Dr. Willa Combs
The late Willa Ryan was born August 11, 1925, in Oklahoma City to William and Lala Ryan. After graduating with honors from Dunbar High School in Shawnee, Willa enrolled at Langston University. She graduated from Langston in 1947 with a bachelor of science degree in vocational Home Economics. That same year, she married Sylvester L. Combs.
Willa later earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from Oklahoma State University. She also did postdoctoral study at Colorado State University and Texas Tech University.
She taught high school vocational Home Economics and other courses at Vinita, Chandler, and Slick. In 1960, Willa became associate professor of Home Economics and head of the Housing and Home Management department at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Six years later she returned to Oklahoma as OSU’s state extension specialist for Human Resource Development. In 1976, she was named professor and chair of the Department of Home Economics and Agricultural Research at Langston University. She remained there until her retirement in 1982.
Willa was the first of two black teachers to teach in an integrated high school in Oklahoma following the 1954 Supreme Court decision declaring separate educational facilities inherently unequal. She was the second black extension home economist to serve as a state extension specialist.
In 1978, she was named to Who’s Who in America, and in both 1976 and 1980, was named to Who’s Who Among Black Americans. Also in 1978, Willa was selected as the Woman of the Year for the Stillwater Branch of the American Association of University Women. She also earned the honor of Outstanding Educator of the Year and was listed in the 1970 edition of “Two Thousand Women of Achievement.” In 1986, she served as chair of the board of directors for the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Dr. Combs was inducted to the CareerTech Hall of Fame in 1997.