Shepler Park

Patty Neuwirth, left, and Barbara Curry admire the long-standing statue of local art critic Bill Crawford and actress Candace Early, located in Ned Shepler Park. That downtown park will become the home a new statue, as the women spearhead an effort to fund a statue honoring the suffragette movement and its success in bring women the right to vote in 1920.

Barbara Curry said Lawton will have a statue honoring the memories of strong women who led the way for voting rights and political involvement, but the process will take a little longer than initially planned.

WOMEN that VOTE! formally broke ground Aug. 16, 2019, for a monument that will give a face — faces — to the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The original plan was to have that statue in place in Ned Shepler Park along West Gore Boulevard by Aug. 18, 2020, the amendment’s 100th anniversary.

That won’t happen, but supporters haven’t given up the fight, said Curry, who also is CEO and founder of WOMEN that VOTE! Curry said the project has been broken into three phases, with Phase 1 (lighting and the supporting electrical system) to be dedicated next month. That will kick off fundraising for the other two phases: four park benches, to be dedicated in August 2021, and the statue itself, to be completed within three years, said Curry and Alberto Rivas, the Young Professionals of Lawton chairman who, along with Patty Neuwirth, have become a central part of Curry’s work force.

The project also has been changed to become more inclusive, Curry said.

What was originally envisioned as three women now will be five. In addition to three figures representing Caucasian, African-American and Native American women, two figures were added to represent Hispanic and Asian women. Curry said the idea is to represent the women of various ethnic/racial backgrounds that were active and continue to be active in voting rights, politics and other issues important to the country at large.

The woman who will create the statue, Tulsa sculptor Denise Ford, has said the figures will be standing back-to-back and each will have real faces and body details that will bring real women to mind. Curry said the figures will be dressed appropriate to the eras where they were most active; the African-American woman probably will be in bell-bottoms because it was the 1960s, while the Caucasian woman will have the look of a 1920s Gibson Girl.

“It’s a part of history,” Curry said, adding the statue will include an explanation of voting rights for women, which helped lead the way for others, men and women.

The idea is inclusion, and not only for the females of various races who fought for equality. Inclusion continues to be a theme today, Curry and Rivas said, noting activities under way across the country.

Rivas said the statue honors historical events that brought the right to vote to women and others, but also is relevant to today’s events, the reason the project has “grown” in its scope. Neuwirth, a long-time member of the Lawton Board of Education, said the educational component is why she wanted to become involved with the project.

Rivas said the youth component also was important to the Young Professionals of Lawton, organized to encourage participation in civic and other events by the business community’s youngest members. And, it’s important to highlight the fight for rights by local, state and national women, he said.

“We wanted to be part of that,” he said, comparing such efforts with the efforts of such groups as Black Lives Matter, which also is why Young Professionals will have a voter registration table set up at August’s dedication.

Neuwirth said without such efforts, history will be lost.

“Kids will never know it happened,” she said, of a right that most people take for granted.

Curry said the statue is a personal mission.

“I know I’m supposed to,” she said, of leading the project.

The reason might be family legacy, she said, explaining she is the granddaughter of a woman who was politically active in her childhood home of Philadelphia.

“Those women went through a lot,” she said, of those who fought for the right to vote for women and others, adding she became politically active herself at age 7, through her grandmother’s influence, then became less so before she “came back around to it.”

Rivas said the project helps highlight the fight against oppression and voting, still an issue today as efforts continue to disenfranchise voters, especially those of color.

“We’re still pushing for voter rights,” he said, of an effort that has been made even more difficult by the effects to control the COVID-19 pandemic. “Women still are on the forefront.”

Supporters must raise $120,000 to cover all costs. Phase 1 is the $2,500 cost of lighting and electrical work. Phase 2 is the Community Circle, where donors will have their names engraved on one of four benches to be erected. The final phase is the statue, and completion of the fundraising effort will determine when the statue is dedicated.

Curry said the fundraising process will become easier, now that WOMEN that VOTE! is a registered 501 ©(3), meaning donations are tax-deductible. Information and donations may be made to the WOMEN that VOTE! web site: www.womenthatvote.com or Facebook: WOMEN that VOTE!

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