George Kaiser's Gathering Place: A Place For Children To Grow

Tuesday, September 4th 2018, 9:29 am
By: News On 6

Gathering Place 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 this park - in this Gathering Place - he sees a chance for those children and the city he loves to grow, and heal.

"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," said George Kaiser.

When George Kaiser walks through Gathering Place, he sees more than world class playgrounds and rolling green hills.

"We had a sense starting 10 or 15 years ago that Tulsa was in a little bit of a rut," he said.

He sees a better future for the city of Tulsa.

"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," he said.

"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," Kaiser said.

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 this city, hearing the input of thousands of Tulsans, before throwing the doors open on the first model for this 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," he said.

Then there was the reaction of Tulsa's business community.

"The response was overwhelming," Kaiser 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."

George Kaiser's real mission in life has been to help children who were born in different circumstances. How does he think this park plays into that?

"That is one of the tenants of my thinking," he said. "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," he 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," he said

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," Kaiser said.