Sara Willey, now Sara Masters, was one of the first women ever to attend the school on the Hill.
Now Rogers State University, the school was still a military academy when it first went co-ed. Sara Willey transferred to Oklahoma Military Academy in January 1969.
“That was right after they had allowed women to attend,” she said.
Sara was engaged to cadet C.J. Masters. Transferring to OMA made life easier for the young couple.
“He was finishing up his second year of junior college and I had been going to school at Miami NEO,” she said. “When they (OMA) went co-ed, I transferred back here. We were married in May.”
The Masters celebrated 42 years of marriage Memorial Day. They were also married on a Memorial Day.
C.J. was a “townie” who started attending OMA during high school. Sara was a Claremore High School graduate.
“I worked in the library when Jean Tanner was the librarian,” said Sara.
Jean was the wife of Elmo Tanner, a former Claremore mayor.
Sara also worked in the administrative office at OMA while attending classes. C.J. was an ROTC student which helped pay for his schooling.
“I didn’t finish the junior college,” said Sara. “After he graduated, we transferred to Tahlequah, which then was NSC.”
Although one of only a “handful” of women, Sara said she never felt discriminated against while attending the predominantly male university.
“I was never made to feel like I shouldn’t be there,” she said. “All of the cadets were very respectful and polite.”
C.J. was in a leadership role by that time as an upper classman and an officer. If a cadet thought about giving Sara a hard time, his respect and fear of C.J. probably would have prevented it. Regardless, Sara said she experienced “no negative instances.”
“I enjoyed those few semesters that I was there,” she said. “The women that were there, I knew them. At the time, for me, it was just so much easier to go to college (at OMA).”
Opening OMA to women created opportunities for local women to further their education without having to live away from home, she said.
“It was really the first opportunity for that community college experience, not just women but men. They didn’t have to be in the military,” said Sara.
C.J. is retired now with 37 years in the military, mostly as a reserve officer.
“I could have taken my commissioner because I had all of my ROTC behind me out of the junior college,” said C.J. “I applied for an education delay of my commission. Sara and I got married instead.”
Out of 120 officers in his group, only 11 stayed on active duty. After Vietnam, not as many officers were needed. He spent three months at Ft. Knox and returned home, part of the Tulsa reserve unit. He remained active in training and did training for Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
He was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.
“I am the last OMA cadet that deployed to a war zone,” he said.
One other OMA cadet was still on active duty a year after C.J. retired. Sara is a teacher who retired last year. The couple has lived elsewhere in Oklahoma, but was happy when they got the chance to return to Claremore some years ago.
They are looking forward to the OMA reunion coming up the first weekend in June. The couple has always been out of town in the past, and this is their first chance to attend.
C.J. remembers the bond with his fellow cadets at OMA fondly.
“It was the camaraderie, the spirit of the corps, working together,” he said.
“Most of the guys didn’t have cars,” said Sara. “They lived up there. It was very, very tight... It was their family.”