For most students, going off to college means leaving your parents and your hometown to embark on your first steps toward independence. For Joe Anna Hibler, attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University meant that she would be attending college at the same time as two of her other family members. The other two students were her parents.
While Hibler was getting her bachelor’s degree, her parents were pursuing their masters’ degrees in education. Both were teachers in Leedey. They would attend night classes during the school year and full time during the summer. “Since our hometown was an hour from the university, one summer we shared a house in Weatherford and all attended classes,” Hibler recalled.
Hibler started at Southwestern in 1957 to get what she intended to be 40-hour secretarial short course certification. “Back in those days, a woman had three career choices: a teacher, nurse or secretary,” Hibler explained. “I didn’t like the sight of blood and knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, so I chose business.”
It didn’t take her long to realize that she enjoyed college and wanted to do something more with her education. So…she became a teacher. In three years, Hibler earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business education. She went on to earn her master's degree in business education from Oklahoma State University and her Doctorate of Education degree from the University of Oklahoma.
After teaching in Altus and later at her alma mater, she became the 15th president of SWOSU. When she assumed her duties in 1990, Hibler became the first woman in 55 years to serve as president of a university in Oklahoma.
For a student who was adamant about not getting a teaching degree, it was Hibler’s college path that helped her discover it was her passion all along. “I love learning and I wanted to inspire students to love learning as well. It is rewarding to see them grow and expand their understanding of our world as young adults,” Hibler said. Even as the president of Southwestern, Hibler stayed in touch with students by teaching the freshman orientation class.
Hibler completed an impressive 41-year career in Oklahoma education. Thirty-seven of those years were spent on the SWOSU campus, 11 years as president of the university. She was appointed as a RUSO regent in 2004 by Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry.
“I tell students to not turn down opportunities,” Hibler said. “If you are inquisitive and like what you are doing, you can be successful.”
Hibler’s own career path exemplifies these words. Her very first college class was in Southwestern’ s education building, which is now named after her— the Dr. Joe Anna Hibler Education Center.