Oma Link Rowley

OMA LINK ROWLEY (06 OCT 1894 – 10 MAR 1981)                                                                        

Warrior, pioneer, Mrs. Little Theatre, artist, director, actress, fashion designer/creator, engineer of culture, educator, musician, vocalist, mother, wife. This was Oma Link Rowley. Born in Ryan, Oklahoma in 1894 to Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Link in the Indian Territory, she was taught on the lap of the Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and experienced more teachings from cowboys on the Matador Ranch before moving to Strawn, Texas.

It was in Strawn where her father introduced her to fine arts. After graduating from high school, she moved to Weatherford to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1913 from Texas Fairmont Seminary (a Presbyterian school who was later absorbed by Trinity University). Mrs. Rowley was the only person from her town that went away to college. Trinity absorbed Texas Fairmont Seminary and became Mrs. Rowley’s alma mater by recognizing her previous college work, conferring her undergraduate and advanced degrees.

Loving all of the arts, her father demanded that the school give her all the cultural advantages that Fairmont could offer. He also insisted that she be sent “to every outstanding event of a cultural nature.” He bought her every book on the arts that he could find, and she “devoured them”. After receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree she studied piano, violin, speech and voice from the finest voice teachers in Texas; she was a soloist in the Dallas Presbyterian Church and sang for the orchestra at the Adolphus Hotel.

Both Mrs. Rowley and her father had strong convictions about education. She felt that universities tended to lose “close-contact learning” due to their large size which resulted in minimal associations between students and their professors. She felt that the close contact between her parents was “one of the most important influences in her life”.

Mrs. Rowley stated, “Unless a student is almost indifferent to an education, I think it’s up to the teacher to see that she creates in that person’s curiosity for knowledge.” She felt that it was important for a student to attend a small college until “they learn how to live away from home and how to live with people.” She continued that a student should be encouraged but never pushed, “Every parent should be willing to have a child do as well as he can but not make him nervous in demanding more than he can do.” She strongly felt that “some people would be better off at a trade or professional school and might become a great inventor if he proceeds according to his own initiative and their own certainty”.

She married Dr. E.A. Rowley on June 7, 1922 and moved to Amarillo in 1926, and eventually they adopted their daughter. It was in 1927 when Oma Link Rowley and Eloise Gibson (co-founders of the Amarillo Little Theatre) opened a production of Frederic Isham’s 1920 Broadway play, “Three Live Ghosts,” to a small audience at the Amarillo Municipal Auditorium (11 November 1923 – 30 April 1968) at 505 S Buchanan Street.

Amarillo Little Theatre was built in 1957 at its current location for $150,000; its opening performance in their new building was “Arsenic and Old Lace” with the ticket prices costing $1.00 each. Both co-founders Oma Rowling and Eloise Gipson performed in the play and were honored in the special souvenir program with a special tribute:

It is proper and fitting that the story of Amarillo Little Theatre should be dedicated to those under whose untiring guidance it has reached this pinnacle of accomplishment represented by the new home so publicly accepted this day

To all who walked the boards . . . to all who breathed the dust of old days . . . to all who moved a prop, painted a scene, donned a costume . . . worked back stage or front . . . to all who offered a prayer, this momentous occasion is respectfully dedicated.

Yet, for the very birth of the idea of Little Theatre in Amarillo  . . . for the very breath of its spirit, two names stand above all in this dedication . . . Oma Link Rowley and Eloise Gipson.

All who have progressed with ALT . . . all who have witnessed and enjoyed ALT production join in tribute to the guiding influence of these two.

In addition to theater work, Rowley maintained speech classes and was twice the head of the Speech Department at West Texas State College at Canyon and First Assistant several times. She also directed the summer theater “El Teatro de Santa Fe”.  Another contribution of hers was that while in New York to attend the current plays she would observe new methods of scene construction and also obtain releases on new plays through her contacts which enabled ALT to produce the new shows sooner than most other amateur groups.

Timeline for Oma Link Rowley:

·         1894 Born in Ryan, Oklahoma to Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Link in the Indian Territory

·         1913 Bachelor of Fine Arts degree

·         1922 married Dr. E.A. Rowley

·         1926 moved to Amarillo

·         1927 Oma Link Rowley and Eloise Gibson opened their first Amarillo Little Theatre production

·         1957 Amarillo Little Theatre was built

·         1957 served as the Vice President for the Tenth Southwest Theatre Conference in Tulsa, OK.

·         1958 was a co-president (along with Dr. Hagan of Eastern New Mexico) of the Eleventh Southwest Theatre Conference in Amarillo

·         1958 was appointed a member of the advisory council of the University of Texas Fine Arts Foundation.

·         1959 she was chosen to be on the Planning Committee for the Southwest Theater Conference’s Constitutional Revision; A History of the Southwest    Theatre Conference. Their report and its proposed constitutional and bylaw revisions were adopted by the Conference in 1961 (didn’t meet the 1960 deadline).

·         1963 Mrs. Rowley was honored by her alma mater with “Trinity University’s Woman of the Year” award. She was noted as an “Engineer of Culture” and as a pioneer for her educational pursuits that earned her a master’s degree in the early part of the 20th century when it was almost unheard of for a female to do advanced graduate school work.

·         1981death. A scholarship was established shortly thereafter at West Texas State University as a memorial which will be awarded to a student majoring in theatre.

·         Directed more than 70 plays, constructed sets, created costumes, acted and was the center’s creative engineer for 40 years. In a 1951 interview she stated, “I had my workshop in the basement and my tools were an ice pick, razor blade, a sharp knife and some clay.”

·         Worked side by side with Edna Brownie Duncan, a celebrated artist, at Amarillo Little Theatre as a scenic painter and artist.

·         Held every position on the board of directors except membership chairman at ALT. From 1929-30 she was president, and in 1966 she retired as managing director.

Mrs. Rowley was said to have been deserving the title of “Mrs. Little Theater” for “she was the guiding light Amarillo’s amateur theatricals for decades, beginning when she first moved to Amarillo…”. Mrs. Rowley offered this advice for anyone wanting to establish a little theater, “Never be too tired to do just one more thing, never be too dainty and requiring a manicure, don’t be clique-ish, watch the moral standards of your group and never establish the star system.”

Rowley was a member of First Presbyterian Church where she assisted in the drama activities of the church. After her retirement, she was involved in oil painting and was commissioned to do several pieces of work. She died in 1981.

Rowley is in the Pantheon Mausoleum on the lower level in the back section to the east.

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The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas). 30 Jan 1956, Mon, Page 17.

The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas). 06 Feb 1958, Thu. Page 25.

The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas). 27 May 1963, Mon, Page 1

The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas). 27 May 1963, Mon, Page 2.

Boyett, Jason. May 17, 2018.

The Canyon News (Canyon, Texas). 17 May 1981, Sun. Page 9.

Hamner, Laura V. Personal Interview. November 27, 1955.

“Little Theatre Play Will Open Tuesday”. The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas). 05 Oct 1956, Fri. Page 23.

The Odessa American (Odessa, Texas). 28 Oct 1957, Mon. Page 4.

Pampa Daily News (Pampa, Texas). 28 Oct 1962, Sun. Page 13.

“Prominent Figures of the Panhandle”. Amarillo Globe News. May 19, 2000.

Shankles, Allen. Managing/Artistic Director. “Director’s Notes”… Taken from the alt newsletter, “CURTAIN CALL”. May 17, 2018.

Thompson, Bette. “All Around Town”. The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas), 25 Oct 1957, Fri. Page 17.

Wyly, Christine. Amarillo’s Historic Wolflin District. Arcadia Publishing, 2010. Paperback.

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Cathy Morrow, July 2020