School of Drama named for Peggy Dow Helmerich

Fall 2011

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Peggy Dow Helmerich

Peggy and Walter Helmerich of Tulsa recently made a landmark $2.5 million gift to the OU School of Drama.
Peggy Dow Helmerich

Peggy and Walter Helmerich of Tulsa recently made a landmark $2.5 million gift to the OU School of Drama.
To students of the University of Oklahoma School of Drama, Peggy Dow Helmerich is a major star both on and off the screen. Mrs. Helmerich, known professionally as Peggy Dow, co-starred in several movies during her career—including “Harvey” with Jimmy Stewart. She and husband Walter H. Helmerich III of Tulsa recently made a landmark $2.5 million gift to OU for a drama scholarship endowment and enrichment fund. In recognition, the OU Board of Regents has named the School of Drama in her honor.

“Peggy and Walter’s support to the School of Drama will forever change the future of the school,” said director Tom Huston Orr. “Her love of the School of Drama and the craft of acting is an inspiration to us.”

The Helmerichs’ endowed scholarships will help bring dozens of the nation’s best drama students to OU. The additional $500,000 in funding will provide activities to enrich drama students’ educational experiences.

The School of Drama was established in 1927 and is one of the nation’s oldest university dramatic training institutions. Only Yale University has had a drama training program longer. Last year, OU drama students won the largest number of awards of any university in the nation at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Peggy Helmerich’s own acting career began with Universal Studios and the thriller “Undertow.” Her best-known roles were as Nurse Kelly in the classic Jimmy Stewart film “Harvey” and in the 1951 war drama “Bright Victory” with Arthur Kennedy.

She retired from acting to marry Walter and settled in Tulsa, where the Helmerichs raised five sons. Mrs. Helmerich became an active community volunteer and civic leader.

Orr met Mrs. Helmerich in 2005 while staging the play “Harvey” at OU. She volunteered to come to campus to talk with the student cast. A lasting relationship with the School of Drama was formed, and the Helmerichs later made gifts totaling $500,000 to create a visiting professorship in drama and a digital video editing and camera acting studio.

“She has a personal relationship with the students, knows them and stays aware of their projects and progress,” Orr said of Mrs. Helmerich, adding that he brought a group of students with him to the announcement of the school’s new name. Mrs. Helmerich took an hour to visit with the students, sharing stories of her time in Hollywood.

In addition to their support for drama, Mr. and Mrs. Helmerich have made gifts to OU that created endowments to support Bizzell Memorial Library, the Dean of Libraries, and a library garden, as well as capital project contributions to the Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Clinic at OU-Tulsa, the Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the Mary and Howard Lester Wing of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and the renovation of Boyd House.

“Walter and Peggy are an incredible couple and an incredible team. They are so committed to giving back to the greater Oklahoma community,” Orr said. “We’re honored to be the Peggy Dow Helmerich School of Drama.”