Rappelling down the side of a building, Ann Hargis ended up lowering herself completely upside down before trying it again. This, among many other things, is part of her job as the First Cowgirl.
Whether winning bus rodeos, chauffeuring students in her orange golf cart named Clementine, teaching yoga or supporting school initiatives and activities, Ann is here for the students. While her husband, Oklahoma State University President, Burns Hargis, is retiring, she said this transition is not a goodbye, it's a graduation.
“We are having the time of our lives, it is so much fun, but it’s time for new energy to come in with new ideas,” Ann said.
Since 2008, Ann has served alongside her husband not only by providing support but also by leaving lasting legacies of her own, like being instrumental in the creation of Pete’s Pet Posse.
From the beginning, Ann tailored her position to the needs of the university and the students, while remaining true to herself. On campus, Ann promotes and engages in arts and wellness programs, is involved in the Women for OSU Leadership Philanthropy Council, Friends of Music and Friends of the Library.
She earned her math and Latin bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and met Burns in the summer of 1968. Ann said their relationship has always been somehow connected to OSU, and while she did not attend the university, she fell in love with the school very quickly.
“Had I known about OSU when I was in college, I would have gone to OSU,” the First Cowgirl said. “I love this school.”
Ann inherited the title the ‘First Lady’ but decided that ‘First Cowgirl’ was more her style. To her husband, this personal flair reflects her down-to-earth personality.
"There's never been a First Cowgirl, Ann... She thought 'First Lady' sounded a little pretentious, so she adopted that 'First Cowgirl,' which I love,” Burns said.
“I think that was great.”
Ann wears many hats in her position, however, her favorite hat involves interacting and showing love and appreciation to students. She tries to intentionally do this by engaging with students while doing her daily activities. Whether it’s doing push-ups on the ROTC board during football games, providing a “taxi” service for students or just meeting students on campus and forming initiatives to help better OSU, Ann always finds a way to involve students in her day-to-day First Cowgirl routine.
While she's constantly busy, she serves as a sounding board to Burns. Their relationship has been instrumental in shaping the community of OSU, and reflects the kind of support they strive to give the school as a whole.
“My purpose, in my mind, is to support what he does and make it either easier or better,” Ann said. “And any way I can improve things on this campus for basically the success of students is what drives me.”
She said interacting with students is the most rewarding thing she experiences and every time she steps foot on campus, she sees something uplifting and energizing. Ann also said coming to campus for the first time was daunting because she did not know what to expect from some aspects of campus, like parking.
“The first time I was ever on campus I was going to the president’s office and I didn’t know how to turn into the parking lot,” she said. “And you realize that Monroe is actually a street as far as the police are concerned, but as far as the students are concerned it’s a mall, it’s their mall, they are walking on it.”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, being the First Cowgirl means Ann is constantly busy and never has two days the same.
“That’s the exciting part of it because where else can you go from a rodeo to an opera, to a debate, to a game all in the same day?” Ann said.
She keeps a demanding schedule, yet said during the pandemic she went from attending multiple events a day to virtual meetings, spending most of those in yoga pants.
Even though working during a pandemic is difficult, Ann said the toughest times she experienced during her years as First Cowgirl were when tragedies struck, like the plane crash in 2011 and the Homecoming parade tragedy in 2015; events that come with no level of preparation.
Still, through these hardships Ann saw the entire OSU community fuse together.
Ann said actions like this are what reflect the family atmosphere and nature of the university.
Winding down in the pandemic has allowed Ann to start transitioning to the next step in life and prepare for what her days will look like when Burns is no longer the university’s president. Even then, Ann said she will always wear orange and be active in OSU life because of her love of the students and the university.
“It’s been a kick,” Ann said.