A Tale of Two Nighs

By Hannah Horan

WHEN THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA named the university center, the Nigh University Center in 2001, the name and honor focused on a particular member of the Nigh family – George Nigh. He, and his accomplishments, are well documented and have cemented his incredible legacy of service to the people of Oklahoma.

But, in the case of the Nigh family, the old proverb, “behind every great man is a great woman,” couldn’t be truer.

Donna Nigh, a Central alumna, has carved her own legacy alongside her husband – as the first lady of both Oklahoma and UCO. Now, with the renaming of the building to bear both names, the George and Donna Nigh University Center reflects that shared legacy and honors one of the great women of Central.

Born in Morris, Oklahoma, Donna attended Central State Teachers College, what we now know as UCO, to study teacher preparation. In 1963, Donna married George after a brief courtship. The couple would go on to change Oklahoma history, as George served two terms as both lieutenant governor and governor of Oklahoma and then served as president of UCO from 1992-97.

Donna’s studies at Central, and her experiences as first lady, were pivotal in shaping a lifetime devoted to the betterment of Oklahomans with special needs and developmental disabilities.

“For decades, Mrs. Nigh has been a champion for those whose special needs are sometimes overlooked or unmet,” said James Machell, Ph.D., former dean of the UCO College of Education and Professional Studies.

“In 1982, Mrs. Nigh played an integral part in a movement that led to the formation of group homes for citizens with disabilities in our state. Since that time, she has continued to lead efforts in our state, region and country in the area of caring for individuals with exceptionalities.”

Donna’s passion for philanthropic work has led to the creation of the Donna Nigh Foundation, Oklahoma’s first foundation supporting the developmentally disabled. At Central, the Donna Nigh Art Gallery bears her name, as well as the Donna Nigh Advanced Professional and Special Services department, named in her honor in 2014.

The department’s focus mirrors the causes Donna has championed, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees that train individuals in special education, speech-language pathology, school counseling and educational leadership, among others.

Donna’s work has received acclaim from a variety of organizations. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995, and then, in 2008, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. In 1997, former President Bill Clinton appointed Donna to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

After a lifetime of service and honors for her work, Art Cotton, vice president of the UCO Office for Advancement, requested the name of the university center be changed to represent the couple equally.

“George and Donna Nigh have made an indelible impact at UCO that is most certainly felt now and will continue to be felt by future generations of anyone who visits this great campus,” Cotton said.

“The couple served as passionate, strong leaders and established a variety of scholarships and programs across campus – each integral as UCO seeks to graduate Oklahoma’s workforce.”

As members of the Central community walk through the doors of the George and Donna Nigh University Center, they should reflect on the remarkable legacy both George and Donna Nigh have left on the Central campus and our state.