James Jackson (J.J.) McAlester (1842-1920) is our town founder. He worked in politics, mining, banking, business, law enforcement, and ranching.
He grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, he moved to the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory search of coal fields. By marrying a Chickasaw citizen, Rebecca Burney, McAlester gained full citizenship and rights in both Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, entitling him to stake a claim to coal deposits.
J.J. McAlester opened the coal fields of the Choctaw nation to industrial development and lured the railroads through the territory. Colonel McAlester dug out a wagon load of coal near Bucklucksy in 1871.He took coal to the MK& T Railway Company in Kansas to encourage the rail line to be built through the territory next to his store near the crossing of the Texas road and the California road. The MK& T railway was built directly built to the Bucklucksy store in 1872 and the town name was changed to McAlester. A coal mine was opened and operations began.
In addition to starting the local coal mining industry here, he was instrumental in the local telephone company, electrical company and other businesses. in 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed him the U.S.. Marshal for Indian Territory. He was a Democrat who was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission at statehood, then elected Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma in 1911. He was even turned into a character in the novel and movie "True Grit."
One of Oklahoma's most respected businessmen and politicians, he dies in 1920 in the town that bears his name.
Wanda Lousie Jones (1927-2008) married Clark Bass in 1951. She had already graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and a minor in Management. Her education prepared her to work for the Lone Star Gas Company and the banking business. In 1973, Wanda Bass became vice-president of First National Bank and Trust of McAlester. Furthermore, she became Chairman of the Board of McAlester Bank and Trust Company in 1999.
She and her husband, Clark Bass, contributed countless hours and millions of dollars to arts, educational and civic projects in McAlester and around the state. Wanda Bass was president of the Board of First National Community Development Corporation. She and her husband had leadership roles in the construction of the McAlester Regional Hospital and founded the McAlester Area Arts and Humanities Council.
Several permanent memorials remain in McAlester to show their work. Wanda and Clark Bass donated the Wanda Bass Fine Arts Center at McAlester High School. The McAlester Campus of Eastern Oklahoma State College opened in 1998 with their help and the higher education center of that campus bears her name. Public radio station KBCW was established in McAlester in 1999 with the bass's support. Wanda Bass was also the driving force behind the Carl Albert statue and tribute area which is adjacent to the Pioneer Coal Miner Memorial in Chadick Park.
Wanda Bass received many honors and awards including the following: Governor's Art Award, Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, Oklahoma Heritage Association Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City University's Distinguished Philanthropist Award, and honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame, Journal Record Woman of the Year Circle of Excellence, Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame, and January 13, 2004, was declared "Wanda L. Bass Day" by Governor Brad Henry.
Wanda Bass was dedicated to education, economic development, music, and banking. She died on February 12, 2008.
Dr. Lucy Freeman Smith (1935-2019 ) was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' when she graduated from McAlester High School in 1953. Born and raised in Mcalester, her parents were William Perry Freeman and Gladys Eckman Freeman.
She attended Abilene Christian College in Texas and earned a master's degree from East Central University in Ada. She received a doctorate in educational psychology and a superintendent’s certificate from the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
From 1985 through 2006, she worked as a teacher, counselor, administrator and superintendent of McAlester Public Schools. Under her leadership, McAlester schools won their first Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence "Dropout Prevention Award" in 1990.
She was one of the only two females superintendents in the state when she became the first female superintendent of McAlester Public Schools during its first 100 years. A pioneer for women through her professional successes, in 1987 she became the first female member of the McAlester Rotary Club.
Dr. Smith was recognized by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence in public School Administration in 1994. At the time, there were still only 19 female school superintendents in Oklahoma. She also received the Oklahoma Women in Education Administrative Award. In 2005 she was named "Oklahoma Administrator of the Year," and in 2006 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame.