NOTE: Personal projects feed the creative soul. Telling stories connects us with our fellow humans. This was the result of a year plus of cultivating a project telling the stories of the unseen or under appreciated heroes behinds the scenes making life in Southwest Oklahoma possible. This series was completed before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now that we find ourselves a year into the “new normal” these individuals (sans The Catalyst….which is me) are even more important than ever before. Please enjoy….THE PROTECTOR
Have you ever looked at the water running from your faucet or a loaf of bread in the grocery store and wondered where they came from? Have you ever looked at a happy family with children who don’t quite match the parents and wonder how they found each other? Or find yourself curious about what firefighters and police officers do all day? What about the trails we enjoy hiking, who maintains them and keeps us safe when we stray from the path? Or the news we hear, or the PSAs for a nonprofit that saved a life? What about the people who take care of the forgotten with compassion, giving them dignity and self-worth? Or the people who spend their lives righting injustices, daring to rock the status-quo no matter the odds? What about the teachers who spend their days, nights and weekends cultivating a lesson to share with students? Or the people who sacrifice everything, including parenthood to defend our rights?
This is the story of a sampling of unsung heroes, the people who dedicate their lives to serving others. The people who remain in the shadows, giving their all, expecting nothing in return, to ensure the safety and future of our existence. This is the epic tale of the unsung heroes who dedicate their lives to others.
Joining the armed services is a calling. Service members sacrifice their time, freedom and families to defend our freedom, protect our rights and ensure our safety. Those who join do not join for the glory, rather they join from a deep sense, almost an obligation, to defend what they hold so dear; our nation. For Staff Sergeant Melissa Smith the Army is a choice, a career, a lifestyle, one she pursues with passion, dedication, tenacity and grit.
Growing up, her parents did not see Melissa in the military, but upon graduation at the young age of 17, her parents signed her into the US Army. Nine years later, she continues to serve knowing she made the right decision. A mother of two, she sacrifices time with her children to serve our country. What most of us take for granted the ability to make our children’s lunches, tuck them in at night, and walk them to school she counts as a luxury. Her choice, her calling has led her to a career of long hours, challenging decisions and cruel compromises.
Currently serving as a Drill Sergeant at Fort Sill, Smith enjoys her time with new recruits. Many came from broken homes or lacked parents, some had no one to teach them simple life skills. Under her care and tutelage, not only does she train good soldiers, she creates a family, lets them know there are people who care and teaches them the skills so many overlooked. Once a young recruit herself, Smith understands the power a Drill Sergeant has, the ability they have to invest, instill and pour themselves into recruits.
The military and service members do what no one else will do, serve when no one else will, protect and defend no matter the cost. Because of their sacrifices we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Adrienne Davis is a giant among men. She has the unique talent of seeing people for who they really are, of seeing beyond what some would call mistakes. Where others criticize and judge she loves and supports struggles with addiction and mental health. Adrienne quite simply spends her days investing love, compassion and worth into the people society has turned their backs on, deemed unfixable and worthless.
Adrienne has an uncanny understanding of people which was born in her early youth. Using past hurts and scars, lessons learned and truths revealed, she is working to change the world one meal at a time. So many who offer help, who lend a hand, do so with strings attached, in search of accolades or with hopes of relishing the self-glory attached. Not Adrienne. A pure soul, she looks at people and sees who they are, she reaches out and dares to offer hope to those who are hopeless.
Spending her weeks planning meals, shopping, prepping and serving, Adrienne cooks food filled with self-worth, pride and self-esteem. To some, she may seem strict, even hard, but in reality, she is offering true love, a love strong enough to say, “I see you and your humanity. I will not allow you to behave in a way which dehumanizes you.” She expects good manners and asks for help, she offers a true hand up, she invests in those many have written off.
Looking towards the future, Adrienne has begun aquaponic farming. She dreams of having a location where instead of feeding people, she can teach them to raise fish and vegetables, to have plenty to eat and some to sell. She plans to expand to a place where all who come, all are welcome, can receive the gift of being seen, of knowing someone else sees their humanity.
While most worry about personal investments, business deals and creating wealth, Adrienne worries about her people. She continuously looks for new programs, opportunities and ways she can invest, build people up, and help them grow their self-worth.
Farming, the cornerstone of our country, a key piece of economic development, and the heartbeat of our nation, is managed by quiet, strong men who have dirt in their blood and seeds in their veins. Farming is not for the faint of heart, the weak in the knee, or those who buckle under crisis. Farming is for the brave, the courageous, the fighters. Those brave enough to plant a crop and dare Mother Nature to do her best, to wreak havoc on their crops knowing the crops were so well planned, they will survive. Farming is for people like Fred Wyatt.
A born farmer, Fred is the son and grandson of farmers. A grizzled, gnarled exterior worn by weather and the stress of hard labor hide the heart of a family man, a man driven to create a life for his family, a legacy for his grandsons. Proud father to two daughters, both working in the agricultural industry, he is working to instill a love for the land in his grandsons. Adept to changes, utilizing modern technology to improve his techniques and yield, he is no stranger to long hours and hard work. Understanding the nature of crops, what it takes to raise a successful crop, he has expanded his fields to ensure healthy crop rotation and to produce enough to support his family.
Yet under this front, the modern-day frontiersman is far more about his family, the memories of his daughters and memories to come than he is about his farm. Reminiscing about past family holidays and weekends spent traveling to cow and animal showings with his daughters, he sounds like the richest man in America. Perhaps having his fingers in the soil, connecting with the earth and her treasures, coaxing crops to bloom from dry dirt and stones has given Fred a clear perspective on what is important in life and what isn’t. Family holidays at his mother’s house still rank high on his top ten list.
Managing the stress of farming has made Fred quiet, thoughtful and calm. Able to face chaos, storms and crises with the quiet fortitude of deep knowledge that tomorrow the sun will come out, life will go on and through the circle of life, the balance will be preserved. Fred, in footsteps of the farmers before him, his contemporaries and those to come, will quietly preserve a way of life, the history of this country and continue to support the foundations of our economy.
Born into a world which judged him for the color of his skin, taught endurance, respect and dedication from birth, Albert Johnson understood the value of opportunities. Many in his generation became disenchanted with society, grew angry and restless, blaming rather than solving problems. Learning to overcome the doubt, hate and ignorance of his day, Mr. Johnson had the courage to step out and build a legacy.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma not long after statehood, Mr. Johnson learned about life, race, love and hate from his mother and father. His father, a Buffalo Soldier instilled respect and discipline, his mother taught him to love and the meaning of family and community.
A smart young man, Mr. Johnson was afforded opportunities many of his race were not. Caddying for families on the Post golf course, he had the chance to see what life could be, how education and determination could better a life. Working hard at school and sports, he earned a place for himself in Winston Salem State College in North Carolina. Returning home, Mr. Johnson returned to the school which educated him.
For Mr. Johnson, Douglass School was more than a place which educated him, a place which launched his career, rather Douglass was his fate, his destiny. One may wonder if the school herself knew the fate she was creating for Mr. Johnson, perhaps she did. In the school which educated him, created a love for learning and further developed his self-discipline, providing him with confidence, Mr. Johnson launched his career.
Never one to shirk a duty, nor complete a duty halfway, Mr. Johnson created a community within Douglass. Giving both teachers and students pride in their schools, he empowered them to be the best they could be, he challenged them to give more than they thought they could. In this paradoxical world, a world overshadowed by racism, hate and injustice, Mr. Johnson built a world of peace, harmony, and equality. He did this through his belief; take every opportunity presented.
As fate would have it, Mr. Johnson was the man called upon to desegregate Lawton Schools. Rather than seeing this as unfair or political, he saw it as simply placing the best students and teachers where they were needed. Approaching it with the dogmatic stalwartness, Mr. Johnson created a plan and launched it with the simplicity of confidence well-born. Mr. Johnson was handed the opportunity to steer fate, and rather than hesitate or ponder this chance, he simply took it, found the courage to act based on the vision of a better future he had seen years ago when caddying.
The simple wisdom and incredible courage of Mr. Johnson have shaped countless generations, has impacted thousands of lives, has changed what could have been into what is. By following his one simple belief of taking every opportunity presented, he positioned himself for a place among the great leaders of history.
The life of a firefighter is more than rescuing kittens from trees and teaching fire safety, it is filled with moments of great intensity, harrowing escapes from the burning bite of flames, the first on the scene of an accident, fighting to save lives. For Codie Howell, facing these fears in 24-hour shifts is the stuff dreams are made of.
A dedicated family man, Codie has spent his career caring for his family and saving lives. For Codie, his career choice is not about heroics or gallantry, rather it is about the preservation of the safety of his community. Being able to help someone on their worst day is a great day for Codie.
Raising his children, Codie has always taught them to never give up on their dreams. Understanding the danger their dad places himself in every shift does not upset or scare them. Rather his children understand this is their father’s dream, this is who their father is. His wife, an RN in the ER should have a good understanding of what her husband does, but rather than dwell on the danger, on the what could be, she focuses on the fire education safety her husband teaches and the occasional cat rescue.
As his children grew, Codie realized he missed more and more. He is a proud dad, taking every opportunity he can to spend time with his kids. Thinking it may be time to trade in his boots and hose for a safer job with stable hours, he asked his children what they thought. Emulating the lessons taught by their dad, they said no. They were taught to never give up on what they love, to always follow their dream. They expected no less from their father.
Codie spends days protecting the community, holding hands and helping others. The remaining days he spends loving his wife and children, relishing the moments of fatherhood and embracing the pride he feels as he watches his children grow.
Angela Price did not begin her career as a teacher, nor was she aware of the deep passion burning within her. After graduating with a degree in Accounting, Angela built a career balancing books and double-checking figures. After becoming a mom, Angela chose to stay home with her children until her youngest entered school. At that moment, faced with the decision to return to her career, she realized her heart was not in numbers anymore.
Reflecting on jobs which piqued her passion, Angela chose to teach. She wanted to be the kind of teacher she would choose for her own children. At that moment, what she thought was just a simple decision, was the beginning of a legacy of investment in children and our future.
As an English and Social Studies 5thgrade teacher in Elgin, Angela is living her dream job. An avid historian, she unequivocally believes history holds the keys for our future, the preservation of our story and can be the guiding light along the journey of life. Through countless hours of research, training, seminars and travel, Angela works to bring the history of the United States to life for her students. Not one to shy away from the ugly, unglamorous and painful parts of our history, she works to teach her students the truth.
Driven to create generations of knowledgeable, productive citizens and community members, she has dedicated her career to instilling the power of the truth to each student. Where so many teachers and history books gloss over certain portions of our history, Angela bravely faces them and presents them in very age-appropriate ways. Through her dedication, she is changing the world one fifth-grader at a time.
As dedicated to fellow teachers as she is to her students, she invests hours sharing lessons learned, mentoring, lifting up and encouraging. To future teachers, she is an inspiration, a voice of hope when others mock the choice. To her community, she is investing in tomorrow. And to her family, she is the world who holds them together and encourages their dreams.
On first glance, Chadd appears to be a young man with a well laid out plan. Striving to have a successful career in law enforcement. Chadd is quick to take every opportunity available to better himself. Yet underneath this stoic exterior, lies the heart of a superhero.
From the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI, he grew up entrenched in the Pacific Islander culture of strong ties to family and community. Always grateful for the incredible mom and dad who chose him and his siblings, he has strived since the moment of truth, the moment of choice, to make life better for all involved, to be supportive, to be the barrier between the bad and his family.
His parents are extremely proud, his mother sends reports home to the island, even convincing the local media to write stories on Chadd’s accomplishments. For many, he is a hero, he has made it off the island, has a great career, and has never forgotten his roots. But Chadd sees it all differently.
Most days he is simply a guy who is engaged and raising two step-sons. Like everyone else, he has his struggles, his setbacks, the challenges which could prevent his success and stop him from achieving his dreams. But unlike most, he believes he is rich. He has a home, a love, children and a dog. For him, he has achieved everything.
Encased by a humbleness born through tragedy, he is the rising phoenix. But he is far from the tragic hero, he does not suffer from hubris. Rather, he is deep, thoughtful, and vigilant to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Always looking for ways to pay back the kindness shown to him by police officers and his parents, he is the rock, the steadfast soul who rights wrongs, protects the innocent and gives back to his community.
Far from cliché, he is all heart. While he has known true evil, he has not allowed it to harden his heart. Rather, he has taken the hurt and used it to catapult his career, to enable him to give more than he receives.
Days on patrol can be tedious, life is hard, people can be so mean. In a culture where news of police encounters ending in an undesired fashion have become common in the media, Chadd is stays focused on being an officer everybody can look to. True to his heart, his badge and his oath, he truly is watchful, watching for ways to help others overcome pain.
Telling stories has become more than a profession for Caitlin, it has become her passion. After a childhood spent outside, a love for fishing, hunting and hiking set the stage for her career and passion. A budding new reporter, Caitlin began her career in San Angelo, Texas. There among the open plains and prairies, Caitlin found the answer to an internal struggle she was unaware of, a way to tell happy stories, to report the positive, to educate her viewers about the importance of preserving the farming and ranching industry.
After several years, experiences, and a few channel changes, Caitlin has settled into her role well. Sharing well researched, fair and unbiased pieces, she takes her profession and role seriously. She understands what few news anchors do, often times, her story, her perspective, is the all the viewers hear or see. Her time on air is more than just reporting, it is about engaging her viewers, educating them on topics particularly important to our area.
Never one to shrink away from a story, the young reporter had to find a way to preserve her passion, to protect herself from the ugliness and jadedness of the world. In the rare wisdom of youth, in the moments of brilliance only an eager and innocent mind can create, Caitlin found her answer. In each area she serves, she identifies an issue of great importance on several levels. This issue becomes her beacon, her happiness amid the drudgery and sometimes frightening world. This beacon guides her soul, preserving her passions and protecting her heart. This issue becomes the happy stories, the educational stories, the fight to preserve a way of life- this issue becomes her joy.
Living in southwest Oklahoma, Caitlin has learned the importance of farming and ranching. Many overlook agriculture industries, taking for granted the role they play. The agriculture industries are the heartbeat of America, they are among the original industries which created and sustained our country through countless periods of strife and conflict. These brave men and women who work 365 days a year in rain, sleet, snow and heat ensure we have healthy food to eat.
Agriculture is the cornerstone to the national, state and local economies. Much of Oklahoma is dedicated to the development of ranches and farms. Middle schools and high schools across our state participate in FFA, 4H and OSU Extension programs. Families sacrifice weekends to travel the state so their children can show the animals they are raising. More than one prom date has arrived in an old farm truck, danced a two-step in cowboy boots and fallen in love in the expanse of a hay field. This is the heartland; this is a way of life.
Yet, knowingly understanding the importance of agriculture industries, the media, mainstream America and economic developers choose to overlook the farmers and ranchers. High school counselors push sexy career paths, colleges talk about countless majors and minors, the path to the next Fortune 500 company. Rarely do they speak on the importance of agriculture.
In her quiet, astute manner, Caitlin observed this. She watched as farmers and ranchers diligently went about their business, never seeking praise or thanks, actively avoiding the camera. But in her wisdom, Caitlin knew someone had to be the voice of the farmers and ranchers, someone needed to showcase the hard work of FFA and 4H groups, someone needed to educate the local community, to garner support and positive reactions, to educate on legislation and bills, to ensure the agriculture industry is preserved.
Professional to a T, optimistic about the future, Caitlin is the voice for every story without a voice. She brings to life and shows her viewers what few other reporters do. She shares her passion, not to build a career, but to educate her viewers.
Sharing the majesty of nature with people who have never experienced it before, leading people to new trails, helping people face their fears, is all in a day’s work for Randy Hale. Sharing his passion for nature, his exuberance for fresh air and the sun on his skin, Randy has turned his passion into a lifelong career.
Understanding the importance, power and beauty of nature, Randy has built a career entrenched in the preservation and enjoyment of nature. Introducing people to the grandeur of nature, taking life-long cement dwellers and minimizing their fear through patient education, support and leading of hikes are among his favorite activities. Always equally attune to the needs of the Refuge as well as the needs visitors, hikers and guests Randy is present with encouraging words and when needed, water.
Randy’s passion does not stop with people or the Refuge, he advocates cares for animals, both residents of the refuge and visitors. Mindful of the damage hot surfaces and grounds can do to the paws of dogs. Randy strives to ensure the Refuge is safe, protected and enjoyable for all, humans and animals.
His draw to nature, his calling and passion are fulfilled from the magic and peace he draws from being one with nature. He has come to appreciate the medicinal effects the outdoors and Mother Nature can have on people. Randy has learned what so many have not, to value all life and every living organism contributes to our world, has purpose and value. Equally advocating for the safety of dog and human hikers, preserving the wildlife who call the Refuge home, Randy will do all he can to ensure each living being who crosses his path will be appreciated and well cared for.
Pursuing a love for television and acting, Cynthia Sosa received a bachelor degree in Radio and Television Production from Cameron. Always dreaming of staring on the silver screen, a final lab changed the course of her passion, launching a career in radio.
Devoted to her community, continually striving to give her all, to improve the lives of every ear who listens to the station, Cynthia is committed to providing the highest quality programming to the listening area. She has built a career promoting the messages of nonprofits, working to educate the community and share much-needed information. Understanding the power of the radio, the power of an educational message, Cynthia works to ensure all parties are represented, each listening area is equally supported. Through key partnerships, collaborations and relationships Cynthia is able to connect with people with much-needed information and services.
While Cynthia’s work is glamourous and has created a fan base, her heart remains true to her purpose and mission, serving her community. Continually working to promote activities, groups, fundraisers and individuals she is never still. Known for her voice, her heart is her greatest asset. Cynthia invests countless hours every semester teaching classes, working to help people achieve their best self possible. Through her job at the radio station, she works and mentors future radio stars, instilling in them a love of community.
Her eclectic tastes and experiences with other cultures have gifted Cynthia with a heart to love all, eyes to see all and a voice to share. Driven to collect information, she shares every piece of information with anyone who needs it. Her self-less passion to educate all who she encounters makes her an asset to more than her listeners. She is the voice of a community, the guide to resources and information, the champion of those looking for answers and help.
Taking a step-in faith, Cynthia took the position of Storm Water Manager as a way to expand her knowledge. Little did she know she was finding her passion. Having worked with water and water treatment prior, she has a strong understanding for the preciousness of this limited resource. Working to educate the community, to preserve our water sources and protect Lawton from potential flooding, Cynthia spends her days giving a voice to water.
Many people fail to understand that water is a limited resource, while 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water and the oceans hold approximately 96.5% of earth’s water, water is not a renewable resource. Protecting what we have to ensure the longevity of the supply is vital. Water is a carrier, it will carry what we place in it, changing clean water to unusable water.
While some people actively work to protect water, many of us take it for granted. We simply believe every time we turn our faucets on, we will have clean water. What we fail to see is the work of people like Cynthia. Flooding, water shortage and contaminated water are serious issues surrounding any and every community. Cynthia works daily with her department to ensure the residents of Lawton and surrounding areas are well protected and safeguarded to have clean water and little flooding.
Cynthia takes her work seriously. Continuously surveying flood plans, flood pathways and streams and creeks, her team is prepared for disaster. Utilizing several different researched scenarios, as well as ingenuity, experience and common sense, the team, under Cynthia’s guidance works through plans, making minor adjustments as needed. Because of their steadfast work the city suffers minimal flooding during storms.
Continuing efforts to preserve resources, providing education, and continuously cleaning water sources, as well as storm drains, flood plains and streets Cynthia protects our water. A dedicated and passionate professional, she does what few can, she directs the results of inclement weather, navigating our tenuous relationship with our changing climate to ensure the preservation of clean water.
Few people take the time to think about our natural resources, let alone work with Mother Nature. It is the special few, those who truly understand the value of our ecosystem, who remain cool, calm and collected in the fury of a storm who ensure we will continue to thrive.
Shailah Red Elk never pictured herself as an artist, let alone a business owner. She had planned a structured, timeless career studying psychology. Yet the universe and her spirituality had a different path chosen. Today, she is a widely known artist, proud of her local community, continuously giving and investing in others as she mentors and pours herself into her daughter.
Artists are often accused of seeing the external person, and not the person who lives inside, the passion and spirit of their subject. Others would say artists have a clear perspective which can cut through the mirid of fakeness and see what truly exists. Shailah has the gift of not hiding flaws and scars, but rather illuminating them, showing the grace and lessons learned as valuable. Mimicking the Japanese belief of Kintsukuroi, she fills the cracks, holes and lines with gold.
Dedicated to her community, driven by her faith, Shailah gives more than she receives. Taking lessons learned the hard way, she, in turn, invests in local and new artists, small businesses and the community as a whole. Filling her spirit with the growth and success of others, her bucket continuously runs over. Facilitating art classes, community beautification and development, she never shies from a challenge nor turns her back. Eclectic yet elegant, she shines with inner beauty, a sparkle, an energy of love to all she encounters.
Yet, no matter how famous her store, designs or art becomes, her passion is her family. Able to build one of her own, she dedicates herself to her daughter, enjoying the flexibility of owning her own business provides. Able to always have her daughter with her, she relishes in family time. Dreaming of one day being a full-time mom, of being able to love those who need it, to invest her energy and spirit in the future, she is quick to speak of the accomplishments of her daughter before her own. Family is her world, her driver, which enables her to take the world on one mural at a time.
Certain of her purpose, she continuously works to instill character and tenacity in her daughter. Accomplishments, accolades and riches mean little for a woman driven to invest in others. Next to the pride she feels for her daughter, the pride she feels when she can invest in an artist, provide opportunities for them, advance their careers drives her to fulfill her purpose.
The love of the outdoors has taken Shailah and her family across the country. Exploring the world one hike or camping trip at a time, the love of her hometown, the love of Lawton drives her back each time. Committed to making this community a better place, she partners with local initiatives, promotes other small businesses and creates synergy.
The world is an oyster. Scars need to be healed, emotions shared and above all else others need support. Through her faith, business and family, Shailah does just that and will continue to provide inspiration and investment in the future of others for years to come.
Visual storytellers, preservers of moments, photographers fill many roles. Moments in history were captured by the brave few who dared to be present with no more than a camera. Defenseless to the chaos, violence, hate and war around them photographers have captured moments many would rather forget. Yet for the brave few, the ones who understand the power of a photo, the risk is worth the end result, the moment preserved survives to educate, astound, and impact generations to come.
Not all moments captured are negative, most are beautiful, monumental, breathtaking once in a lifetime preservations of love, happiness, victory and freedom. No matter the emotion of the moment captured, the moments are captured because of photographers. Chris Martin, photographer, videographer, and chronicler of life has had the opportunity to capture the raw beauty of nature, the fierceness of the ocean, the clash of lightning as it finds its target.
Photography is more than just capturing a pretty face, a unique tree or the perfect sunset. It is about freezing a moment in time and with it the very emotions, scents and feelings associated with it. The art of photography ensures each time you look at a photo of the ocean you feel the sand between your toes, feel the rush and power of the waves and smell the faint hint of fish, seaweed and salt in the air. Or feel deep horror and sadness when looking at a picture of a natural diaster’s aftermath. Photography captures moments and allows others to experience moments for years to come.
Always behind the camera, it is rare to capture an image of a photographer. More comfortable in control of the lighting, angle and subject, Chris exercises his skills, his raw talent to save moments, capture memories. Removing all focus from himself, he pours his heart into his art, sharing his voice and vision with the capturing of one second in time.
A true artist, tortured by his gift, his need for perfection, he is known for working himself to exhaustion to ensure the vision he had is perfected. Communicating the very song of his heart, his expression of beauty in his photos capture moments in a rare intensity, a clear perspective of exactly what he saw with his mind’s eye. No longer will the saying “It belongs in a museum” haunt an artist The ability to digitally recreate their art allows all of humanity to experience their moments.