Trait’s Trace of History
Trait Thompson took off his hard hat when he took the job as executive director of the Oklahoma History Center in January. For six-and-a-half years, he had overseen the restoration of the Oklahoma State Capitol, the state’s largest historic structure. During the first month at his new job, he traded his safety vest for traveling shoes as he hopped into a car and visited many of the 26 of the smaller historic sites and museums he now manages.
During his month-long road trip, he discovered the many treasures that Oklahoma has to offer. “There are so many great places to experience in our state. Maybe you want a change of scenery, a weekend trip or just want to learn something new—it’s only a few hours drive to see something completely different.”
Trait’s tour guide was retiring director, Dr. Bob Blackburn, the Oklahoma Historical Society’s director for 41 years. “It was amazing being with Dr. Blackburn for a whole month, hearing him tell the history and background of each site. Few agency directors get that good of a transition.”
Although Trait has a “keen and curious interest in history,” his background is in finance, public administration and public policy. “I don’t have a museum degree, but administration skills are necessary for such a far-flung operation. I’m already surrounded by the best museum professionals. My job is to shepherd our sites into the future. We have to utilize our assets, deal with deferred maintenance issues, and evaluate how to reach people in the digital age.”
As a family man and nature lover, Trait had visited many of the sites in his care before his journey with Dr. Blackburn. His wife and children were already fans of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the Pioneer Woman Museum. Now he’s excited to bring more lesser-known sites to the public’s attention. “One of my favorites is the Spiro Mounds, which is one of the underappreciated gems in Oklahoma. If you can’t drive to southeast Oklahoma right now, visit the Spiro Mounds traveling exhibit at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.”
Trait has lived in the Edmond area for nine years, where he has enjoyed seeing the renaissance of downtown, with its new murals and railyard restaurants. He visits parks, regularly kayaks on Arcadia Lake, and is a fan of LibertyFest.
“The mission of the Oklahoma History Center is to collect, preserve and share Oklahoma History. It’s hard to feel like you belong to a place until you know its story. Oklahoma is my adopted state, so I’ve had to learn its story,” Trait said.
Working at the State Capitol gave Trait a front-row seat to both history in the making and history from the past. “I will always nostalgically consider the capitol renovation as ‘my baby,’ even though it’s not finished yet. I’m very proud to have helped bring that building back to life,” Trait said. “Central Oklahoma has a story like no other, springing up overnight with people who worked tirelessly, enduring adverse conditions, to make a life for themselves. So, visit your local museum, learn about the challenges the minorities and women have faced. Get to know your community, and then insert yourself into the story.”
To learn more, visit www.okhistory.org