A modest stone marker bearing a name and dates, sitting in solitude amidst the Ashland section of Norman’s IOOF Cemetery. Except for the occasional curious soul seeking out the final resting place of a little local history, visitors are rare.
But that would probably be just fine with Harve T. Collins, whose celebrity status ” gained by accident ” has quietly faded since his death in 1977.
Still, if his name sounds familiar, it’s quite possible you’ve attended a football game or track and field meet at Harve Collins Stadium. The venue, located on the campus of Norman High School, got its name in 1981 after a healthy chunk of Collins’ estate was donated to his alma mater.
Before graduating from NHS back in 1912, Collins made a name for himself as captain of the football squad. Despite his slight build ” 5-foot-8 and 136 pounds ” he earned All-State honors as a halfback and was also a standout on the track team.
Collins, who led the Tigers to an all-victorious season and a “mythical” state title in the fall of 1911, was described as “an effectual dodger ” and unerring in judgment.” His talents landed him just down the street, playing for legendary coach Bennie Owen’s University of Oklahoma football team.
He went on to letter in both football and track with the Sooners, and eventually earned a business degree that would serve him well upon his return from overseas and a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy during World War I. In between stops, Collins spent two years coaching football ” one at Pawhuska and one at Norman ” leading both schools to undefeated seasons.
When he left Norman in 1917, more than 30 years would pass before he returned.
During that time, he attended Harvard and eventually got into the radio business, where he made his fortune. He became widely known in the broadcasting industry and at the 1939 World’s Fair, where he directed the public address system. By the following year, he had made enough money to retire comfortably at age 49.
He and his wife, Louella, spent much of their spare time traveling and in 1950, they penciled in a trip to Norman. That was all Collins needed to rekindle his love for his old stomping grounds, and especially his prep alma mater. Over the next three decades, he returned to his hometown for all of his “vacations.”
“I remember when we first came back to Norman, there were some athletes washing cars just off the highway,” Collins said in a 1966 interview with The Norman Transcript. “I started thinking about that later. If they wanted to earn money that much, I figured I’d help them.”
Every time he came back to Oklahoma, he wrote a check. NHS and the school’s athletics program became the main beneficiaries of his generosity.
“Harve was a nice gentleman who had a sincere interest in the needs of Norman’s schools. He used to just drop by and walk the halls. He always maintained his ties with Norman and he was just a generous person,” said one-time NHS athletics director Dan Quinn, back in 1995.
Prior to his death at age 85, Collins requested that his ashes be returned to Norman and interred. His final gift to NHS helped build a new football stadium on campus, and when it was completed, school officials decided it would bear his name.
The venerable site is in the process of getting a face-lift, as workers replace the old grass field with artificial turf. A more durable playing surface became a necessity after NHS began sharing the venue with crosstown rival Norman North a few years ago.
Collins would probably frown at the notion of football being played on fake grass, but he would be proud and humbled to know Norman schools have kept his legacy alive for so many years. “Jay C. Upchurch