In 1950s rural Oklahoma, entertainment wasn’t available at the click of a button. With no video games or cable television to occupy his time, Warren Davenport had to rely on his own devices when it came to beating boredom.
He discovered early on he had a quite a passion for learning.
“Growing up in a small oilfield community in southern Oklahoma, there were not many opportunities for typical childhood activities,” he said. “So, at an early age, I realized that I enjoyed reading and learning about new things.”
Davenport’s thirst for knowledge led him to three different colleges while completing his undergraduate degree. An oilfield worker with a wife and children at home, Davenport worked during the day and took many of his classes at night.
When he decided to pursue a master’s degree, the University of Oklahoma College of Liberal Studies (now PACS) was an easy choice.
“I had always wanted a degree from the University of Oklahoma in a field that interested me,” he said. “The program offered that chance while continuing to work.”
Davenport, 75, earned his master’s degree in liberal studies from OU in 1980. His studies allowed him to delve deeper into his interests in Native American culture. Focusing his thesis on a biography of Apache John, the last chief of the Kiowa Apache Indians, was a matter of both interest and geography.
“My core interest had always been the Plains Indians of North America. I lived 30 miles from Fort Sill, which is the hub of activity concerning Indians of the Southern Plains. There was a great deal of primary material available,” he said. “I have had a lifelong interest in and sympathy for the plight of the Native American in general. The Plains people were the easiest to access due to my working/family/schooling situation.”
“I had always wanted a degree from the University of Oklahoma in a field that interested me. The program offered that chance while continuing to work.”
Davenport’s research included visiting museums and record repositories, as well as visiting with elder Plains Indians. He said Dr. Alan Velie was a constant source of help due to his own interest in the Native American culture.
“He was always ready to help and offer constructive criticism,” Davenport said. “His manner was professional, but he could be personable and humorous as well.”
Davenport said the most enjoyable part of his research was meeting with Alfred Chalepah, grandson of Apache John.
“The times I met with him were in winter. It was nice to sit by the fire and hear him relate his experiences with his ‘grandfather,’” Davenport said. “I was interested to learn that the term ‘grandfather’ did not necessarily mean the father of one’s parent, but any older, highly regarded elderly relative.”
Davenport said his research changed his outlook on cultural matters as a whole. He realized people are essentially alike, with the same basic needs and desires.
“We seek safety, food, shelter and the acceptance of our fellow man,” he said. “Unfortunately, we seem to share the traits of greed and aggressive competition.”
While some people he interviewed during the course of his research welcomed his questions, others saw them as intrusive. They refused to talk to him or made up wild stories in an effort to dupe him. One elder went as far as refusing to be interviewed unless he was paid, Davenport said.
“He believed a book would be published, and someone undeserving would profit from ‘his story,’” Davenport said. “This is understandable considering the Native American experience with the Anglo culture.”
Although retired, Davenport said his liberal studies education is just as relevant today as it was nearly four decades ago.
“I found my degree helpful while working in the oilfield, but in today’s ever-increasing complex and multinational/cultural world, I am finding my degree frequently useful in understanding many of our current problems and issues,” he said. “Our federal government at present is nearly non-productive. I have to believe that if our leaders and population at large had a better appreciation for the world and its inhabitants, we would have a government that would function in a way more like it was originally intended.”
While OU football, auto racing and book collecting are favorite pastimes, Davenport still spends much of his time learning. He orders college courses on compact disc, studying history, religion, literature and anything else that piques his interest.
He said the CD sets are from the Great Courses series produced by the Teaching Company. His library contains a large collection of religions of the world, specifically Christianity, and he spends an hour or more each night studying the courses.
“Currently, I am finishing a course called ‘English Grammar Boot Camp’ taught by Dr. Ann Curzan of the University of Michigan—heaven knows I need this one—and ‘The Life and Works of Mark Twain’ taught by Dr. Stephen Railton of the University of Virginia,” he said. “I recently finished a couple of courses on the writing of the U.S. Constitution and one on St. Augustine’s ‘City of God’ taught by Dr. Charles Matthew of the University of Virginia.”
Davenport said his wife, Alice, doesn’t mind his endless search for knowledge. A former business and computer science teacher, she’s always been a source of great support.
“She is an avid reader,” he said. “She has no problem with my study practices.”
Davenport said the thing that surprised him most during his time with the College was the wide range of subject matter that falls under the liberal studies banner. Equally interesting, he said, were the people and personalities attracted to the program. He believes liberal studies should be of greater importance to today’s college students, and society as a whole.
“Polls show that Americans know very little about geography, history, culture and world religions. I believe these things represent the core of liberal studies,” he said. “I strongly believe more emphasis on liberal studies in all college degree programs could promote a trend toward solving many national and international conflicts.”
Note: The College of Liberal Studies (CLS) was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies (PACS) in 2017.