Gathering Place: George Kaiser's Vision Is To Improve Tulsa For Our Children
TULSA, Oklahoma - We are now just two days away from the opening of Tulsa's Gathering Place. But the world-class park would not be possible if not for the vision and financial support of George Kaiser.
He's the son of Jewish refugees who's made it his life's work to try to level the playing field for children at risk. In the park, in this Gathering Place, he sees a chance for those children and the city he loves to grow, and heal.
When George Kaiser walks through Gathering Place, he sees more than world-class playgrounds and rolling green hills.
"If I had to say one thing that distinguishes this park from so many others, it is that every time you go around the corner, you find something you didn't know was there. I still do," Kaiser said.
He also sees a better future for the city of Tulsa.
"We had a sense starting 10 or 15 years ago that Tulsa was in a little bit of a rut," he said.
"Tulsa historically has always had a very strong sense of community. And to some degree now we're separated by geography, by race by class.
"So the idea of a park was - and the reason its called Gathering Place - is we wanted to gather people together from all areas of the metro, from all backgrounds so that they could mingle with each other in a casual atmosphere and understand that they're all alike."
While Kaiser has given $200 million to making this dream a reality, Gathering Place was designed to be the vision of not one man but of one community. The architects spent a full year taking the measure of the city, hearing the input of thousands of Tulsans - before throwing the doors open on the first model for the park.
George Kaiser will never forgot the response from both citizens:
"We filled that room with something like 700 people, and we had another 700 waiting outside - so we had to do it again.
And the business community:
"The response was overwhelming," he said. "Of the 70 or so people who have the capability to make this park great, about 65 of them have joined in in a major way. And if the other three or four or five want to join, there's plenty of room left."
Terry Hood: "Just sayin'."
George Kaiser: "That's right, just sayin'."
Terry Hood: "Your real mission in life has been to help children who were born in different circumstances. How do you think this park plays into that?"
George Kaiser: "That is one of the tenants of my thinking. I observe that people like to give their character credit for their success, or their hard work. But in fact if we're honest with ourselves, we got where we got to a large degree by dumb luck."
Everything in the park is geared toward giving children true play, an education and a broadening experience for their brain development.
"We want our kids and grandkids to have a favorable nostalgic memory of Tulsa," Kaiser said. "And so when the time comes, they'll return to Tulsa."
George Kaiser doesn't like to talk about legacy and he certainly doesn't like to talk about vision.
"I've had Lasik in both eyes and cataract surgery in one, so my vision isn't what it was."
But he will allow for hope. Hope that this park can improve the lives of our children. That it can bring Tulsans together. That this land will be both an oasis and a symbol for the city he believes in.
"Most cities are riven by controversy among people, and here we have virtually everyone, as I say, who could help us joining enthusiastically. And that says a lot about Tulsa."