In focus

More than photography connected the father-and-son team of Bob and John McCormack.



John McCormack followed in his father’s footsteps and became a photographer. The father and son captured thousands of Tulsa memories through photographs.

John McCormack speaks of his late father, longtime Tulsa photographer Bob McCormack, with enormous pride. His eyes fill with warmth, and sometimes tears, as he recounts stories of their lives. Together the pair captured thousands of memories of Tulsa families, including more than 5,000 weddings.

“I get emotional, but it’s because he was a great guy,” says John, who followed in his father’s livelihood and longtime Tulsa business, Bob
McCormack Studio.

Since Bob’s death 13 years ago, John has a few things left of the man with whom much of his life has been so closely intertwined: his own personal memories and an untold number of images from his father’s enormous body of work.

 

Early on

It was a fortuitous day in August 1935 when 21-year-old Bob McCormack of Lathrop, Missouri, stepped off the train in Tulsa. 

He left the station and went to a crowded Tracy Park, at East 11th Street and South Peoria Avenue, where he spent the night because he had nowhere else to go. The next day, he met Publisher Eugene Lorton at the Tulsa World and discussed his photography skills, which he had learned from his neighbor, a federal judge.

Lorton hired Bob on the spot and sent him on assignment to Oologah and Claremore to photograph Will Rogers’ family, friends and local residents, who had gathered to mourn Rogers’ tragic death earlier that day in Alaska. 

Bob and Betty McCormack on their wedding day in Lathrop, Missouri, in 1940.

Bob moved into Tulsa’s downtown YMCA while his fiancée Betty waited back home in Lathrop. The tight conditions of the Great Depression made for a
long, seven-year engagement for the couple before their marriage in 1940. 

After spending seven years at the Tulsa World, Bob became the chief photographer at Douglas Aircraft Co. during World War II. He then opened his own studio, which John continues to operate today. 

John has fond memories of his father’s photography work. While Bob was with the Tulsa World, he sometimes took Betty, John and daughter Nancy on assignments. 

John McCormack with John Wayne and Jan Prather.

Bob and Betty once met then-rising star Lucille Ball, who took a picture with Betty. She and Bob unknowingly destroyed the negative because Betty didn’t like how she looked.

“Don’t you think I’d love to have that picture today?” John asks.

Another time, John recalls going to the old Tulsa airport with his dad and a friend, Jan Prather, to photograph screen legend John Wayne, who was in town raising money for his film “The Alamo.” After the assignment, Bob snapped a personal photo of his son with Wayne.

“I can still remember John Wayne pushing his hat up,” John says. “He had just clicked his lighter and lit a cigarette. He put his arms around both myself and my friend with a big old smile. That’s a cherished memory that I have. My dad wanted to make sure I was included.” 

As passionate as Bob was about the business, he was just as passionate about Betty, his children and his faith. 

“My mother and dad partied hard, they worked hard and they prayed hard — there was not a moment wasted,” John says.

Betty worked at the photography studio as the salesperson, accountant, PR person, you name it. John remembers eating out frequently with the whole family — despite his mother being an excellent cook, she was often so busy with work at the studio she preferred to go out. 

Bob McCormack photographed high fashion photography, too, like this Magazine Tulsa cover.

Bob used every opportunity to help the business thrive. In addition to photography, he also made billboards and murals in a warehouse on the property of his first studio at 1722 S. Boston Ave. 

Just as committed to his children as his work, Bob also built a high-jump sand pit for John at their home and studio to encourage physical fitness in his kids. John later discovered a photo of his dad high-jumping in high school. 

He remembers going into his father’s dark room as a pajama-clad boy to kiss Dad goodnight.

“Even in the midst of all the work, he was always trying to look out for his little boy,” John says. “My father lived his entire life with 100 percent mind, body and soul. He used his imagination and his reason like so many people of that era. They took their imagination and their reason and lived life abundantly.”

Although photography was the family business, John earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas with plans to become a dentist. While home on spring break in 1969, Bob and Betty announced they were moving their studio to the McFarlin mansion at 1610 S. Carson Ave.

Bob McCormack outside the McFarlin mansion, home to Bob McCormack Studio from 1969-2008.

 

When he graduated from KU in 1972, John moved into the mansion’s third floor. He began applying to dental school and helping with the family business. Until then, his dad had never shown him how to use a camera, nor had John asked. 

But as he assisted his dad, John discovered he enjoyed photography and began doing it full time. He lived in the mansion for seven years, the headquarters of Bob McCormack Studio until 2008.

“I’m so glad I lived there because eight years later, my mother died prematurely, so I spent the last years of her life right there,” John says. 

When Betty died in 1980, the McCormacks were married for 40 years.

The father-and-son team worked together for decades.

 

Together, father and son created their own adventure. The spring following Betty’s death they headed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, which Bob and Betty had visited frequently. The drive took about 10 hours instead of the usual four and a half because Bob had to stop at every intriguing site for a photo opportunity.

“Dad never went anywhere without his camera,” John says. “If he saw something that interested him, he’d say, ‘Pull over.’”

And “Pull over” didn’t mean Bob just rolled down the window; he got out of the car and looked at the subject from every angle. 

“He finally found what he was looking for and captured it,” John says. “The images he created were long-lasting and were done with love and with great care.”

After Betty died, the father and son lunched frequently around town at places that are now long gone — the Pancake Place, Deli 2000 and Duffy’s at East 21st Street and South Boulder Avenue. 

“My dad was a slow eater,” says John, remembering how important their face-to-face conversations were to him. He laments how between ubiquitous televisions and smartphones, those connections are becoming rarer.

At 76, widower Bob married another woman named Betty (Knarr), who was a friend of John’s mother. John remembers finding a photo on the new couple’s wedding day of the two Bettys together, holding hands and laughing. 

“At that very moment, I said, ‘Thanks be to God,’ because my dad did not live alone the rest of his life.”

Bob McCormack died in 2003 still doing what he loved. He was in the studio days before his death, John says.

Bob McCormack and just some of the hundreds of cameras in his collection.

 

Archiving Tulsa

Bob served as an archivist of Tulsa and Oklahoma. 

“(Dad and Mother) were very involved in his passion for creating images, sustaining this city and its culture,” John says. “He loved Tulsa and Tulsa loved him back.”

Bob McCormack was known for his portraits, including this one of an oilfield worker.

In April 2008, John signed papers with the intent to sell McFarlin Mansion, and he needed to find an organization to take Bob’s immense collection, which was stored in the home. 

“I knew that the images were all important and historically important,” John says. “It’s really a family album showing every aspect of what went on here in Tulsa from 1935 through now.”

John first approached the University of Tulsa in April 2008, followed by other local nonprofits, and awaited a response. Moving day was quickly approaching. He had six weeks and no home for the collection. He recalls leaving his house and feeling called to come back inside. 

Bob McCormack’s rendition of the first freighter into Tulsa.

“I did something I’ve never done (at home) before,” John says. “I had been trying by myself to take care of it. In that moment, I got down on my knees and said, ‘Oh, dear God, please help me. I need your vision, wisdom and insight, and I need it this very day.’”  

That was at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., the studio phone rang. John was in the dark room and grabbed it after a few rings. It was TU with the news the university had decided to take the McCormack collection. It is now housed in a climate-controlled building for special collections. 

It took six men three and a half days to box up Bob McCormack’s film, photos and 500 cameras. It required a 52-foot truck. The collection weighed 18 tons.

The sweet relief of knowing the collection had a new home meant everything to John.

“I get down on my knees every morning now, and I say thank you,” he says. 

John reflects frequently on his life with his family, and especially his father. 

“I’m so fortunate to have been so loved,” says John, who has been married to his wife, Diane, for 35 years, and has his own children and now grandchildren. “The common thread is love.”

 

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February 2019

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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »

More information

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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
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View map »

More information

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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
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View map »

More information

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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

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View map »

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Do you and your pup have "cabin fever"? Come out to the Botanic Garden during our "Dog Days of Winter" - Fridays and Saturdays during January and February only when four-legged...

Cost: Free for Garden members & their dogs. Admission + $4 per dog for non-members.

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson

More information

34th Chelsea International Fine Art Competition—Opens on February 5th, 2019   Agora Gallery is pleased to invite artists from across the globe to enter the 34th Annual Chelsea...

Cost: $45 entry fee for up to 5 images ($5 for each additional image)

Where:
Agora Gallery
530 W 25th St.
New York, NY  10001
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Sponsor: Agora Gallery
Telephone: +1 212-226-4151
Contact Name: Carolina Carilo
Website »

More information

Winter's Grace Publishing, of northeast Oklahoma, is holding its inaugural Dead of Winter Flash Fiction Contest. It opened January 1 and it closes February 28. It's open to all creative writers...

Cost: $15 per story

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Winter's Grace Publishing
Telephone: 918-852-6311
Contact Name: C.D. Smart
Website »

More information

Sweets & Cream will be reopening Friday, February 22 at 3PM! Come on by for a $1.99 ice cream cookie sandwich and give a small donation to the Tips for Charity effort to help support our local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Sweets & Cream
1114 S Yale Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74112
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Sponsor: Sweets & Cream
Telephone: 918-633-3182
Contact Name: Erik Collins
Website »

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5:00-6:00 Nature & Madness is the contemplative indie-folk project of Ryan Pickop. Ryan's work is rooted in Americana, rooted in the Earth. Challenging without being confrontational, we are offered...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heirloom Rustic Ales
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: Heirloom Rustic Ales

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Solo performance. Originally from the OKC area, Adrienne Gilley is a vocalist, guitar player, songwriter. Drawing from co-writers and influential mentors and supporters in the Tulsa music scene,...

Cost: Tipping encouraged

Where:
The Colony
2809 S. Harvard
Tulsa, OK  74114
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Website »

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Sample various whiskey, have dinner and hear some fabulous music! 

Cost: 150.00

Where:
Studio 308
308 S. Lansing Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: Lindsey House
Telephone: 918-933-5222
Contact Name: Diana Denny
Website »

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JAKE OWEN Multiple chart-topping singer/songwriter Jake Owen’s new single “Down To The Honkytonk” is rapidly climbing the Billboard Country Airplay charts. With seven #1 songs to...

Cost: $50, $75, $100

Where:
Osage Casino
Tulsa, OK

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Sunday in the Park with George follows painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Consumed...

Cost: $25.00 for adults, $22.50 for students & seniors with ID

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: American Theatre Company
Telephone: (918) 747-9494
Contact Name: Meghan Hurley
Website »

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Join us for the 59th Annual Book Fair! Saturday, February 23, 2019 8:00 am–3:00 pm Holland Hall Primary School Gym Open to the public. Tickets $1, 18 and under free. No RSVP required,...

Cost: $1

Where:
Holland Hall Primary School
5666 E. 81 St.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Sponsor: Holland Hall
Telephone: 918-481-1111
Contact Name: Heather Brasel
Website »

More information

The Orbit Initiative, produced by The Tulsa Performing Arts Center and Trust, resumes its FREE community satellite adventures at seven local community centers this Saturday, January 12th, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Various
Various
Tulsa, OK  Various
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Sponsor: The Tulsa Performing Arts Center and Trust
Telephone: 918-596-7119
Contact Name: Jeremy Stevens
Website »

More information

As Lakota artist Oscar Howe wrote in 1958, “There is much more to Indian art than pretty, stylized pictures.” This exhibition highlights this depth and the 20th century American masters who...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Do you and your pup have "cabin fever"? Come out to the Botanic Garden during our "Dog Days of Winter" - Fridays and Saturdays during January and February only when four-legged...

Cost: Free for Garden members & their dogs. Admission + $4 per dog for non-members.

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles — both “over there” and on the home front — in helping the Allies win World War I. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF)...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Few animals conjure the power and symbolic presence of the North American bison. Whether painted on a tipi or an artist’s canvas, minted on a nickel, or seen grazing in Yellowstone National Park,...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

The Museum’s Dickinson Research Center is home to more than 700,000 photographs, 44,000 books, and perhaps unexpectedly, at least 1,000 horses. Meet some of the herd in Horseplay, the new...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Pain Management Class Non-medical Treatments for Pain Non-medical treatments may be used to treat chronic pain, along with pain medicines. They might also be used alone for mild pain or...

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Where:
Glenpool Library
730 E. 141st Street
Glenpool, OK  74033
View map »


Sponsor: Success Skills
Telephone: 405-401-3519
Contact Name: Ron Watkins

More information

34th Chelsea International Fine Art Competition—Opens on February 5th, 2019   Agora Gallery is pleased to invite artists from across the globe to enter the 34th Annual Chelsea...

Cost: $45 entry fee for up to 5 images ($5 for each additional image)

Where:
Agora Gallery
530 W 25th St.
New York, NY  10001
View map »


Sponsor: Agora Gallery
Telephone: +1 212-226-4151
Contact Name: Carolina Carilo
Website »

More information

Winter's Grace Publishing, of northeast Oklahoma, is holding its inaugural Dead of Winter Flash Fiction Contest. It opened January 1 and it closes February 28. It's open to all creative writers...

Cost: $15 per story

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Winter's Grace Publishing
Telephone: 918-852-6311
Contact Name: C.D. Smart
Website »

More information

Youth members of the six area Boys & Girls Clubs compete for college scholarships in the Annual Youth of the Year competition. The winners are announced at this banquet. Volunteers making a...

Cost: $75

Where:
ORU Global Learning Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Sponsor: The Salvation Army
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
Website »

More information

Cocktails, dinner and program with live and silent auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
Website »

More information

Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun!  New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »

More information

Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun! New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational incarceration,...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond Event Center
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »

More information

Cocktails, dinner and program;  silent and live auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
Website »

More information

Support youth leaders emerging from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa. Each candidate is competing for higher education scholarships. Our goal is for youth leader to be a winner and advance with...

Cost: $50 Individual Tickets and Sponsor Levels

Where:
Global Learning Center at ORU
7777 S Lewis Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Sponsor: The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
Website »

More information

America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
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Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
Website »

More information

6-10:30 p.m. Southern Hills Country Club, 2636 E. 61st Street. The 2019 Lunar New Year Gala at Southern Hills Country Club will be an elegant evening of candlelight, fine dining, children’s party...

Cost: $150, individual tickets; $1,000-$25,000, sponsorships.

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st Street
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Dillon International
Telephone: 918-748-5613
Contact Name: Marcia Graham
Website »

More information

COOKING UP COMPASSION FACT SHEET ABOUT THE EVENT:  Long time donors Margo and Kent Dunbar are Honorary Chairs for the event. Now in its fourteenth year, Cooking Up Compassion raises funds for the...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Ballroom at the Cox Business Center
3rd & Houston
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Catholic Charities
Telephone: 918-508-7115
Contact Name: Jennifer Allen
Website »

More information

Winterset is an annual formal event of the Osteopathic Founders Foundation which brings together the osteopathic profession and their community partners to benefit projects which improve the health...

Cost: $300

Where:
Hyatt Regency Tulsa
100 E 2nd St
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Osteopathic Founders Foundation
Telephone: 918-551-7300
Contact Name: Michele Caine
Website »

More information

Sunday in the Park with George follows painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Consumed...

Cost: $25.00 for adults, $22.50 for students & seniors with ID

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: American Theatre Company
Telephone: (918) 747-9494
Contact Name: Meghan Hurley
Website »

More information

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TULtalk


Art film meets dance at Oklahoma Dance Film Festival

This year's program features more than 20 films from around the world, presented on Sunday at the Central Library.

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2.4: #KnopeLife — Anna America

Anna America took the helm at Tulsa’s Parks and Recreation department in the fall of 2018, but she is certainly no stranger to life in the public eye.

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7 strategies to help you make the A-LIST

The competition is tough for small businesses on our annual readers' choice survey, but a few smart strategies can help you get ahead.

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“Sunday in the Park” is no walk in the park

American Theatre Company prepares for the Oklahoma premiere of the very technically challenging “Sunday in the Park with George,” Feb. 15-24

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2.3: Get that “Woo!” — Tom Basler

A conversation with dueling piano phenom Tom Basler about his many reinventions, both personal and professional.

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