For 95 years, Essie Roark lived a low-key life, shunning the spotlight and guarding her privacy. But despite her unassuming lifestyle, she left a legacy worthy of attention.
The Pontotoc County resident was preceded in death by her husband, C.T. “Whitey” Wilburn, and had no children or grandchildren. After she died in 2014, one thing about Roark became clear: medical research was a cause that mattered to her.
Roark gave her first gift to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in 1987, the same year she established a trust at First National Bank and Trust Company of Ada, now known as Vision Bank. She continued to send gifts to OMRF until 1998, totaling $105. In June, representatives at OMRF were notified that the nonprofit biomedical research institute had been named one of four beneficiaries of Roark’s estate.
When OMRF’s Senior Development Director Ginny Carl traveled to Ada, what awaited her made for quite a surprise: a check for $541,250. The gift from Roark’s trust was presented by Vision Bank’s Joyce Collings, who managed Roark’s account for nearly 30 years.
“We had no idea what to expect, but we were certainly thrilled,” said Carl. “Gifts like this not only mean the continuation of great science, they also reinforce the tradition of support we’ve received from the generous people of Oklahoma.”
The money from Roark’s estate is designated to support heart and cancer research at OMRF in memory of her late husband.
Born in 1918 in tiny Tamaha, Okla., Roark moved to Ada in 1934, where she lived the rest of her life. She was also active in the First Baptist Church of Ada. She sold the family farm following her husband’s death in 1980 and moved into town, investing the proceeds of the sale. Over the next three decades, her assets continued to grow.
“People of Essie’s generation have a history of living privately, being frugal and investing wisely,” said Carl. “She might have been private in her personal life, but her generosity speaks volumes.”
The remainder of her estate will be distributed among other charitable beneficiaries.
While not much was known about Essie Roark, much is to be remembered.
“With this donation, Essie Roark has helped countless others to live longer, healthier lives,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Donations like this allow our researchers to pursue important discoveries that can make a real difference in the lives of people she never even met.”