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Dorothy Higginbotham

Dorothy Higginbotham

SINCE 2000, WHEN THE DOORS of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History opened, Dorothy Higginbotham would watch visitors enter the Noble Drilling Corporation Hall of Natural Wonders with a smile on her face and facts about Oklahoma's natural landscapes ready to be plucked from her memory bank.

Higginbotham's desire to spark the interest of museumgoers – from schoolchildren to senior citizens – was no surprise to those who knew the lifelong educator. She had, after all, devoted 44 years of her life to working in the classrooms of high schools and colleges across the United States and Canada, including 13 years at the University of Oklahoma.

"Dorothy's love of and dedication to education continued after her administrative career at the University of Oklahoma ended," said SNOMNH Director Michael Mares. "She joined the newly developed museum and was always enthusiastic in her role as a museum docent. We are very appreciative of the hundreds of hours she spent educating museum guests of all ages about the exhibits in the Hall of Natural Wonders."

So passionate was Higginbotham about the Sam Noble Museum that she made provisions to direct $250,000 of her estate for its support. Higginbotham passed away on Feb. 22, 2005, at the age of 77.

In recognition of her gift and in honor of her legacy at OU and as a museum docent, the SNOMNH created a 1,500-square-foot exhibition gallery within the Hall of Natural Wonders. The Dorothy C. Higginbotham Special Exhibitions Gallery houses regularly changing exhibits of small-scale items within the museum's collections. Family and friends of Higginbotham attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the gallery space in June 2012.

"This new gallery will prove to be our most flexible space, hosting everything from insects and plants to Native American exhibits related to natural and cultural history," Mares said during the ribbon-cutting. "It is a space created by Dorothy's gift that will be a lasting legacy to a great museum docent."

Higginbotham earned her bachelor's degree from East Central University in Ada in 1947, and her master's and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University in Illinois in 1956 and 1961, respectively. She began working for OU in 1978 as a professor in the Department of Communication, served as director of Graduate Studies for the department, and later was named assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and then associate dean, serving in that role from 1988 until her retirement in 1991.

After retiring, she continued both her personal education and her role as an educator as a museum docent, working with the public and sharing her knowledge in the Hall of Natural Wonders exhibits. She volunteered as a docent until her death, logging nearly 1,000 hours in close to five years.

"This beautiful gallery will allow her to be remembered by the people of Oklahoma in a place that was very special to her," Mares said.