"It was something that was going to help them learn about their family, their history, their community and really to take pride in El Reno," said Rukes.
"What's the date on the back of there?" asked Madison Bollinger to her former classmate Everaro Solis.
The pair was some of the first students in Rukes' research project. Two years later, they sat down with News 9 to talk about their experience.
"History books can't tell you everything," said Bollinger.
The goal was exactly that: study the thousands of El Reno high school graduates that didn't make it into the books. Today, class pictures dating back to the 1800s hang in various halls of the high school.
Solis covered Lela Ankney. Two years ago, Ankney visited the high school. At that point, she was 103 years old.
"I got to talk to Lela about things in her life like how she lived through the actual great depression," said Solis.
Bollinger had several family members she studied, including her aunt and grandma.
"There were a lot of memories that were brought up when doing this," said Bollinger.
But the whole project changed in January 2018, when an article caught the attention of one of Rukes' students.
"He knew that it had his person's name in it, and I was like, 'Oh, that's really cool, but then it had the 37 other names,'" said Rukes.
They learned those names were the inspiration for the district's football field, Memorial Stadium. Originally, there were 38 men who served in World War II, who gave their lives in military service and, at one point, were students in El Reno.
"They never put a plaque on the stadium, and my initial thought was we have to do something with this," said Rukes.
Rukes' class shifted their focus and started studying the original 38.
During their research, the group found six others that fit the criteria. The list ended up growing from 38 to the final number, 44.
Now, 70 years later, the school has planned a special ceremony to rededicate the stadium.
On October 4, the district is expecting family members related to the 44 men, community members and current students to be in El Reno. A memorial will be unveiled, permanently marking the field and letting future El Reno residents know why the stadium bears the name Memorial Field.
"A big part of what we are doing is reaching out to the community," said Rukes.
The district is hoping current residents learn about the 44 and help the district celebrate their rededicated field.
"People truly matter, and these people's lives matter, and the sacrifices that they made were real. It's not just a name on a plaque or a memorial," said Rukes.
Here is the list of names of the 44 being honored on October 4 with the Memorial Stadium Rededication:
Austin Ables, Cpl, U.S. Army Air Forces
Hampton Allison, T/Sgt, U.S. Army
Everett Bell, MM2c, U.S. Navy
Donald Bolinger, Aviation Cadet, U.S. Army Air Forces
Eugene Bradly, Aviation Cadet, U.S. Army Air Forces
Wilson Burns / Davis, S2, U.S. Naval Reserve
Roy Burton, SM3c, U.S. Navy
George William Crume, S/Sgt, U.S. Army
Earl Crump, NAM2, U.S. Navy
Rene Duffield, Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Wilburn Dyche, Cpl, U.S. Marine Corps
Arthur Eichor, M/Sgt, U.S. Army
Jack Evans, 2nd Lt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Roby Ferguson, MM1c, U.S. Merchant Marines
Leonard L. Flagler, T/Sgt, U.S. Army
B. Flippen, CM1c, U.S. Merchant Marines
Vernon Frazier, F1, U.S. Navy
DeLana “Gus” Funk, Capt, U.S. Army
Alfred Hinds, T/Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Olsen Hodges, ENS, U.S. Navy Reserve
W. “Rookie” Jacks, Tec 4, U.S. Army
Gordon Jackson, S/Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Clark “Sonny” Kegelman, Col, U.S. Army Air Forces
Roberts “Billy” Laird, SM1c, U.S. Navy
Leon Lucus, 1st Lt, U.S. Army
Richard Matthews, 1st Lt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Wilfred Miller, Pfc, U.S. Army
Arthur Miller, 1st Lt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Edgar Monday, Jr., ARM1, U.S. Navy
Howard Morgan, Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Forrest Moseley, Sgt, U.S. Army
J. Moss, S/Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Robert Eugene Mowry, Cpl, U.S. Army
Arthur Pearce, Jr., T/Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Dunfee “Jack” Ridenour, S1, U.S. Coast Guard
Thomas Rider, HA1, U.S. Navy
Dale Rukes, S/Sgt, U.S. Army Air Forces
Hendrix “Buddy” Smith, Jr., 2nd Lt., U.S. Army Air Forces
Allen Stewart, Pfc, U.S. Army
Leigh Taylor, 1st Lt, U.S. Army Air Forces
King Townsend, Lt, U.S. Naval Reserve
Edward Whitlock, Asst. Cook, U.S. Merchant Marines
Lee Wilson, WT1, U.S. Navy
Don Wright, SC, U.S. Navy