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A tribute to Harold Fletcher Beloved OC professor leaves incomparable legacy

By Lindy Adams | Jun 07, 2017

Dr. William Harold Fletcher, 93, Edmond, a legendary professor of music and philosophy at Oklahoma Christian University, died May 27, 2017.

A memorial celebration will be Sunday, June 25 at 2 p.m. at Mayfair Church of Christ, 2340 N.W. 50th Street, Oklahoma City.

One of the longest tenured professors in the nation, Dr. Fletcher was born Dec. 4, 1923, in Hamlin, Texas, to William Lumpkin Fletcher Jr. and Maude Birdwell Fletcher.

He and his beloved wife of 57 years, Mary Helon McAnulty, met as music students at Abilene Christian and married August 16, 1944. Together, they raised four loving children, and Mary Helon enthusiastically and joyfully supported Harold’s work. She preceded him in death in 2001.

Dr. Fletcher left college to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II and attended Midshipmen’s School. After the war, in 1948, he earned a bachelor in music degree and a bachelor of arts degree, both in music theory, from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He also received a master’s degree in music from Hardin-Simmons.

Later in his career, he returned to school, and in 1988 received a Ph.D. in the philosophy of education from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Paul Sharp, former president of that university, was a member of his doctoral committee.

In 1950, Harold and Mary Helon left a one-year tenure at Florida Christian College in Tampa, Florida, to move to Oklahoma when a Christian college in the state was only a dream. They made a commitment that endured their lifetimes. Dr. Fletcher was the first and ultimately the longest serving faculty member at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City (originally Central Christian College in Bartlesville).

A true intellectual and an extraordinary teacher, Harold Fletcher was revered and loved by students – from his first day at Central Christian in 1950 until his last class at Oklahoma Christian in December 2014 – 64 years.

He served 29 years as songleader for the 12th and Drexel (Drexel Boulevard) Church of Christ, and as songleader and revered teacher of the SOS Bible class at Mayfair Church of Christ, both in Oklahoma City. In later years, he and Mary Helon were much-loved members of Dayspring Church of Christ in Edmond.

Harold Fletcher’s interests were boundless. A gifted composer, pianist, conductor, teacher, historian, musicologist, theologian, philosopher, scholar, gardener, and craftsman, he wore well the mantle “Renaissance Man.”

He saw the artistic validity in an Ozark fiddle tune as fully as a Bach cantata. He valued the history of Oklahoma as much as the history of the Renaissance. He loved opera; he loved the steel bands of Trinidad. He loved everything true and beautiful.

He esteemed scholarship and did significant research on the Sacred Harp tradition of sacred choral singing, on the hymnals of Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott, and on the lineage of the hymn, “Oh, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing.”

At Oklahoma Christian, he was the first recipient of the Gaylord Chair of Distinguished Teaching in 1975, was named a Professor Emeritus in 1991, and in 2003, was among the first inductees into the OC Master Teacher Hall of Fame. The university named him a distinguished honorary alumnus during Homecoming in 2004.

In 2005, OC established the Harold and Mary Helon Fletcher Center for Music to honor their founding and pivotal influence on music and music students at the university.

Dr. Fletcher composed the university’s alma mater, was the first director of the Chorale, and composed and directed many of the school’s original musicals, entitled “Songs America Sings.” He directed the Faculty Men’s Glee Club, and at Central Christian, directed “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in its first collegiate performance.

In the 1970s, he won a competition for “Songs of Oklahoma” by the Oklahoma Heritage Society and the Oklahoma Broadcasters Association with “The Oklahoma Set,” six songs commemorating the Land Run and Statehood.

In 2007, OC published sheet music and performance versions of “The Oklahoma Set” on its website for use by teachers, which was designated an official project of the Oklahoma Centennial. In 2009, the Oklahoma Legislature adopted the song “The Oklahoma Run” as the state’s official song for April 22, 1889, Land Run Day. (Click here to hear, view, and download “The Oklahoma Set.”)

In 2008, the prestigious Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame inducted him as a member, and in 2015, the Oklahoma Legislature honored him for his contributions to higher education.

OC graduate April Stephens Sholty chose Dr. Fletcher as the subject of her Ph.D. dissertation in music at the University of Arizona. It was published in 2012.

Beyond kudos, Harold Fletcher’s greatest legacy was written in the hearts of people. He loved and mentored students, family, and friends without ceasing. His kindness, integrity, and humanity, even from a chance encounter, were long remembered.

With Mary Helon’s support, in the 1960s, he emerged as the most ardent advocate of civil rights and human rights in the Oklahoma Christian community.

The effect of Dr. Fletcher on the climate and spirit of Oklahoma Christian over the years was immense. OC president John deSteiguer said, “Harold was loved by everyone for good reason. Much of OC’s culture and feel is directly related to Harold, and how he taught, mentored, and cared for individuals.”

Harold and Mary Helon demonstrated to the OC faculty a much-emulated lifestyle of family, faith, travel, and the arts. A student from the 1970s captured their impact on the university: “While in their presence,” he said, “a person feels more whole.”

Harold is survived by four children: Alicia (Bob) Burch, of Prairie Village, Kansas; Nancy Fletcher Snyder, Sylvia (Gary) Hurst, and John (Cynthia) Fletcher, all of Edmond; one sister, Marilyn (R.C.) Swaim of Abilene, Texas; five grandchildren: Jeremy (Lisa) Burch of Lenexa, Kansas; David (Amanda) Burch and Jared (Marie) Hurst of Edmond, Derek (Kelsey) Hurst of Duncanville, Texas, and Laenie Fletcher of Dallas, Texas; nine great-grandchildren; and nieces, nephews, other family members, and countless friends.

He was preceded in death by his wife Mary Helon McAnulty Fletcher; and two brothers and their wives: Milton and Evelyn Fletcher, and W.L. and Marilyn Fletcher.

Harold Fletcher was a Giant of a Man, an Icon, a Gift – even a “Rock Star.” We won’t know his like again.

Memorial donations may be made to the Friends of Music at OC. Gifts may be made online (www.oc.edu/friendsofmusic) or mailed to the Oklahoma Christian University Music Department, P.O. Box 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136.