The ones we lost
Stories of the dead, on their day
This year, TTV is marking Día de los Muertos with a dedication to the Tulsans we lost this year—the ones who helped shape our community into a better space for us all. The tributes that follow highlight six of those remarkable people, although we could have easily filled the pages of this issue with similar tributes to others whose impact was just as meaningful. These are not the only ones we lost, but each of them represents an important part of our robust community.
We asked six community leaders and Tulsa-connected writers to pay tribute to the Tulsans who made the strongest impression on their own lives and work. Here’s what they had to say.
By Russell Cobb • Additional reporting by Allison Herrera
In the corner of the Victorian-era kitchen was a giant wooden mortar and pestle. “Pick it up,” Robert Trepp said. I tried to lift the bois d’arc mortar with one arm. Impossible. I lifted it with two arms. “Now pound that all day,” he said. “That’s what Creek women did to make sofkee.”
The instrument, a kecvpe, belonged to Trepp’s great-aunt, Rachel Perryman, and it was as much a part of the Perryman kitchen as the wood-burning oven and fine China. Sofkee is a corn-based soup or drink that helped the Muscogee (Creek) people persevere through forced removal, the Civil War, and the dissolution of the tribal lands at the turn of the 20th century. Here at the Perryman Ranch, on an idyllic piece of lowland virtually swallowed by the expansion of Jenks, Trepp kept the living memory of Tulsa’s Creek origins alive for decades until he passed away in September.
Descended from a family often called “Tulsa’s first family,” Trepp’s life work was dedicated to keeping Creek culture alive in a time when many of his generation were losing their language and customs. For years, Trepp helped run the Perryman Ranch with his brothers Wally and Tom. Trepp served as President and CEO of the National Indian Monument and Institute, which also gave rise to the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival, the American Indian Theatre Company of Oklahoma, and the American Indian Arts Association.
Sitting back in the offices of the Perryman Ranch, Trepp recalled his great-grandparents’ struggle to hold onto their land in the early 20th century. “Creeks held land in common. You could put up a fence, but it was still held by the tribe.” Historians estimate that Creeks lost 90% of their allotments by 1951. Allotment was nothing short of an “orgy of graft and exploitation,” in the words of one book written in the aftermath of allotment. But the Perrymans held on. While many descendants dispersed throughout the country, Trepp always maintained his connection to his ancestors’ settlement.
In June of 2016, during one of Oklahoma’s sweltering summer days, many Tulsans met Trepp for the first time. Dozens of Tulsans hopped on their bicycles to learn more about the city’s Creek past. At the corner of 32nd and Utica, they rode up to find Trepp, parked in his truck with the air conditioning full blast. He pulled open the gate to the Perryman cemetery, a small plot tucked into one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods—places where oil barons built their mansions on Creek allotments. As Trepp pointed out headstones and names, his long, white ponytail blew in the breeze. People leaned in as Trepp, a towering figure, spoke in a soft, lilting Oklahoma accent, about all the men and women that lay before their feet. These were some of the founding men and women of Tulsa. A short distance away, cars roared by on Lewis avenue—a street named after Lewis Perryman.
Trepp lived through a difficult period of continued cultural loss and marginalization of American Indian identity. But, at the end of his life, he sensed a new beginning. He told the Voices of Oklahoma oral history project that a renaissance had occurred. “The real miracle going on in Indian Country is the new explosion in education,” Trepp said. “Instead of having people educated enough to listen to a lawyer, we now we have Creek lawyers, Creek doctors. It is finally giving us a structure where we can rebuild our society and maintain our identity as a people.”
As Tulsa moves forward in the difficult path of reconciliation with its Native communities, it can give thanks—mvto in Creek—to Trepp’s life of work.
Russell Cobb is a scholar and writer living in Alberta, Canada. His forthcoming book is called “The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America’s Oddest State.”
By Frances Jordan-Rakestraw
Hazel Jones was the last living Tulsa survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. She was a strong woman who openly shared her family’s testimony about their time during this horrifying event. She would open her home to the media, film producers, authors, and even students who were assigned to give reports about the riot. She passed away in March of 2018 at the age of 99.
During World War II, Hazel moved to Oakland, California, and worked as a welder. She later returned to Tulsa and attended the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty College and graduated in 1947. Hazel also worked for the Meadowbrook Country Club. She became a pastry cook for Tulsa Public Schools in 1966—a position she held for 18 years, traveling to nine states for cooking conventions.
She retired from Tulsa Public Schools in 1984. When retirement did not suit her, Hazel took a job at Life Senior Services as an assistant to the receptionist. Hazel worked there for eleven years through a program called “Reaching Hands.” She accepted Christ at a young age and became a member of the North Peoria Church of Christ. Hazel’s motto was: “Always put God first in your life.”
In 2016, CNN contacted me to assist them in getting an interview with Hazel. As always, I would call her daughters, Yolanda or Tootsie, to see how their 97-year-old mother was feeling and if she wanted to be interviewed. Hazel wanted to do the interview, at the Greenwood Cultural Center. The CNN team thought it would be a good idea to interview Hazel next door in the Mable B. Little House, the only home built in the 1920s still standing in Greenwood. Hazel was excited about that.
“My Daddy wasn’t at home when all the trouble started, just Mamma and the kids,” she told CNN. “They came and got us . . . white men in a truck began gathering residents and taking them out of their neighborhoods. They carried us to the fairgrounds, and we were there for days. My Daddy didn’t know where we were.”
Those who interviewed Hazel were amazed at her wit, her knowledge and memories of the 1921 Race Riot. At times, and at her age, I’m sure Hazel did not always feel up to par to talk with anyone, but it never showed. There was always the sweet smile and kind spirit. She closed the gaps of history, the unknown and forgotten. We feel a sense of pride in knowing Hazel has left her legacy at the Greenwood Cultural Center and the city of Tulsa.
Frances Jordan-Rakestraw is the executive director of the Greenwood Cultural Center.
By Deana McCloud
Dr. Guy Logsdon was a scholar, musician, historian, librarian, and loving husband and father—but to Woody Guthrie academics, he was Woody’s first champion. During the years in which Woody was labeled a communist because of his progressive views on equal rights, workers’ rights, and social justice, Guy became the first Woody Guthrie scholar, researching his work and continuing to share his message.
This relationship with Woody’s legacy came at a cost to Guy and his family when his research, along with his subscription to Sing Out! magazine, caused him to be also be unjustly labeled as a communist. This label was addressed by Woody himself, who called himself a “commonist,” someone who stood on the side of the common people. This same commonist perspective was reflected in Guy’s life as he supported those who needed a spokesperson.
Although small in stature, Guy’s shoulders are those upon which the next generation of numerous Woody Guthrie academics would stand. However, for many years, Guy was the first and only scholar who researched and wrote about Woody’s life, music, and legacy.
Since his lovely wife Phyllis grew up in Woody’s hometown of Okemah, the connection to Woody was a personal one for Guy. When the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival began there in 1998, we always knew Guy would be on the front row to show his support. That pride in his state and a hometown hero remained a constant in Guy’s life, not only through research projects, but also through his own music.
Guy and Phyllis Logsdon shared Woody’s legacy through songs as they performed on stages, creating beautiful harmonies for audiences. When they sang about those “Oklahoma hills where I was born,” they reflected the pride that Woody had in our state.
During his tenure as librarian at the University of Tulsa in the 1970s, Guy worked with Marjorie Guthrie, Woody’s widow, to promote the idea of housing Woody’s archive of work at the university. Although this dream of Guy’s didn’t become a reality, the culmination of his work to have Woody’s collection return to Oklahoma was realized when the George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased the archive in 2013. The opening of the Woody Guthrie Center was a dream come true for Guy as the work that he held so dear was open to the public, enabling all visitors access to these treasures he had been studying for many years.
The legacies of these two men are intricately intertwined. They both were sponges for information as they researched, read, and investigated sensitive topics that many may have been timid to discuss. They never hesitated to present information and views for discussion, and welcomed the free exchange of ideas to make the world a better place.
The sign of a life well lived is one in which those who remain on this earth feel your presence standing right over their shoulders, encouraging new champions to carry on. We feel Guy and Woody standing over our shoulders constantly at the Woody Guthrie Center. Most of all, we are all honored to have called him our friend and part of the Woody Guthrie extended family.
Deana McCloud is the executive director of the Woody Guthrie Center.
By Nicole McAfee
As I think of this election cycle in Oklahoma—a wave of women candidates, teachers running for office, education as the key issue up and down the ballot—I cannot help but remember Penny Williams. A former state Representative and state Senator, Williams always fought to move Oklahoma forward. She led the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment in the state, championed public arts, and was always a fierce advocate for a robust public education system.
Williams paved the way for women to not just work in politics, but also to lead political battles. She modeled that leadership up until the end. A few weeks before she passed, Williams penned an editorial for the Tulsa World about how Oklahoma could fulfill her vision of adequate education funding. She urged this legislature to be bold in their capacity to do better by Oklahomans. I hope that she would smile thinking about all of the folks who, in the face of being told they won, keep showing up to say that is not enough.
In this tumultuous time, I imagine Williams would rather me focus on the beginning of her story, rather than the highlights. As she told it, Williams changed her political affiliation to Democrat as an adult, shortly after returning to Tulsa from spending several years in Iran for her husband’s job. It was a split from her Republican spouse, but a move to a party where she saw she could make a difference. She committed to doing just that. In Tulsa, she was a member of the League of Women Voters, worked on school integration, and soon got involved on a Democratic congressional race.
While everyone was worried about who had more yard signs, Williams spent her time knocking on doors. For years she helped candidates, headed committees, registered voters, and in 1980, she put her own name on the ballot and won. It was the start of 24 years in elected office.
Williams did not grow up in Oklahoma, but she was a proud Oklahoman. She was a wife and mother. She was a lifelong learner. Politics was not a natural step for her—it required leadership, and a team of mentors who encouraged her. More importantly, it required her capacity to do work that was rarely glamorous or easy in order to make meaningful change.
Williams died in April, at the age of 80. As we honor her legacy, I ask you think about your responsibility in continuing her fight for a better Oklahoma. Whether it is showing up to knock doors for a candidate or cause, or putting your name on a ballot, take that risk. In Williams’ last editorial, she urged folks into action, ending by saying, “the key is leadership.”
Penny Williams was a leader. She had a heart for service, and the Oklahoma we live in is better for her work. But we haven’t fully lived up to the Oklahoma she knew we could be—let us be bold in leading that charge for change.
Nicole McAfee is the Smart Justice campaign manager at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
Jimmy “Junior” Markham
By Charles Tuberville
Local Tulsa Sound legend Jimmy “Junior” Markham used to tell a great story about Elvis Presley, who performed an early career engagement at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion in July 1956. After the show, Jimmy ran into Elvis in the wings, and the King asked Jimmy where he could find a bathroom. Upon giving Elvis directions, the young Markham followed him into the John to talk some music while the King did his business on the throne.
On the morning of Sept. 21, 2018, Jimmy “left the building,” to paraphrase an old Elvis expression. Markham was 78 years old at the time of his death—remarkable for a man who led a hard-charging rock and roll lifestyle for almost 60 years.
In his long musical career, Jimmy was sideman, bandleader, vocalist, songwriter, recording artist, club manager, restaurateur, trumpet player, and—last but not least—a blues harmonica player. He performed with some of the rock and roll and blues greats as well many local unknowns in Tulsa, Los Angeles, and Nashville.
Everyone knew Jimmy. He seemed to know everyone as well. The list of famous musicians Jimmy knew personally is too long to name here but included his fellow Tulsans, J.J. Cale and Leon Russell, and artists from all over the world, including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, bluesman Jimmy Reed and the wildman pianist Esquerita. Markham, a great storyteller, was always happy to share his adventures with music legends—like his time with Texas guitarist Jimmy Vaughn at the infamous Paradise Club—with anyone who would listen.
“Junior,” as Jimmy was known by many of his friends, came by that moniker from an L.A. record executive who thought that would be a more exciting stage name for the young Okie in 1960s California. The “Junior” label stuck with Markham for many years, although the recordings made for the record company never materialized.
After years of off-and-on stints in Los Angeles and Nashville, Markham returned home to Tulsa to stay. This is the time period when most of the musicians of my generation got to know and work with Jimmy in a myriad of night clubs and dives around town.
Markham, the bandleader and harmonica player, was a blast to make music with, even when things got a little crazy—as they sometimes did. If you wanted to play real blues music, this was the guy you wanted to play with.
His song list included some of the finest blues tunes ever written, and he played and sang them with fire, conviction and respect. If the drinks were flowing, the band was cookin’ and people were dancing. Jimmy would do his best to get right in there with them. The man dearly loved to have a good time.
Charles Tuberville is a guitarist, songwriter and (sometimes) singer in Tulsa.
George Kravis II
By Clark and Michelle Wiens
The Circle Cinema was built in 1928 for silent films, which are still shown, and was featured in the opening of the Tulsa film “The Outsiders.” One of 26 theatres built in Tulsa before WWII, it is the only one still standing. The Circle certainly has a place in Tulsa’s history, and its restoration is due in large part to George Kravis.
George R. Kravis II, collector, businessman and philanthropist passed away February 12, 2018. The son of the late Raymond and Bessie Kravis and brother of Henry R. Kravis, George spent his life in Tulsa. His education includes: Lee Elementary, Horace Mann Junior High and the University of Oklahoma.
George was well known in Tulsa for his community leadership and arts support. As a trustee of his parents’ foundation, he supported many innovative educational programs, including scholarships for Tulsa public school teachers, the Kravis Discovery Center at the Gilcrease Museum and The Kravis Summer Arts Camp. He supported the Tulsa Symphony, the Tulsa Ballet, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture and Price Tower Arts Center. In 2010 he was honored with the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award for his leadership and significant contribution to the arts.
George started KRAV radio in 1962. Four years later, he purchased the KFMJ radio station which became KGTO. He was one of the youngest and earliest founders of an FM station in the U.S., spanning a 25-year career in the broadcasting business. He was known for his pursuit of the latest and most innovative techniques in radio communication.
In 1970, he began to collect graphic and industrial design. He assembled one of the largest and most important collections of industrial design in the country. His collection includes works from 1900 to present day with a focus on industrial design from the 1930s and 40s on an international scope. He found beauty in simple, well designed objects.
Rizzoli published two books on the collection—“100 Designs for a Modern World” in 2016 and “Industrial Design in the Modern Age” in 2018.We knew George as a friend. With him, Clark co-founded the Circle Cinema Foundation. Not only did George provide economic support, he championed the restoration of one of Tulsa’s legendary theatres. As we celebrated the Circle’s 90th birthday, July 15, 2018, we reflected on George’s vision and his impact on art and culture in Tulsa, Oklahoma, our home town. He is sorely missed by many, but especially by those associated with and the many who now enjoy today’s Circle Cinema.
Clark Wiens is co-founder of Circle Cinema, where his wife Michelle is involved with many special projects.
By Jeff Martin
I first met my friend Cindy nearly 20 years ago when I was just a kid working in a bookstore. I got to know her and her husband from their nearly weekly visits. I’d usually see them on Saturday afternoons and tell them about the hottest new reads or my latest favorites. They’d do the same for me.
As I began putting on large author events and partnering with outside organizations, I had my first opportunities to work with Tulsa City-County Library. Cindy, who worked at Central Library, was often my point person.
Our first true author event together was bringing in “Secret Life of Bees” author Sue Monk Kidd in the spring of 2006. A few years later, when I left the bookstore and started my own thing, I began teaming up with Cindy more frequently, culminating in 2013 with a truly epic (and now slightly infamous) event with “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk just after Central closed for some major renovations.
Cindy and I often talked about the “pipe dream” of opening a bookstore. To be honest, she talked about it much more than I. But she had a great job with wonderful coworkers. Why leave to try something crazy? But in 2015, when the stars aligned and the moment arrived, the first person I reached out to was Cindy. I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without her. I asked her to quit her job—which paid well, had nice benefits, and so many damn government holidays. She’d been there for almost two decades. But thankfully, she said yes. She was courageous in a way I’m not sure I could ever be.
From that moment on, we embarked on a journey that was longer, more difficult, and ultimately more rewarding than we’d ever imagined. In late 2015, we founded the nonprofit Tulsa Literary Coalition. In June of 2016, we had our first event under the banner of Magic City Books. We wanted someone cool to kick it off. We got Stephen King.
The store was supposed to open that fall. Long story very short, we opened our doors on Monday, November 20, 2017—the week of Thanksgiving. Hundreds of people lined up on a cold morning to watch us cut the ribbon and buy the first books.
Here we are, not even a year later, and Cindy is gone. Three months ago, in one of those out-of-the-blue medical moments, she went from totally fine to terminally ill. She passed away on Sept. 19. She was 58 years old.
There’s no silver lining or comforting explanation. It feels like an amputation of sorts. Just hours after her passing, I was on stage talking to another author. It struck me as we chatted that this was the first author event I’d ever done without Cindy in my life. Of course, she’ll always be with me in memory, but right now the vacancy is deafening. I keep telling myself that this could have happened last year, before Cindy saw her dream, our dream, fully realized.
That certainly would have been worse. And perhaps there are degrees to this sort of randomness that can provide some comfort. But I believe that the best, and maybe only way, to stay connected to the people you loved is to experience the things they loved. I know the books that changed and impacted Cindy’s life. She told me about them all the time. I’ve read a few. I plan to read them all. Over time. Just to keep the conversation going.
Jeff Martin is co-founder of Magic City Books and president of the Tulsa Literary Coalition.