by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – At the annual awards ceremony and graduation for Leadership Oklahoma City, former Oklahoma Governor David Walters was honored with the 2015 Paragon Award. Presenting the award to Gov. Walters was Jim Sharrock, an attorney at the well-known firm of McAfee Taft.
Walters was recognized for his work as President of the Board of Directors for the Columbus Corporation, which operates the Santa Fe Family Life Center (SFFLC), located at 6300 N. Santa Fe Avenue, in north Oklahoma City.
In his own words, the former state chief executive said, “The Santa Fe Family Life Center is a relatively unknown but significant operation that has hundreds of thousands of visitors each year through its doors and in the process I hope helps provide more exercise and sports activity to many who would not access it otherwise.
“All this in a state that is so challenged by our exercise and health indices. Sadly, a new ranking in … USA Today has our state in the bottom three in the country. This makes the work of Mayor Cornett and all of the many organizations, like the Santa Fe Family Life Center, so very important.”
The former chief executive shared credit with his colleagues at the Center, telling the crowd, “I am part of a team of six board members at the Santa Fe.”
Walters was nominated for the prestigious honor by K.C. Moon, executive director at the Center, with the support of the SFFLC Board of Directors. Walters said, “He is retiring this year…he has done great work for the Santa Fe Family Life Center. I think he nominated me because he thought that gave him the best chance of getting his mitts on $3,500…which is going into an elevator fund. We have very long outdoor ramps transitioning between our two floors and part of our outreach is disabled kids so this grant will be put to excellent use.”
Leadership Oklahoma City (LOKC) is described in organization literature as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the pool of volunteers who have the capacity to be effective forces of positive change in the community.
“The strategies by which Leadership Oklahoma City advances this mission are: Educating about the community’s needs, resources, and opportunities; Training in skills necessary for effective community leadership; and Connecting people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives with a common interest in community improvement.”
Walters encouraged attendees at the Paragon dinner to increase their activism and community involvement, reflecting, “It goes fast. I say that as a Class 2 graduate whose graduation seemed like yesterday. OK, that is not true, but it doesn’t seem like 30 years ago.
“So don’t wait to ramp up your community leadership activities until you have made it or the kids are raised or your job is not so demanding. You’re not in this class solely because of your potential but because you have already started to contribute to this community in very significant ways. As I and others have discovered, you can always do more.”
The presentation came at a moment of sadness for Walters and his close-knit family, including wife Rhonda, who are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Oklahoma City. He told the Leadership OKC graduates and guests:
“I take just a moment of personal privilege to say that it is always a happy day of to be recognized for your role in attempting with the help of others to do good things, but today (May 20) is a sad day in our family as Rhonda’s father passed away last night. I told her she did not need to be here but like she has for 44 years, she is always there. Two of my daughters are here today as well, Elizabeth Gray and Kristen Hodges. So, a special thanks to them for being here for this happy moment on this otherwise sad day.”
The Santa Fe Family Life Center “began as the Santa Fe Fitness and Racquet Club in 2006. Prior to being purchased by the Knights of Columbus Council No. 1038, the center’s emphasis was a private club primarily for tennis and squash. Today, the center is a comprehensive health club that provides fitness opportunities for the community.
“The primary mission of the Santa Fe Family Life Center and the Knights of Columbus is to develop healthy activities for young children, providing space seven days a week for programs sponsored by the SFFLC and by guest nonprofit organizations. The SFFLC also encourages and promotes programs that allow mentally and physically challenged youth an opportunity to participate in custom designed sports activities in an encouraging, compassionate and inclusive group setting.
“In an effort to best serve the community, Santa Fe Family Life Center has a dual mission of providing a multi-use facility while also giving back to the community by arranging for and giving scholarship opportunities to kids and families who face financial hardships. It is important to us that finances aren’t a barrier to exercise and healthy activities, especially for kids.
“Support for non-profit programs is provided by hosting the John F. Kennedy Community Service Awards Event that is presented by the Oklahoma City Knights of Columbus Council 1038 every other year. This award is presented to Oklahomans who through their philanthropic efforts have served our community in lasting and meaningful ways.” (http://www.sfflc.com/index.php?about-us)
The Columbus Corporation, of which Walters has served as president for six years, now operates the SFFLC programs.
The JFK Award Walters started with support from the Knights honors exceptional public service. In an interview with Slice Magazine a few years ago, he reflected, “It’s good to recognize the long-term efforts of those who have served the public in known and unknown ways. Improving the lives of the disadvantaged or disabled – particularly children – should be recognized as an inspiration to others.”
Walters concluded his remarks at the dinner with typical humor and contemplation: “Andy Rooney said that life is like a roll of toilet paper. … The closer to the end you get the faster it goes…so Jim Sharrock and I are beginning to spin a little faster.
“Don’t wait, launch, take it up a notch…..do more with what this fantastic organization has made you aware of and the networks that you have established with your classmates.”
Walters is the fourth Oklahoman to win the Paragon Award twice.
Walters was first recognized in 1986 for his work as Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. After serving as governor of the Sooner State, Walters founded Walters Power International.
Ann Felton of Habitat for Humanity and other worthy causes gained the recognition in both 1989 and in 1996.
Sue Ann Hyde was a two-time designee – for her work with the American Red Cross in 1995 and again in 1999 for her efforts an advisor at the University of Oklahoma College of Fine Arts.
The other two-time honoree was Jim Farris in 2001 and again in 2014. Farris is known for good works on behalf of the Salvation Army and Science Museum Oklahoma.
NOTE: Pat McGuigan, founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, is vice president of the Columbus Corporation, a 501 c3 organization. He has served on the Board of Directors with Gov. Walters for the last five years.