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The Lasting Contributions of Paul B. Odom, Jr.

justin brotton - Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Upon returning home to Oklahoma City after serving in the United States Army during the Korean War, Paul B. Odom Jr. began a dynamic and successful career as a builder, commercial and residential land developer, property manager, civic leader and aviator. For these many years, Odom has played an important role in the development of central Oklahoma, and perhaps most prominently, of south Oklahoma City. Odom isn’t the type to talk about his many accomplishments over the years, so we at Distinctly Oklahoma magazine are happy to brag a little on his behalf. As it turns out, there is a lot more to Odom than just business.



By David Althouse

Spend any amount of time with Paul B. Odom Jr. and you soon discover he prefers talking about Oklahoma and its people over business anytime. You also realize that his long and successful career in business was less about making money and more about living in the state he loves, and working with the people he enjoys most.

Upon meeting Odom, I tried steering the conversation to some of his well-known business successes in south Oklahoma City – residential communities like Chatenay, Rivendell, Talavera and Rockport; commercial properties such as 240 Penn Park, Rivendell Southeast, Rivendell Northeast, Greystone Square, Odom/Alexander and Rosebrook; and shopping centers such as Chatenay Square and Palagio Shops.

Instead, Odom directs me to an old map on his office wall and points out a ghost town just south of the Canadian River where the old Chisholm Trail crossed.

“See right there?” Odom asks. “That’s Silver City. Town had a hotel, a school and a college right near the river where the cattle crossed. The rising river brought an end to the town. See that spot right there? That’s where the Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Stores farm is today, just a little west of where the old frontier town was located. I live in nearby Newcastle. Got an airstrip out there – almost 5,000 feet.”

That’s when I discovered Odom possesses a passion for aviation as well as Oklahoma history.

“Oh yes, I love to fly! I use to fly David Boren around the state,” Odom explains. “Flew him down to southeast Oklahoma one time. Explained to him how we needed an airstrip down that way because so many people enjoy visiting there. Went over to Spiro and they gave us a tour of the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center. Had a great time!”

Another office wall features Odom’s spectacular photography – stunning representations of such iconic American landmarks as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.

I’m getting a better picture of the man. Here we have a businessman, an Oklahoma history buff, an aviator and, now I find, an accomplished photographer. Odom is a man of varied pursuits and interests, just the kind of creative, dynamic and productive individual that makes great things happen and from whom we all gain inspiration.

The building and development work of Odom and his family helps sustain the continued infusion of literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the Oklahoma economy. While Odom is proud of this contribution, he speaks of it with humility.

“In today’s world, we often hear people say ‘I’ve done’ or ‘he’s done,’ but individuals don’t really accomplish a great deal without a lot of help from a lot of people,” Odom says, “and that has happened with our story.”

Odom believes in the power of people and the contributions they bring to the community. Once per month, Odom holds a luncheon that is attended by business and community leaders from a variety of backgrounds, people he genuinely counts as friends. Staying in contact with people and making new friends on a regular basis is just another way Odom stays engaged and interested.

“We’ll meet, and everyone will tell us how they are doing in business,” Odom says. “All kinds of people attend – doctors, lawyers, bankers, politicos – and we sit around the table and there is no agenda, just friends staying in contact and keeping abreast of what’s going on. With people, you really get the real stories.”

Pretty soon, it becomes apparent Odom cherishes the great people and the great stories over the great business deals.

No sooner had we begun scratching the surface of business-related topics when the conversation steered itself back to matters of greater interest to the successful builder and developer. We discuss flying, great barbeque restaurants in southern Oklahoma, and the history of the Atoka Pipeline, the 72-inch pipe through which water is transported from southeast to central Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma City bought the water rights to Lake Atoka,” Odom explains. “Then Oklahoma City sells water to cities like Moore, Newcastle and Mustang, communities that wouldn’t be in existence if we did not have the water. Water will be the secret to the growth of the Oklahoma City area.”

Another appropriate title for Odom is ‘teacher.” Spend time with this dynamic Oklahoman and you will most certainly learn new things about our state.

Along the way, I learn about Odom’s role in helping keep Oklahoma City’s I-240 a free thoroughfare instead of the toll road originally intended by those who suggested its creation. Later, when plans to upgrade the thoroughfare were underway, it was Odom who successfully lobbied for the current “Texas Turnarounds,” or “Loop-arounds,” allowing vehicles traveling on one side of the one-way frontage roads to U-turn onto the opposite frontage roads.


One can only imagine how a toll road would have stifled economic growth in south Oklahoma City, and how an I-240 without its current turnarounds would inconvenience drivers and hamper business along the passage.


Odom has made his voice heard for the good, and offered his time and expertise on behalf of countless community organizations.

So, it turns out that yet another facet of the great Oklahoma businessman is his civic involvement born from his love for Oklahoma and its people, a participation that seeks to positively affect the community in a lasting way.

Odom wants the results of his work and involvement to last. That attitude comes down to him from his father.

“My dad was originally in the oilfield business, and that branched into the construction business,” Odom explains. “When he got into construction, he first started building bridges. Then he started building homes. Ironically, he built those homes the way you build a bridge … to last! I can take you right now to homes that he built.

“It’s amazing about the history of the family. Dad started all of this, and 99.9 percent of what he started still exists, and we as a family continue with what we start. It provides shelter and it provides a tax base.”

After decades of building and developing in Oklahoma, with a long line of achievements to his name, Odom says he is most proud of his family.

“They are major contributors to the society they live in,” Odom says with a proud smile. “They’re Christian people who have paid their dues and are still paying their dues. Most developers don’t last too long. They get so big that they’re beyond their own ability to manage. Our secret comes from my father. We’ve adopted his philosophy and values of working in the best interests of the community and placing value on people.”

Odom tells a great story about how helping others reaped for him a reward ten-fold.

“Some 40 years ago, I was flying a burn victim down to Galveston,” Odom recalls. “There was a beautiful nurse on board helping with the young patient. That beautiful lady, Mary, became my wife, and the mother of my son.”

Odom impresses with his passion. He discusses land development, construction, property management, Oklahoma history, aviation, civic involvement and giving to the community with youthful zeal. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that Odom’s contagious enthusiasm has contributed greatly to his success in changing Oklahoma for the better.

Quite literally, Odom has won friends and influenced people, much to the benefit of Oklahoma and everyone involved.

We at Distinctly Oklahoma magazine thank him for his service.

Mr. Lankford Goes to Washington: Truth is BETTER Than Fiction

justin brotton - Thursday, October 01, 2015

By Keith Eaton

“It is agreed on all sides, that the powers properly belonging to one of the

departments ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of the

other departments. It is equally evident, that none of them ought to possess, directly

or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others, in the administration of their respective powers. 

It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and

that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.”

– Federalist Paper 48; James Madison

At 38, Sen. James Lankford is too young to remember the fictional Mr. Smith in the 1938 political satire “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” directed by Frank Capra and starring James (Jimmie) Stewart. But there is no dodging the irony of a young, straight-shooting, non-politician from a western state assuming the duties of a popular senator, and against all odds succeeding in impacting the culture of the most deliberative political body in the world, the U.S. Senate.

Senator Lankford had developed an impressive résumé of experience in his 38 years prior to winning a special senate election in 2014 to replace the retiring Tom Coburn. An undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, an M.S. in theology from Southwestern Baptist Seminary, director of the largest Christian youth camp in America, U.S. Representative from Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District for two consecutive terms (2010-2014), a successful 21-year marriage to Cindy, and father to their two daughters, Hannah and Jordan.

Lankford has enhanced his political résumé in the senate the hard way … through steady performance and service “not for himself, but for his constituents and his country,” consistent with his personal and political philosophy.

“Washington is a place where it’s quite easy to be busy with endless meetings, interviews and so-called business luncheons. You can appear to be engaged and yet not actually accomplish anything of significance for the people you represent. It’s a mode of operation I guard against every day we’re in session.” Lankford expounds.

The committee assignments afforded Senator Lankford are significant for a first-term senator, in keeping with his fast-track résumé of demonstrated ability, intellect and work ethic.

Appropriations, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Indian Affairs and the Select Committee on Intelligence places the senator front and center in the serious concerns of the American people and the debates about how, as a nation, we should proceed.

“Fiscal and budgetary problems cannot and will not be solved by omnibus budget reconciliation acts, not in one year alone. Our deficits have decreased in the last few years from a trillion dollars to about half that amount, but such profligate spending cannot continue, and massive tax increases are unsustainable, a recipe for economic stagnation or worse,” Lankford warns.

Senator Lankford is dedicated to the proposition that, while fully two-thirds of the nation’s spending is currently on auto-pilot, one-third is purely discretionary and can be downsized significantly by shutting down agencies, programs and duplicate activity, followed by block granting as many of the attendant dollars and responsibilities back to the states and closer to the intended beneficiaries of the associated activities.

“We have to get the American economy growing at four percent to overcome the jobs problem, balance our budget and reduce our public debt substantially. Only then can we afford to reform the cost structure of our education system and rescue the social safety net from bankruptcy. The anemic, jobless, two-percent growth promulgated by this administration will never accomplish these goals.”

Lankford’s government-solving philosophy espouses dividing problems into pieces, developing a long-range plan and demanding a daily dedication to carrying it out applied to another current hot-button issue before the public: immigration reform.

“As a person of faith, I believe every person has value, a purpose; and that applies to the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country today. But it’s equally important that we remain a nation of laws and have the means and ability to enforce those laws. That means the immigration issue has to be divided into pieces and digested by the populace one bite at a time. It would be impossible to perform a one-size-fits-all legislative solution after the Obamacare debacle … the American people will never be supportive of a mammoth incomprehensible, bureaucratic spider-web approach. It’s apparent that approach requires a new president,” Lankford declares.

Lankford is particularly concerned with the balance of power between the three separate branches of the federal government that has sustained the republic for over 200 years. And although history reveals the attempt over time by each branch to assert itself into policy formulation, legal interpretation, law-making and intermittent attempts by each to invade the arenas of legitimate function of another branch, the last decade has seen particularly aggressive action by the executive and judicial branches through regulation, executive orders, activism and strained interpretation of statutes. So much so that the actions taken have become front and center issues in the 2016 election cycle.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent and impactful on ordinary citizens than the overregulation of the economy by the EPA, where the intrusion of the feds into lives of small business, farming, refining and manufacturing has resulted in huge cost increases to producers and consumers alike.

“We need desperately to have a president and administration that respects the balance of power, shows restraint in the use of executive orders, balance in the appointment of department heads, and curbs the appetites of bureaucrats to regulate the lives of the American citizenry. This can only happen with the election of a conservative Republican with a governing approach that promotes moderation, reconciliation, outreach, bipartisanship and respect of Congress. These characteristics have been absent under President Obama,” Lankford declares.

Lankford takes the long view of domestic policy and sees the breakdown of the traditional family as the source of many of our festering problems, whether the ongoing abortion debate with the current Planned Parenthood practices and the associated funding issues, illegal and legal immigration, healthcare reform, Social Security and Medicare sustainability, or the cost of college education.

“The leadership of the country is centered in the office of the president. If the president is a forceful promoter of bipartisan discussion, mediation, compromise, frequent and open communication, and uses the bully pulpit to bring the entire country to a unified plan of action, or as nearly as is reasonable, then the relationship between the people and their government is one of trust, satisfaction and adherence to the democratic process where change is desired. This is sorely lacking in the Obama administration,” laments the senator.

So for a state that for some time has boasted a congressional delegation of Republican conservatives, how does Lankford stack up when examining his actual voting record?

Voted YEA on HR 1314 authorizing fast-track action by the president on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and authorizing trade adjustment assistance for possibly displaced workers.

Voted YEA on SconRes11, the first senate approved federal budget document in seven years.

Voted YEA on HR 1191, a bill providing for the right of congress to examine the administration’s Iran Nuclear Proposal for 30 days and vote on approval or disapproval.

Voted YEA on HR 2048, the USA Freedom Act of 2015 banning the bulk collection of private citizen phone record meta-data.

Then there’s the second amendment support as measured by the National Rifle Association, which for Lankford is in the nineties (90 percent) or “A.”

Reader’s wishing to examine Lankford’s position and voting record in complete detail can reference the website http://votesmart.org/candidate/evaluations/124938/james-lankford#.VfDl_TZRGM8 .

One can easily conclude from these statistics that Senator Lankford is very much in the tradition of his predecessor Tom Coburn and the state’s senior senator, Jim Inhofe, all men of faith, conviction and dedicated constitutionalists.

Oklahomans are rightly pleased with our entire congressional delegation and particularly of Lankford, a junior senator in name only, rather Distinctively Oklahoman.

Business, Family and Philanthropy: A Love Story

justin brotton - Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Judy Love played a pivotal role in helping build Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores into a company currently ranked 13th on the Forbes List of America’s Largest Private Companies. For the first ten years of the company’s existence, Judy performed all bookkeeping duties for the company and stood side-by-side with husband Tom as the couple implemented a positive vision of growth for their business. Today, the company that Judy helped build is at the forefront of America’s convenience store and travel center industry.

Judy love of loves travel stopsBy David Althouse

Judy and Tom Love built Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores into a national business empire the old fashioned way: They owned a grand vision, started small, and worked tirelessly to turn dreams into reality.

Judy recalls those early days when the couple owned little more than a dream.

“We were young and Tom needed a job,” Love said. “We had two babies; Tom had left school, and we needed to do something. Tom went on a nine-month training program with Kerr McGee to learn how to run a service station. At that time, Kerr McGee had stations all over the place.”

Four months into the training program, Love explains, Tom decided he had learned all he needed to know about running service stations. He also learned something else.

“He wasn’t going to work for anyone,” Love said. “He was going to work for himself.”

On January 6, 1964, the couple opened a humble service station in an abandoned building located at 304 West C Street in Watonga. “Tom leased the building for $150 per month,” Love said.

Judy says putting food on the table for a growing family was a chief goal in those days, but the young couple owned a business vision for something far greater. That’s why they began looking for another abandoned building to use as their second service station immediately after opening their first.

“Standing still was never an option.” Love said.

The couple concentrated their attention on western Oklahoma towns located on state and U.S. highways. Their second station opened in Sayre in an abandoned station on Route 66. Using the same formula – finding abandoned buildings and using used equipment – the Loves’ plan for rapid expansion proceeded apace with new stations opening in Elk City, Minco, Kingfisher, Cordell and Clinton.

Ambitious expansion and innovation became the hallmark for Love’s success.

“Then Kerr McGee decided we could obviously handle the business, so they leased us three of their stations,” Love said. “Tom continued, and we just went and went and went. After so many years, he decided we needed to reinvent things a bit, and so we integrated self-service gas into the business; and then we started bringing in convenience stores.”

For the first ten years of the business, co-owner Judy performed the bookkeeping duties. Her accounting jobs included keeping the books, paying invoices and preparing profit and loss statements, all by hand in ledgers, a monumental feat when one considers the company’s rapid-fire pace of grand openings and overall business growth in those days.

The company that Judy helped start in 1964 has set many milestones since then. Today, Love’s has more than 350 locations in 40 states, employs nearly 14,000 people across the country, 1,200 of which work in corporate offices in Oklahoma City. The company currently operates three hotels – Microtels in Pecos and Sweetwater, Texas and a Sleep Inn in Mossy Head, Florida. More hotels are expected to open before the end of this year, and more are planned for openings in 2016.

Always looking to better serve customers through innovations in business, Love’s opened Love’s Truck Tire Care in 2008 to offer tire care and roadside assistance, ensuring that trucks stay up and running. Love’s currently operates 222 truck tire care centers at travel stops in 35 states, with plans to have 237 such centers open by the end of 2015.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is currently ranked 13th on the Forbes List of America’s Largest Private Companies with $22.6 billion in revenue, and is the fastest growing chain of fueling stations in the nation.

When it comes to philanthropic work, Love is among the first to lead the pack and assume responsibility. Further, her work in the corporate world has endowed her with the necessary business acumen to raise money for worthwhile causes. She takes pride in successfully raising money for charitable causes while also saving money in the process.

“All the money saved in fundraising efforts goes toward the cause,” Love said.

One of her most fulfilling philanthropic accomplishments, Love says, is helping to raise money for the Catholic Charities Building in Oklahoma City. Catholic Charities launched the Crossbeams Capital Campaign in February 2014 with a goal of raising $9.5 million toward that project.

Catholic Charities serves thousands of people at offices throughout western Oklahoma as part of the Oklahoma City Catholic Archdiocese. Recipients of that help range from homeless women to victims of natural disasters.

“Bob Ross, president of the Inasmuch Foundation, and I chaired that effort, and we raised approximately $11 million in eight or nine months,” Love said. “It was phenomenal, and one of the things of which I feel most proud when it comes to charitable initiatives.”

Her enthusiasm, motivation and generosity have left a trail of philanthropic success across Oklahoma City and central Oklahoma. Love has either chaired or co-chaired major fundraising events for such organizations as March of Dimes, St. Anthony Hospital, Symphony Showhouse, Susan Komen Race for the Cure, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School Building Fund and St. Anthony Foundation’s Building Fund.

Love currently serves on the boards of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, St. Anthony’s Foundation, Allied Arts, United Way and Mercy Hospital.

“I feel like I should be involved in the community,” Love said. “I can do it, I like doing it, and I am good at doing it. I’ve been given so much, and I feel like I need to give back.”

Currently, Love is a co-chair, along with former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Turpen, for the 2015 United Way of Central Oklahoma campaign.

Love’s many honors include induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame; the Distinguished Woman Award from Oklahoma City University; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Fame; the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Central Oklahoma; and the Governor’s Arts Award from the Oklahoma Arts Council.

In 2014, Judy, along with husband Tom, received the Gold Medal Award by His Holiness the Pope, the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity.

Love’s most recent accolade came this year when she was named seventh on the list of America’s Most Successful, Self-Made Women by Forbes Magazine.

While Love expresses pride in all her business and philanthropic successes, she especially lights up when discussing the involvement of the growing Love family in the family business.

“I find it most satisfying that three of our four children are actively working in the company – two sons and one daughter,” Love said. “And last fall, our grandson, Thomas Love, started working for us. He’s interested in the business, and that’s what Tom wants.

“Our children have done a great job, and our employees have done a great job; but none of this would have happened without Tom’s drive.”

Judy Love sets the standard for hard work and leadership in both business and philanthropy, and also for steadfast commitment to both family and community; and she proves that author Louis L'Amour was right when he wrote, “… it’s not streets and buildings that make a town, but men and women.”

For a fascinating look at Judy and Tom Love, and the business they built from the ground up into a nationally-recognized business empire, read “Love's: Fifty Years of a Family Enterprise,” by Oklahoma author Dr. Bob L. Blackburn, available from Amazon.

JOHNNY BENCH: Native Son, Sports Legend

justin brotton - Saturday, August 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

Johnny BenchGrowing up in the small town of Binger, Oklahoma in the 1950s, it’s little wonder that Johnny Lee Bench didn't immediately imagine that one day he might grow up to play in professional baseball's Major Leagues. After all, it seemed that most of the star players with whom fans were familiar were from major cities, on the coast and/or in the relative gravity of a Major League market.

However, not all of baseball's greats of the era hailed from major markets where kids grew up in the stands of their favorite teams. That realization, support from his dad, and the ethics and philosophy forged coming up in baseball in rural Oklahoma, turned out to be enough to help a small-town boy born in Oklahoma City in 1947 into one of the legends of the sport of baseball and the greatest professional catcher of the 20th century.

"When I saw Mickey Mantle playing on TV when I was 3 years old and they announced ‘Mickey Mantle, the switch-hitting superstar for the New York Yankees,’ I said, 'Dad, you can be from Oklahoma and play in the major leagues? That’s what I want to be!’” Bench said.

Still, it seemed like a far-flung plan. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would say, "a Major League baseball player," and teachers and classmates would just smile.

At home, though, Bench's dream was encouraged in a close-knit family environment that included his father, a truck driver and one-time semiprofessional baseball player; homemaker mother, two older brothers and a younger sister. His father particularly encouraged the young Bench, and for years financially supported and coached Binger's Little League team. It wasn't always easy to put a team together when then-6-year-old Bench’s local team was organized. Bench and friends would pile into the back of a pickup truck driven by the senior Bench through the neighborhood recruiting kids.

“You never knew who would be able to play,” Bench recalls.

If they lost a game, Bench's father would fondly say, “We’ll get them next time; let’s go get a cheeseburger.” His dad taught Bench that you don’t always win, but you never quit. "At the end of that year, we beat a team that actually cried, and I asked, 'Dad, what’s wrong with them?' and he said, 'They haven’t learned to lose yet, son.’”

"I learned very quickly that discipline was very important. My father taught me discipline, but he gave me a chance, at the time I was 3 years old, to play."

Bench's dad gave him other advice that turned out to be most fortuitous. When Bench told his father he wanted to play Major League baseball, the senior Bench said “Well, catching is the quickest way to the Major Leagues, and what the major leagues need.”

Johnny, though, didn't want to catch – he played and he pitched. On pitching, Bench has said, "I just didn’t think it was right for anybody to get you out, or for anybody to get a base hit off of you when you pitched. I just thought that there’s nothing like winning. It’s the only thing, and you accept losing, but, at the same point, there’s only one thing in life, and that’s winning, if you’re going to really play."

Character and fair play were cornerstones of Bench's upbringing in baseball. Bench has praised, "learning right from wrong in Binger, Oklahoma; learning that it was meant to be fun, but anytime you accept the responsibility, you do the very best that you can."

Baseball was celebrated in the Bench household. Johnny's father's dreams were put aside during World War II, when he elected to serve his country in the military. When Johnny and his father watched baseball on TV, Bench recalls his dad shouting, “I could have hit that ball!” Many years later, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson struck Bench out, he returned to the dugout with a big grin on his face.

As Bench has described it, "Mom and dad had come up to the game, and I strike out the second time, and I strike out the third time, and I’m walking back to the dugout. I get right to the on-deck circle, and then you have to go down three or four steps, and I started to smile. Dave Bristol, who was the manager – he’s like Sergeant Carter, he’s 24/7 nothing but baseball – and he looks at me and says, 'What the hell’s so funny?’ and I said, 'I was just thinking. I don’t think dad can hit this guy. Dad’s good, but I don’t think he can hit this guy. I’m pretty good myself, and I couldn’t.'”

Early encouragement and experience helped propel Johnny Bench to athletic success in school. He played both baseball and basketball in high school, and for a time actually preferred basketball. He was gifted with large hands, able to palm a basketball or hold several baseballs in one hand; as a teen, hefting 100-pound bags of peanuts onto trucks built up his muscles without needing a weight room. Although he was known as a hard-throwing pitcher at the time, he also took his father's advice and learned the catcher position.

"When I wasn't playing, I was watching games – just eating, living and breathing sports," Bench recalled in his autobiography, Catch You Later.

At age 15, Bench was competing against boys several years older in American Legion baseball. That level of competition was one of the reasons Bench would credit years later for his success.

"It was the drive every day to play because I didn’t want to fail anybody. I wanted … I thought I could be the best. I was always competing against older kids, no matter when. When I grew up in Binger, at age 9 I was playing with 11- and 12-year-olds. When I was 12, I was playing with 13- and 14-year-olds. When I was 14, I played American Legion baseball. So, I was always playing a little ahead of schedule against higher competition."

Finally, when he was 17 years old, Johnny Bench's dream began to take shape. He was offered college scholarships to play both basketball and baseball, and he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds organization. Bench played in the minor leagues in Tampa, Florida, and the following year played Class A ball in the Carolina League.

Johnny Bench was promoted to the big-league Reds in 1967, and after some minor injuries, played his official rookie season in 1968. He caught 154 games that year, setting a record for a rookie catcher, earning the first of his 10 Gold Glove awards, and winning the Rookie of the Year honor.

The years that followed were played out onstage for baseball and sports fans around the world to see, and is literally the stuff of legends.

Bench played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983, a cornerstone of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine," one of the most successful, charismatic and celebrated dynasties in sports history. Bench was a 14-time All-Star selection and a two-time National League Most Valuable Player for a team that won six division titles, four National League pennants and two World Series championships. Bench is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and ESPN has called him the greatest catcher in baseball history. In 1999, Bench ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

In 2001, a Johnny Bench statue was unveiled at then-Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark, and Bench, ever humble and gracious, shared his feelings about the value of growing up in Oklahoma.

"I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in this state and to, I guess, have this state support me as much as it has," Bench said. "It quite honestly gave me a day-to-day dedication and determination to play baseball and to do it in the right fashion, because I felt in 1966 the fear of failure and failing the people that believed in me from Binger, Oklahoma and Caddo County; and to be drafted by the Reds and have the opportunity to play for the Cincinnati Reds, one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball."

Bench also took the occasion to answer a question about the surprising number of Major Leaguers who emerged from Oklahoma, including Mantle, Fergy Jenkins and others.

"It’s the work ethic, first of all," Bench said. "We learned to work. I think we’re not afraid to work. We’re not afraid of heat. We’re not afraid of going out and going after something; and it’s not a fault to say I’ve got to get out of Oklahoma. It never was any of that. It was just the fact that I grew up working pulling cotton at 6 years old, and we’re talking chopping cotton, and chopping peanuts, and driving my dad’s gas truck when I was 15 years old. I wasn’t afraid of work, so when it came time to get off work, I wasn’t afraid to play hard either; so when I went to play hard, I’d go out and work hard."

Bench has kept busy in his post-Major League career. He's hosted television programs, golfed professionally part-time, and even starred in a Cincinnati stage production of the musical Damn Yankees, among other ventures individually and through Johnny Bench Enterprises. He's used his status as one of baseball's great celebrities and ambassadors to aid such worthy causes as the Heart Association, the American Cancer Society (as past National Chairman of Athletes vs. Cancer), the Kidney Foundation, Franciscan Sisters of Poor Health System, Autism Speaks, USA Cares, the American Lung Association, and the ‘Catch the Cure’ program of the Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati. He also supports the Cincinnati Symphony and the Museum of Science and Industry, in addition to the Johnny Bench Scholarship Fund, which provides funds for students to attend college in the Cincinnati area.

Oklahoma remains close to Bench's heart as well. At the recent Snow Ball Gala, he enthralled the audience. His parting words echo through the corridors of his personal travels.

“Always believe that you are better than the situation," Bench advised. "Happiness doesn’t come from others, it comes from within.” 

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