[IMAGE]OU-1.jpg[/IMAGE]In February, University of Oklahoma's (OU) Parking and Transportation Services Director Theta Dempsey retired from her post following a 26-year career that saw the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (CART) system continuously grow.
"When I came to the university in 1983, CART was an on-campus park-and-ride only fully funded and operated by Parking Services," Dempsey said. "The only vehicles were five surplus school buses, which were purchased in 1980 and painted white."
When she began, OU's goal was to reduce parking demand on campus, Dempsey explained. In 1986, the University partnered with Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority in Oklahoma City to become a sub-recipient of federal funds. With that partnership came four new transit coaches and four replica trolleys. Four off-campus routes were established to serve high occupancy residential areas, shopping and medical facilities.
Since then, four additional routes have been added, including a commuter route to Oklahoma City.
Going from campus buses to transit agency provider, CART now provides more than one million rides annually.
To honor her successes and the growth she helped foster, OU President David L. Boren surprised Dempsey at her retirement ceremony by announcing that the University has named its Transportation Center building in her honor.
"I am truly overwhelmed," Dempsey said. "I have had the chance to work with some of the best people during my career."
During her tenure, Dempsey advocated for, and achieved, an extensive alternative fuels initiative at the university. As a result, the recently constructed OU Transportation Operations Center is the culmination of her efforts, featuring vastly cleaner energy options, enhanced operational efficiency and a state-of-the-art maintenance facility.
"Bringing CART into the 21st century in terms of facilities, technology and vehicles are my greatest accomplishments," said Dempsey. Seeing how those things impact our staff and our riders are the most satisfying [accomplishments]."
Proving how much of a staple she was on campus, Dempsey's legacy will further be honored by Crossroads, — a campus restaurant — which announced that the Theta Dempsey Grilled Cheese Sandwich will become a permanent menu item.
Dempsey also received honors from Gov. Brad Henry, the OU Board of Regents and the City of Norman.
As for her successor, Dempsey said that their biggest challenge will be to grow funding to be able to continue to improve the agency.
"In 2007, CART, in conjunction with the City of Norman, developed a long range plan," said Dempsey. "It is a blueprint for the future. Some elements of that plan have been implemented but the majority of the plan awaits funding."
The building recognition will be made official at the March OU Board of Regents meeting.