Howard K. Berry Jr.’s earliest memories take him back to the house where he was born in 1931, an historic home in Oklahoma City’s Linwood neighborhood complete with a swimming pool and tennis court.
“To me as a kid, it was a mansion,” Berry recalls.
By the time he turned 9, hard times had befallen the family – like so many others during the Great Depression – forcing his mother and father to downsize their home and move to the Shepherd district. It was a difficult change for Berry, who promised himself then that he would never take out a mortgage on a house. That experience gave him tremendous drive and ambition that guides him still today after a lengthy and successful career in law.
During their many car trips up and down N.W. 23rd Street in the 1940s, Berry remembers his mother, Virginia Gochenour Berry, liberal arts ’28, pointing to the Gold Star building and talking about Oklahoma City University. Her school pride was evident.
Virginia Berry worked in the county court clerk’s office, where she met her husband, Howard K. Berry Sr. A former police officer without a college degree, Berry Sr. had passed the Oklahoma Bar Exam and was beginning a successful career in law.
Virginia left her job after marriage to raise the couple’s children. She worked briefly as a teacher in Oklahoma City after Berry Sr. was drafted to serve in World War II. After his discharge from the Army, she resumed work as a wife and mother.
Berry Jr. recently established a scholarship in his mother’s honor to assist OCU students pursuing degrees in studio art. The Virginia Berry Endowed Art Scholarship is renewable for up to four years and is based on academic performance.
Like his mother, Berry’s interest in art developed later in adulthood, and traces back to family friend and Oklahoma City arts visionary Nan Sheets. Throughout the Depression, Berry’s father worked hard to prosper his family. When the Berry family relocated again, they moved to Heritage Hills, and as neighbors, Virginia Berry and Sheets became fast friends.
Virginia Berry acquired several of Sheets’ paintings, four of which now belong to Berry Jr. Virginia passed on other art pieces to her son, and his appreciation for art gradually expanded. He is now an art collector and routinely travels to see exhibits.
Berry said he established the OCU scholarship both because of his mother’s connection to the university and because he sees it as a great fit for liberal arts education.
“It’s a nice way to honor my mom and help students who are interested in art,” he said.
Virginia Berry (second row at left) as an OCU sophomore in 1925 with Phi Phi Phi members.