deaconess Hospital. Her own particular passion for animal welfare and environmental conservation emerged, and she led the effort to establish a zoological residency program at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Science, as well as serving on the board of the Free to Live Animal Sanctuary. Joan was also an active president of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, guiding the programs and grants of that body. She received many accolades for her work, including the honor of having the Oklahoma City Zoo name its Animal Health and Welfare Complex for her.

Christian Keesee

Christian Kirkpatrick Keesee is the only child of Joan Elson Kirkpatrick and Konrad Kent Keesee. Grandparents John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick became significant figures early in Christian’s life, involving him in their various civic and business activities, including monthly financial planning meetings. He quickly absorbed his grandmother’s passion for the arts, and his first role as host was a fundraiser for the Oklahoma Art Center located on the state fairgrounds. Two years later, while serving on the Kirkpatrick Foundation’s board, Christian launched a project to revitalize and reopen a facility that his grandfather had built to house the Oklahoma Arts and Sciences Foundation. This developed into the City Arts Center, with Christian serving as the first president of its Board of Directors. Around the same time, he was invited to join civic, cultural and political leaders through the People to People Exchange, a delegation that visited Russian national galleries in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This became the first of several serious tours engaged in learning about the post-Soviet artistic movement. In a subsequent visit, Christian and freelance curator Jon Burris met with more than 100 artists, visiting various collections and conducting interviews and research, which would eventually become “New Russian Art: Paintings from the Christian Keesee Collection,” an anthology published in 1995. As Christian’s art collection grew, it expanded to include pictures by American photographer Brett Weston. Both the Russian and Weston collections would be featured exhibits at the burgeoning City Arts Center. Christian would later make significant gifts from these collections to such esteemed museums as the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. Christian welcomed his only son, Blake, in 1997. Beyond his focus on art, Christian also supported the creation of a 4H program in Yukon, hosted a fundraising event for St. Anthony Hospital and founded the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation in 2006. The following year, Christian together with the Kirkpatrick Family Fund supported the Green Mountain Falls Comprehensive Plan to revitalize the community on a broader scale. The plan has led to the renovation and development of a variety of historic landmarks, most notably the Outlook Lodge. In 2009, the annual Green Box Arts Festival debuted in Green Mountain Falls. Christian firmly believes that community investment in the arts spurs economic development and has demonstrated this in other communities, including Marfa, Texas, under the auspices of the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. That facility is elegantly housed in a repurposed iconic Gulf service station. He is currently engaged in developing a new Oklahoma City home for the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center at 11th and Broadway. Christian was recognized by the Oklahoma Arts Council as the 2012 recipient of the Governor’s Art Award. He was also recognized by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region with the Business Leader in the Arts Award.