Special to The Sun
The University of Central Oklahoma’s Department of Advanced Professional and Special Services now bears the name of an Oklahoman who has devoted her life’s work to advocating for those with special needs, Donna Nigh.
The university hosted a reception Tuesday to celebrate the honor.
The distinction recognizes Nigh, who served as the first lady of both the state of Oklahoma and the university, for being instrumental in organizing resources to support the needs of citizens with mental disabilities for many decades. Nigh’s husband, former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh, served as president of UCO from 1992-97.
“For decades, Mrs. Nigh has been a champion for those whose special needs are sometimes overlooked or unmet,” said James Machell, dean of the 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.”
Many of the academic programs within the department that now bears Nigh’s name have as their mission the preparation of professional educators who specialize in working with individuals with exceptional learning needs. It is within this department that UCO prepares special educators, speech-language pathologists, reading specialists, library media specialists, school counselors and school principals.
Nigh, who is an alumna of Central’s teacher preparation program, called the honor a surprise. Her work with Oklahoma’s mentally disabled residents began when she accompanied her husband, then the lieutenant governor, on a tour of the state’s three institutions for the disabled. The institutions, located in Enid, Hissom and Pauls Valley, housed 5,000 Oklahomans.
“It was at that time that I realized that was where I wanted to spend my time as a volunteer,” Nigh said. “I felt like those people needed a spokesperson, and I wanted to be that spokesperson.”
Nigh reported that in 2015 Oklahoma will be one of just 14 states that houses none of its mentally handicapped residents in institutions.
“We’re very grateful for the fact that this need has come to the forefront. This need to recognize these special individuals, who have absolutely the same rights that we have, they have the same desires for a life that we have, and they deserve nothing but the best,” Nigh said.