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Oklahoma's Adopted Son: Damon Lane and Oklahoma Enjoy a Mutual Love Affair

justin brotton - Sunday, March 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

It isn't that KOCO 5 Chief Meteorologist Damon Lane didn't know that the friendly bedroom community of Moore, Oklahoma had a tragic history with tornados. On the contrary, the acclaimed weather expert and uncanny prognosticator was well aware of the town's history, even years ago while still in his native Virginia.

"Moore has been hit many times," Lane said. "The first time it was hit hard was May 3, 1999. I was back in Virginia at the time, and only knew Moore from the news reports. When I moved here, my realtor said that, for what I was looking for in a house, I should consider Moore. I thought to myself that an F-5 can't hit the same place twice."

Then, in 2013, came the tornado that devastated the small hamlet outside of Oklahoma City. When the storm struck, Lane wasn't in his home; instead, he was reporting on the storm as it happened. Meanwhile, his wife was home in Moore, having hurried home on Lane's recommendation.

"We had just gotten married, and my wife didn't have a key to the house yet," he said. "She had been going in and out of the garage door. Well, she just got home on time that day, because the power went off as soon as she walked in, and if she had not already gotten inside, she would have been stuck in the garage."

Instead of being exposed in the garage, Lane's wife, Melissa, made it into the family's tornado shelter even as the house was damaged and community was ravaged. Meanwhile, Lane continued on the air, bringing images that by now are indelibly carved in the memories of many Oklahomans.

"A lot of it was a blur," Lane recalls. "At first I didn't look at Moore getting hit differently than any other town. I had a job to do. I knew my wife was safe in the shelter, so I felt okay about that. The whole thing didn't hit me until I was driving home. Driving through town, I saw whole neighborhoods I had never noticed before because they had been tucked behind buildings that weren't there anymore. That's really when it hit me."

The enormity of what happened struck Lane again a year later when making a presentation at Ohio State University. As he showed participants images from the tornado of 2013, he felt his heart beating rapidly.

"I don't think I had really thought about it like that until then," he said.

Neither the storm nor the nexus of Lane's personal and professional lives diminished his enthusiasm for his adopted hometown.

"The house was hit hard, but I love my hometown, and I was not going to let a tornado ruin that."

If Lane has developed a strong bond with Moore, Greater Oklahoma City and the entire state, Oklahoma has also embraced the sincere meteorologist. Lane and the KOCO 5 First ALERT Weather team are certified as delivering the most accurate forecast in Oklahoma City by WeatheRate, an independent scientific organization that measures accuracy in weather forecasts across the country. Key components might be Lane's uncanny accuracy, finely honed instincts and distinct credentials. Lane is the only Chief Meteorologist in Oklahoma City who holds a degree in Atmospheric Sciences/Meteorology. He is also the only Chief Meteorologist in Oklahoma City to hold the CBM seal of approval from The American Meteorological Society, the highest-level certification from the nation’s top association for broadcast meteorologists.

Still, Lane said accuracy is as much art and instinct as it is science.

"A lot of the things you learn in school break down and don't work out here," Lane said. "I learned that years ago. For the first year I was out here, I decided I would just observe patterns and then apply what I learned from that in the future. That truly helped, and now I can look at patterns and trends and almost be certain. There is no 100 percent accuracy, but I have learned pretty well what to look for. The big storms that roll in are fairly easy to predict. However, the smaller ones that just pop up and can become very dangerous seemingly out of nowhere – those are more difficult. The weather here is much different than it was back East."

Lane was born and raised in Northern Virginia. He was drawn to science and weather from a young age, and holds two Bachelor of Science degrees. After graduating in less than four years in Communications/Mass Media from Old Dominion University, Lane moved to Asheville, N.C., and earned his second Bachelor of Science degree in Atmospheric Sciences/Meteorology from The University of North Carolina at Asheville. Previously, Lane served as Chief Meteorologist at KTXS-TV in Abilene, Texas, forecasting severe weather on the southern edge of “Tornado Alley.” While there, he was named “Abilene’s Favorite Meteorologist” three years in a row.

Although it was the science of weather that appealed to Lane as opposed to the broadcasting component, he has nevertheless adapted to the particular role that meteorologists often play in Oklahoma culture.

"People say meteorologists are rock stars here," Lane said. "Since the Thunder came to Oklahoma City, if you are a Thunder player or a meteorologist, people know you wherever you go!

"I know it is part of the job," Lane continued. "I love broadcast meteorology. I love putting a story together, and I love talking. To me, it is very gratifying when someone stops me and wants to tell me their story. It's part of the story. You have to listen, and I enjoy it. You have to have a heart. Whenever we have interns come in, I tell them that 70 percent of the job is behind the scenes. It really takes a lot of heart. You are in people's homes every night. You're the person telling people that there is a storm about to hit their neighborhood. People develop relationships with you through their TVs. So, when they see you, they feel they know you even if you don't know them at all. You get used to it. You have to always be prepared to talk, to listen and to be there. In this part of the country, that means a lot. On the East coast, people just want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, and often they keep their heads down along the way. Here, the pace is slower, which is nice. People stop and want to talk. It's part of the culture."

Still, being beamed into people's homes with critical information is a tremendous responsibility, even if broadcast meteorology is changing with the advent of technology.

"The industry is changing, basically because of cell phones," Lane said. "It is not so much forecasting now as 'impact forecasting.' Just a weather forecast from your phone might give you basic details, but it does not tell you how to handle the weather situation. Now, we give more advice on the severity of weather, preparing for it, etc."

It isn't always the big picture responsibility that can weigh on a meteorologist.

"Last year was pretty quiet in terms of weather," Lane said. "But one Tuesday afternoon, I got an email from a woman who was getting married on Saturday. The wedding was supposed to be outside, so she wanted to check the forecast certainty. That was the most stressful forecast I gave all year. It was complicated, so I asked her to call me."

Lane said that on that Thursday, he called the woman and advised her that Saturday's rain would probably be clearing just about the time the wedding would be starting. The happy couple opted for indoors and, sure enough, the rain stopped just when Lane had suggested it would: disaster averted.

"That was stressful, being responsible for someone's big day," Lane said.

When he first arrived in Oklahoma City, Lane did not know how long he would be in the state.

"When I came here in 2009, I was doing weekend morning weather, and was the fifth person on the team," he said. "I had no idea how long I would be in Oklahoma City, but a position opened up ahead of me and I moved up."

Lane and Oklahoma appear a good match. He and Melissa love to hike in the summer and snow ski in the winter, as well as travel. Lane also loves aviation, which he once pondered as a career, and one day might get back to training as a pilot in one of the nation's great private aviation states.

Today, Lane is firmly rooted in Oklahoma. In early February, the couple welcomed their first child into the family, which already includes two rescued dogs.

"Now that I am Chief Meteorologist, I love it here," Lane said. "I'd love to build on my career and retire here. I never want to be in a Los Angeles or a San Francisco or some place like that. This is the weather center of the country. For a meteorologist, there is no better place to be."



Tornado Preparation Tips

The City of Oklahoma City provides a handy tornado Q&A, basic facts and advice online at its website, www.okc.gov.

Key tips for preparing a household for tornado season include:

* If you have a tornado shelter, make sure to register it with the city.

* Have regular tornado drills with the entire household. Designate an area in your home as a shelter, and have your family regularly practice going there as if there were a tornado. Make sure your family knows the difference between a "tornado watch" and a "tornado warning."

* Have emergency items always on hand. These should include: flashlight and extra batteries, portable battery powered radio with extra batteries, first aid kit and manual, emergency food and water, non-electric can opener, essential medicines, cash and credit cards, sturdy shoes, keys to all vehicles, personal identification, and a camera with multiple rolls of film for documenting damage.

* Develop an emergency communications plan. Have a plan for getting back together in case family members are separated from one another during a tornado. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to act as the family contact. After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.

During the storm:

* If you are at home, go to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building. If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a small inner room WITHOUT WINDOWS, such as a bathroom or closet. Get away from windows. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris. Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table and hold on to it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

* If you are at work or school, go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level. Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls. Get under a piece of furniture such as a heavy table or desk and hold on to it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

* If you are outdoors, if possible, go inside a building. If shelter is not available or there is no time to go indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

* If you are in a car, get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building. Never try to outdrive a tornado. Tornadoes can change direction quickly, and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air. If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not take cover under a bridge!

* If you are in a mobile home, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

JANET PEERY: LEADING THE YWCA'S CHARGE AGAINST DOMESTIC ABUSE

justin brotton - Sunday, February 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

 

A funny thing happened to Janet Peery en route to completing a temporary project for the YWCA Oklahoma City, although "life altering" might be a more apt description.

"I was recruited to come in and help [the YWCA] for two days a week, six hours a day, for one month to help with their database," Peery said. "I had a background in development and fundraising, and was asked to stay on and help write grants. Along the way, I learned more about the YWCA and what it does, and about domestic violence and the YWCA's commitment to addressing this very important issue – they were opening a shelter at the time."

That was 18 years ago, and Peery has been in administration at the estimable Oklahoma City YWCA ever since, these days as its CEO.

"That wasn't my goal when I went to work there, not at all, and I had no interest in going back to work fulltime," said Peery. “However, the more I learned, the more passionate I became about the issue of domestic violence and the need to address it. I learned so much that it became an overwhelming passion."

Peery had a background in fundraising and experience also in the insurance industry. Even those fields were very different from what Peery had visualized as a youngster.

"I grew up thinking I wanted to be a third grade teacher, ever since I was in the third grade. I was an English major in college and really thought I would end up teaching. Then I did my student [class] observation, and decided that was not what I wanted to do."

After a brief detour for child rearing, the Virginia native went back to school for her business degree just as her children were headed to college. She'd always intended to get her master's degree as well, but destiny intervened with the call from the YWCA.

"It's just one of those things," said Peery, today one of the foremost figures in Oklahoma leading the charge against domestic violence.

Like many, Peery didn't necessarily know the full scope of the YWCA's mission and programming.

"Many people still think there is a connection with the YMCA (the Young Men's Christian Association), but there is no connection and never has been," Peery said. "As a result, many people don't know that we don't do sports or have a pool. We did those things many years ago, when there weren't a lot of others providing those things to young women. Today they are more common, and our focus is very much elsewhere."

That focus is what Peery would most like women – and men – in the region to know. While the national mission of the YWCA is to advocate for racial justice and to help economically empower women, each individual Association can choose additional mission components. In Oklahoma City, that meant programming to help address the scourge of domestic violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault.

And a scourge it is. According to Safe Horizon, the largest organization helping victims of crime and abuse in the United States, one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. More than three million children witness domestic violence in their home each year. Furthermore, the majority of those who commit acts of domestic violence experienced it themselves as children, creating a sad cycle of lost innocence, opportunity and lives.

In Oklahoma, the statistics are even more alarming. According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, 18,686 adults and children sought help from Oklahoma’s 30 certified domestic

violence programs in 2009, 72 percent of whom were women. In 61 percent of domestic violence homicide cases, someone else knew of ongoing domestic violence prior to the homicide, most often family members. Oklahoma is ranked 17th in the nation for number of females murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents (based on 2010 data). Additional Oklahoma data paints a portrait of a complicated problem, with issues such as drugs and alcohol, mental illness and even unemployment statistically impacting on occurrences of domestic violence.

Peery points out the impact on Oklahoma City, and the prevalence of the problem. "In 2012, 36,000 9-1-1 calls were tagged as domestic, probably 6,000 seen as potentially dangerous were passed on to detectives, costing the Oklahoma City Police Department $8.5 million.

"There are huge economic and social tolls as a result of domestic violence – police costs, courts, jails, etc., in addition to the cost to society," Peery continued. "When you look at so many of society's ails – teen pregnancy, child abuse, substance abuse, incarceration rates – domestic abuse is the basis for all of these problems. Sixty-five to 70 percent of these homes will have children being abused."

Also a contributing factor to the insidious nature of domestic violence is how the public perceives it.

"We want the community to understand that one can't just say 'it's a personal matter.' It is a crime. Would anyone ignore it or think of it as a personal matter if it was taking place in the middle of the street?"

A complex problem requires a comprehensive solution, and Peery said the YWCA is forging ahead with a host of programs, partnerships and initiatives designed to address domestic abuse on many levels.

"We offer full, wrap-around services," Peery said.

The YWCA's main campus is an emergency shelter, currently with a 55-person capacity; a new shelter is in the works, which will increase that capacity to 120. Having that safe space and access to numerous services is integral to the YWCA's agenda.

"When people come to the shelter, they might only have the clothes on their backs, because they had to escape at just the right moment," Peery said. "One of the most dangerous times is when victims try to leave or when their [partner] thinks they might be trying to leave."

Once secure, numerous resources are available to victims. The same services are available to residential clients and non-residential clients. Services are available to both women and men, although there is no residential component for men. Among immediate services in-house are peer groups and access to licensed counselors specially trained in sexual assault, domestic abuse and stalking. Additionally, the YWCA provides or connects victims to providers of comprehensive practical, legal and other support.

The YWCA also reaches into the community in a number of ways with a helping hand and raising the profile of an issue that Peery strongly believes needs greater exposure.

"We work in schools teaching youth about healthy relationships," Peery said.

Part of a network of special responders in Oklahoma County, Peery said the YWCA sends trained examiners and advocates to support sexual assault victims. Coordinating numerous agencies, law enforcement and social service is no easy task countywide, yet the successful network program is one of the high profile achievements of the YWCA and Peery. It took three years to build support for the program, develop the operations and protocols necessary for so many agencies to work cooperatively, and efficiently provide aid to victims. A steering committee representing numerous fields and institutions meets regularly to support and guide the initiative.

Assistance provided by a rotating hospital presence also helps "protect people from the system designed to help them," Peery said.

In addition to opening a new shelter and consistently addressing the need for greater awareness of domestic abuse, Peery also has on her agenda the launch of a group of businessmen committed to communicating a message Peery emphasizes.

"Domestic abuse is not a women's issue – it's society's issue. There are great businesswomen and businessmen in Oklahoma City. This is a way to get men together to discuss things such as what the community can do, what individual businesses can do, etc."

Peery strives toward the goals of the YWCA on a $3.7 million annual budget, with funding from the United Way, a service contract with the State of Oklahoma, grants and fundraising. Admirably, only 17-19 percent of that budget is spent on administration, with the rest going directly into services.

"We need to increase our fundraising and we need volunteers," Peery said. "We've begun planting the seeds for that."

The passionate CEO and advocate might not have known what she was in for almost two decades ago when she showed up at the YWCA to help with a database, but it was a life changing moment.

"My husband would tell someone that it had a huge impact on my life," Peery said. "At one point I was debating going to an international conference in Kenya. I wasn't sure I would go, but I thought it might be a life changing experience. He told me he wasn't sure he was ready for another life changing experience with me and the YWCA."

It is the work of the YWCA in her time onboard that prompts Peery's sense of satisfaction.

"It's when you see the results of what you do," she said. "Ten years ago, no one was talking about this issue here. We used to send out representatives to meetings, and this issue wasn't even part of discussions. We're seeing awareness change and are getting the message out."

Peery well understands the way domestic violence's influence can permeate anyone's life. In 2011, her son, well-respected Oklahoma City Police Officer Chad Peery, was assaulted and left paralyzed; he died in 2013. Peery said the men who paralyzed her son had a history of domestic violence, and one was just out of incarceration when the incident occurred.

"I wonder … if society took domestic violence more seriously, maybe he would be alive today."

For information on how you can support the efforts of the Oklahoma City YWCA, or how you can access their services, visit www.ywcaokc.org.

The End of an Era: Landmark ‘Nonna's’ Set to Close Its Doors

justin brotton - Thursday, January 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

The way Avis Scaramucci sees it, the closing of her beloved iconic ‘Nonna's’ complex in Oklahoma City's burgeoning Bricktown district was a chance to cut down on her work hours.

"It's time to cut back my hours from 50-60 a week to a 35-40-hour-per-week schedule," said Avis, 68. "There are some other things I want to incorporate into my life, and being busy with the restaurant doesn't allow me the time I want for those things. At my age, which is not old in this day and age, you think about your years and what you have done with them. My parents always said that you work hard because you don't want to look back and not appreciate what you have done. I have done what I can do, and now, hopefully, I have done my job well in the hospitality industry. This allows me to spend time doing some other things. I consider myself very lucky, very fortunate."

Nonna's Euro-American Ristorante, bakery and handsome Purple Bar closed with a final service on New Year's Eve.

"I opened Nonna's on Valentine's Day evening – which, looking back, was a crazy thing to do – so I thought closing on New Year's Eve was appropriate," Avis said. "It was Christmas time, very busy, and my staff agreed to stay until the end. We enjoyed working together to complete a job well done."

While Nonna's has closed, the Painted Door gift shop, Avis' first business foray, remains open and one of the accomplished businesswoman's prime focuses.

"I want to invest time in Painted Door to make it the best it can be," Avis said.

Still, after some 20 years of Nonna's as a bakery and then a dining destination, and given the changes in Bricktown over that period of time – many of which included Avis' involvement – there must still be a sense that an era had passed.


A Second Career

Avis Scaramucci was born in 1946 in Altus, Oklahoma, attended school, and grew up in the small community.

"I grew up thinking it was the only place on Earth," she said. "My first discovery of other places was when I went to college at O.U. The girl across the hall from me was from Atlanta, Georgia, and she thought that was the only place in the world! To this day, every once in a while, she will stop by and we catch up."

A degree in music education was handy, Avis reflects, because music is an expression of creativity, and teaching is an integral part of raising children and building a staff in business.

Although when Avis opened Painted Door in 1991 as her first business, she said it was hardly her first career.

"My first career was raising my two children, and I absolutely loved it," she said. "Then, I thought I wanted to do something because I love people."

Avis opened Painted Door with a goal, but an admitted lack of expertise.

"I opened it in hope that I would be able to do it, but I had never been in retail before," she said. "I loved people and I loved taking care of them. It was a dream I had. I was willing to work as many hours as needed to make that dream come true. I wanted to learn what was needed to be able to please people.

"When you start something like that, it doesn't cross your mind how much of yourself goes into moving the business forward," she added.

Avis felt she could succeed with Painted Door if she could only come up with the right kind of merchandise – and the approach worked, steadily driving the success of the gift boutique. In 1995, she opened Nonna's as a bakery.

"I was the baker. I came to work with my recipes for cookies and cakes. My hope was that when people came to shop, they might like to have a cup of coffee and eat something while at the store. I had a little space that could seat 20-25 people. My dream was to fill the seats; all I had to do was figure out how."


A Bricktown Pioneer

Some combination of product, gracious hospitality and those long work weeks paid off. Nonna's continued to evolve to include the popular restaurant and the handsome Purple Bar. Furthermore, Nonna's became the virtual heart of Oklahoma City's Bricktown as it was evolving. Avis was deeply involved on countless boards, committees and overall in the propelling of the now-vaunted social center of the city. Her role was not lost on local leadership.

“Nonna’s, to a certain extent, is the heartbeat of Bricktown,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told KFOR NewsChannel 4 after hearing of Nonna's closing plans. “Avis had a unique vision of Bricktown no one else had at the time, and she turned that vision into a great success. She is a true Bricktown pioneer, and there is no doubt Nonna’s changed the face and fortune of the district.”

Becoming involved civically in the community was a great opportunity to become aware of the needs of the community.

"I was always involved in school and children's activities when I was a stay-at-home mother, and I learned I could make a difference doing that," Avis said. "When I entered the retail world, my scope became broader. I could see the much grander scale and could see the needs of the community and of the residents. I found I could make a little bit of a difference through involvements with boards and committees. I've been interested in anything to help the magnificent progress the city has made in the past few years. You can't assume that because the city is doing well, that it will continue to."

Despite business success and a helping hand in the development of Bricktown, it is as a welcoming host that Avis feels most empowered.

"I've enjoyed getting to be the person who welcomes people to the city," Avis said. "When you go to a different city, don't know anyone and then meet someone who makes you feel at home and tells you about the city, it's an unexpected gift. We are such an entrance point for the city and for the state. I love talking to people, learning about where they are from, sharing with them things about Oklahoma City and making them feel welcome."

Success, she said, came from hard work, truthfulness, being genuine, and never forgetting the industrious, kind values imparted by her youth in Altus and life in Oklahoma.

"This has been a natural thing for me to do, to take care of people," Avis said. "The amazing people in Oklahoma are in my heart. They have made my job pleasurable and made it so easy to get to know them."

Avis is also pleased with the ways in which guests have welcomed her into their lives. She has hosted countless life-cycle events, from proposals to birthdays and from family reunions to anniversaries. The marriage proposals have always come with at least a touch of nervousness.

"Thankfully, we've never had anyone say no when proposed to!"


The Road Ahead

Despite her connection to the community and Avis' love of her work, it became obvious in recent times that she wanted to slow down. She began seriously considering it more than a year ago. Avis said there were other things in which she wanted to invest herself.

"A couple of years ago, it got harder to put in 60 hours a week day-in and day-out," she said. "Plus, I missed being home. I love to cook and to make house a home. I've been missing it, and found I couldn't spend as much time with my husband of 48 years."

Avis also has four grandchildren and wants to spend time with them.

"I’m very excited about the changes ahead. It's always tough to leave something that you love, and I love this restaurant. I employed 75 people, and I believe it's the finest staff I have ever had. I have six managers, and the minimum time one had been with me was 14 years. We've all agreed to stay in touch, and they are dear to me. It's just the time to move on."

‘Moving on’ is a relative term for the mercurial Avis. She has a vision for the next chapter of her public life, beyond more time for family and for her efforts at Painted Door.

"There are a couple of philanthropic projects coming up, and I knew I would have to change my schedule to work on them as much as I would like to," Avis said.

Her civic involvement will continue as well.

"The renaissance Oklahoma City has experienced the past years has happened because there are so many people who care and who are committed to the community," she said. "I intend to continue 200 percent."

In addition to family time and community efforts, Avis said her philanthropic/charitable goals transcend community and children. She has a warm spot in her heart for animals and for anything that leads to the good care and love of them.

"Plus, there are a gazillion other things! There is art, and there are many other ingredients that come together to make a grand city."

While Avis is anxiously anticipating this next chapter in her life, she retains strong appreciation for her chapter revolving around Nonna's.

"I'm so happy that years ago I took the chance to embark on this incredible journey," Avis said. "I leaped into doing things I didn't know much about, and I am so pleased that I did."

Avis said she has no true regrets.

"It would have been nice if I'd started my second career earlier," she said. "But I had a wonderful first career raising my family. However, I have no real regrets. It's been a great adventure, and I am truly grateful for that."

Recognizing an Oklahoma City Philanthropic Champion – Mary Blankenship Pointer

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2014

By David Althouse

 

Mary Blankenship Pointer is firmly in her element when working tirelessly

on behalf of causes other than herself. When asked what she does for

fun, Pointer, a banker by profession, says, “I believe in doing good, not just

doing well. This is what I do for fun. Philanthropy is my passion. It is our duty

to give back to our community.” That is why there is hardly an area of central Oklahoma untouched by her work on behalf of countless good causes, a fact making her an Oklahoma philanthropic champion.


Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Mary Blankenship Pointer agrees with that statement – not just in principle, but with her daily actions. Pointer raises money to fight diseases, to promote the arts, to provide educational scholarships, to feed and shelter the homeless, to beautify our community, and much more.

This writer first met Pointer while writing a story about Oklahoma City Community College’s new performing arts center. Pointer proved instrumental in raising funds for the center’s construction as well as securing first class amenities for the now popular Oklahoma City destination.

Pointer agreed to help raise $250,000 for the center’s seating, and then decided it also needed a sculpture and a Steinway piano. Securing the help of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which donated one dollar per each ticket sold for three consecutive Christmas concerts played in Oklahoma City, Pointer saw her vision of the sculpture realized.

The sculpture (named “Crescendo”) was designed by Paseo District artist Colin Rosebrook and depicts the letters OCCC. The dazzling modern art representation now graces the center’s entryway area, inviting the public to its many events.

Ever the networker, Pointer secured the donation of the Steinway piano through conversations at Oklahoma City University’s Boar’s Head Feast, an annual Christmas event held by OCU President Robert Henry.

Today, OCCC’s performing arts theater is an Oklahoma City crown jewel, a state-of-the-art destination featuring premier talent.

"Mary Pointer is an idea person,” said Paul Sechrist, president of Oklahoma City Community College. “She is always thinking of creative ways for OCCC to raise funds for projects and programs. Mary is also about connecting people to get good things accomplished in the community. She has been great for OCCC."

During my first meeting with Pointer, I also learned of her involvement with Women of the South, a group of south Oklahoma City women dedicated to providing cultural, civic, educational and social activities for South Oklahoma City while also providing educational scholarship for single mothers. The group also works to promote art in the community.

In November 2013, Gov. Mary Fallin, Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples and Arts Council Chairman James Pickel presented Pointer with a

Community Service Award at the 2013 Governor's Arts Awards ceremony at the State Capitol.

“Mary Blankenship Pointer is a champion and tireless ambassador for the arts and public art in our state,” Sharples said. “As someone in the banking industry, Mary understands the value of the arts to Oklahoma's business climate. With her efforts on behalf of Oklahoma City Community College and south Oklahoma City, volunteer work for numerous arts organizations, and participation in our Leadership Arts program, Mary's selection as a recipient of a Community Service Award at the 2013 Governor's Arts Awards was well deserved."

When I caught up with Pointer again for this story, she had just lent her time on behalf of OSU-OKC’s Paint This Town Orange campaign to generate student scholarship funds.

“I have a passion for our community,” Pointer said. “I always say ‘I’m the girl who can’t say no.’ I look for ways to help, and when someone asks for my involvement, I’m always flattered and look for ways to participate. I believe the words of John F. Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ This also applies to our community.”

Pointer says she feels fortunate that people place great confidence in her involvement, as this trust allows her to constantly enjoy her passion for philanthropic work.

“I have never heard Mary say no,” said Natalie Shirley, president of Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. “She will agree to help at any level, with any worthwhile cause, at any time of the day or night. I don't know anyone who can outwork her, particularly with the grace and good humor she brings to any endeavor. She is truly a hero to me. As a prime example, I mentioned to Mary that OSU-OKC was having its first-ever fundraiser. Within moments, she had generated a dozen great ideas, and within a couple of days she had gotten the Skybridge and the boathouse area lit orange.”

In order to fund transformative services to women and their children who are homeless or at risk, Pointer and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City hosted Crimson and Cocktails at the new Sanctuary Women’s Development Center in Norman last July.

“Whenever I see the homeless in our community, I know that none of them ever asked to be in that situation,” Pointer said.

To list all of the worthwhile organizations with which Pointer has been extensively involved over the years would take more words than those used to comprise this story, but here are some of the more noteworthy: Allied Arts, American Lung Association, Arts Council, Arts Festival of Oklahoma, Boys and Girls Club, Easter Seals, Festival of the Arts, Girls Scouts of Western Oklahoma, Junior League, McBride Foundation, Oklahoma Blood Institute, Oklahoma Children’s Foundation, Oklahoma City Beautiful, OKC Kid’s Charities, Oklahoma Humanities Council, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, Positive Tomorrows, Prevent Blindness Oklahoma, Red Andrews Dinner Foundation, Red Earth and Urban League.

Pointer has been honored with many awards, including a President’s Call to Service Award for a lifetime achievement for volunteerism (over 10,000 hours),

induction into the Oklahoma City Community College Hall of Fame, and the Women in Communication Byliner Award for community service.

She is a past nominee for Leadership Oklahoma’s Distinguished Leadership Award and Paragon Award.

Pointer said she began learning volunteerism from the earliest days of her childhood from family role models who never had time to preach community outreach because they were too busy living it.

“I had a grandmother who worked a garden the size of a city block, and who used the produce to feed the community because that is what she felt she needed to do,” Pointer said. “My grandmother gardened, canned, made jelly and quilts for families in need.

“My maternal grandfather gave away all of his war ration stamps to neighbors in the community during the war so they could get flour, sugar, or whatever they needed. He often loaned money and accepted IOU’s, but he never called in the IOU’s. After he died I found a stack of them. I told my grandmother, ‘If we cashed all of these in, we would be rich.’ She replied, ‘That is not what we do.’ They never discussed what they did – they just did it.”

Pointer has spent a lifetime carrying on a family tradition of giving, and we proudly recognize her on these pages as the Season of Giving commences.

Thank you, Mary!





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