As formal mission statements go, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame is reserved for those few exceptional citizens who have distinguished themselves in their service to the Sooner State.
Terry Stuart Forst, admittedly flattered by the honor, will be taking her place there as a member of the Class of 2020, joking that, “I’m really not sure what they were thinking.”
Forst will receive a well-deserved tribute at the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City as will some other things far bigger than herself: faith, family, integrity, perseverance, and history and tradition.
“You don’t get to where I am by yourself,” said Forst, who heads the 7S Stuart Ranch. “My family has been doing this since 1868. I think I stand on a lot of shoulders. I am just honored to be able to carry on their legacy and their traditions. I always say I don’t want to be the one to drop the ball. I really believe that.”
Forst, along with Calvin Anthony, Gary Batton, Martha Burger, Charles Dennis “Denny” Cresap, Stephen Prescott, Francis Rooney and John Smith, will be inducted in November.
For Forst, the high honor is a culmination of sorts of a journey that has doubled as a test of personal and professional endurance.
That doesn’t mean the job is done on the Stuart Ranch. The job is never done on the ranch. The COVID-19 pandemic is novel in only the circumstances it has presented to an industry accustomed to the moodiness of Mother Nature and fussiness of market forces.
Since 1992, Forst, a fifth-generation Oklahoman, has operated the Stuart Ranch, founded in the late 19thcentury and the oldest in the state under continuous family ownership, covering 40,000 acres in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the state.
Forst runs the ranch today with her sons Clay and Robert.
“My faith has been really strong. In this business you don’t get anywhere without faith in God because there are too many challenges, too many days it would be easy to say, ‘I’m done.’ And then there are days that are drop-dead gorgeous and everything works and the sun comes up every day.
“You don’t quit. You persevere.”
Forst was the first woman to preside as president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association. She has also served as a member of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Ranching Council and honored with the Master Breeder Award by Oklahoma State University. In addition, she was the first female to be presented the Oklahoma Cattlemen of the Year Award.
She has also had good success as an exhibitor in reined cow horse, showing mares from the Stuart equine program’s bloodline.
On Seven S Indian Maid (Hickorys Indian Pep x Seven S Fiesta x Playgun), Forst returned home to Waurika, Oklahoma as the Non-Pro Reserve Champion at the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity, as well as intermediate and novice titleholder. As a rider, Forst has an Equi-Stat record of more than $83,000.
Forst, one of four daughters of Bob Stuart, is also a National Cowgirl Hall of Famer.
Focusing only on the bling of credentials, impressive by any standard, misses an important part of the story, however.
Forst grew up aspiring to a career on the ranch and said she spent most of “my whole life trying to prove to [her father] that I was worthy of doing what I wanted to do.”
It was a different time, Forst reminded, and her father was a product of that time. It was a time when gender roles were more defined and certainly more limited for women. For many, that did not include women taking lead roles in ranch management.
“I will say this, when we were starting colts, he never minded throwing me up on the back of a colt he was starting,” Forst said, laughing at the memory. “I was useful in that regard.”
Forst left the ranch in the late 1980s, following her own path on what she hoped would lead to a career in ranch management. She believed she needed to leave home for that to happen.
She had earned a bachelor’s in animal science at Oklahoma State in 1976 and did postgraduate work in the Oklahoma Ag Leadership Program in 1988. In 1991, she went to TCU in Fort Worth to pursue accreditation through its ranch management program.
Among those Forst is grateful for are all those who mentored her. That includes John Merrill, then the director of TCU’s ranch management program. But even he tried to discourage her from entering the program, fearing she simply didn’t have the time to meet the exhaustive standards of the program.
She was a single mother with two young children and no address in Texas. For a time, she was living with her mother in Dallas.
“God intervened, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Forst said. “If you could see the pieces that started to fall together that year. It’s nothing short of divine intervention in every way, shape or form.
“The people who were there to help me, the house I found to live in, the schools we found. There was one opening for a school for Clay to get in, and one opening in a daycare on the TCU campus for Robert. Little things like that kept falling into place. It was incredible … it really was. It was a wonderful year.”
After TCU, Forst began working in real estate doing management plans on properties. Her father called her about a property in Waurika he wanted her to examine.
Bob Stuart got more than an appraisal. He wound up hiring his daughter back at Stuart Ranch, “kind of on my terms,” Forst said.
“I never deviated from what I wanted to do,” Forst said of her calling in ranching. “I wasn’t going to quit because of adversity or challenges.”
Sometimes, she said, there is only one choice and that is putting one foot in front of the other.
You never know where that simple first step, along with a gallon of resolve, might eventually take you.