Alan Velie: OU’s longest serving professor reflects on 50 year career

BY ANNA BAUMAN

Alan Velie was the center of attention and loving it.

At 79, he sat surrounded by hundreds of dear friends, colleagues and students crowded into Beaird Lounge in May to celebrate the career of a man whose influence spans generations.

The group gathered was as diverse as it was large — OU’s top administrators, English and Native American studies professors, athletic executives, study abroad faculty, old friends, young students, children and grandchildren — all standing as testament to Velie’s far-reaching influence on the institution he calls home.

Many speeches conveyed part praise, part roast — fitting for a man who has been described as “lovable” and “contentious” in the same breath.  

This fall marks the 50th year of Velie’s notable career at OU — a milestone earning him the distinction of being OU’s longest serving faculty member still teaching — something he’ll return to this spring post-retirement.  

“He holds so much institutional memory,” said Amanda Cobb-Greetham, Velie’s former student and current colleague. “He is like a keeper of OU’s memory. A keeper of our institutional culture and history.”

In his second year, Velie witnessed the retirement of OU’s venerated president George Lynn Cross, best known for desegregating the school, and six presidents later, he will witness the end of OU president David Boren’s era. In between, he has seen OU transform from an average university into what it is today — better in every way, he says, in spite of a worsening budget crisis.

“It’s a pleasure to work here,” Velie said. “It’s always been very pleasant, but it’s really something to be proud of today.”

‘It was a long time ago’

Velie first set foot in Norman long before McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken popped up, before the football stadium sold out Saturdays in the fall and even before Barry Switzer was a household name.

Norman in 1967 was much sleepier, more provincial, Velie says, with only two restaurants in town. The steakhouse didn’t cater to his “adventurous” appetite, as one friend put it, so he had to drive to Oklahoma City for Chinese takeout.

With a wife and 15-month-old son in tow, he was just shy of 30 and fresh out of graduate school at the West coast’s prestigious Stanford University when he took a position as an instructor in the English department for around $8,900 a year.

As a Harvard undergrad, Velie found English — a major he didn’t fall asleep reading — when his plans to become a doctor were ruined by a chemistry class he didn’t have a prayer of passing. Velie admits he was not a serious student in those days, opting for the local college bar over the library, a lifestyle that resulted in a transcript mostly marked with C’s.

Post-graduation, he served four years in the Marine Corps, but left to start a family with his soon-to-be wife, Sue. It wasn’t until he worked at a publishing company visiting college campuses that he got the idea of becoming a professor.

“I figured, hell, I could do that — they’re no smarter than I am,” Velie said.

At Stanford, he got serious — diving into the study of Shakespeare, he earned a master’s and Ph.D in four years.

“In graduate school, you have to work a lot harder or they throw you out,” Velie said. “So I did.”

Velie brought his passion for Shakespeare and the written word with him to OU’s English department — one of the largest on campus — housed at the time in Kaufman Hall and later moved to Gittinger Hall, now gone. It has since been eclipsed in size by many new departments and colleges instituted under Boren.

Back then, Velie penciled in his students’ grades and students signed up for courses on a pad of paper.

“It was done by paper and typewriters, not computers,” said Velie. “It was a much smaller, simpler operation.”

Still, as students drift to other departments like communications, journalism or science-related fields, Velie recognizes the importance of the discipline he has dedicated his life to. Analyzing literature is akin to solving social problems, skills needed in any job, he said.

“Most problems involve human behavior,” Velie said. “And that’s what English covers.”

‘Soul of a teacher’

Kyle Harper would not be the person he is today without Alan Velie.

OU’s provost credits Velie, who he describes as “a character,” for sparking in him a lasting love of literature, beauty and ideas.

“I vividly remember being in his class and having my life changed because of the way that he taught great literature,” said Harper, who studied texts like Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene with Velie. “He could make it come to life, he could make it seem important, in a way that was surprising for literature that might be hundreds of years old but could somehow seem to, in his classroom, be the most important thing in the world.”

Harper estimates that Velie has impacted thousands and thousands of students in a similar way throughout his 50-year tenure — many of whom have gone on to become Velie’s colleagues in the English and Native American studies departments.

Velie’s gift in the classroom is something special, Harper said, and he’s has racked up plenty of awards to prove it.

Velie received the Amoco Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1972, the Baldwin Award for Excellence in Classroom Instruction in 1986, the Mortarboard Honor Society Outstanding Faculty Member in 1989. In 2014 he was awarded the Otis Sullivant Award for perceptivity — “whatever that means,” Velie says — which counts former linebacker Eric Striker, honors college dean David Ray and associate dean of students Kristen Partridge among its recipients. In 2015, Velie was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame alongside Boren.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a born teacher,” said Jerry Weber, retired exercise physiology professor who has enjoyed a 50 year friendship with Velie. “But if I thought there were, Alan would fit that category.”   

Since his early years when OU had a looser admissions policy, Velie has noticed the quality of students and academics greatly increase. It’s now tougher to get in, he says, contributing to better students thanks to initiatives driven by Boren like the recruitment of National Merit Scholars.

Velie’s teaching style is traditional and his strategy is simple to teach students how to read, write and, most importantly, think. Even through 50 years of change, Velie’s teaching remains timeless.

“I try to teach them how to think for themselves,” Velie said. “That’s why I have them read a passage — Well, what do you think it means?’ Tell me, not what somebody said it meant, but read it, and try to figure it out. And if a student can get out of college knowing how to read and write, that’s really all you need.”

A penchant for travel

Velie’s dedication to students extended beyond the classroom in a study abroad program to Oxford, England, that he chaperoned nearly every year for two decades until 2015 with honors college professor Melanie Wright.

Wright traces the beginning of Velie’s involvement with the program to an event in the Union when Velie approached her at the snack table wanting to come along on the Oxford trip.  

“It was just like ‘Hey, how about I join in?’ ‘OK!’” Wright said. “Who’s going to tell him no?”

Since then, the pair has taken groups of students on treks to experience the wonders of Oxford — from the school’s stately grounds, to the Houses of Parliament and, most often, the local bar scene.

“He’s the heart and soul of the program,” Wright said of Velie, who loved taking students to lunch and out to visit the many colorful, tiny bars dotting the area.

Velie, ever adventurous, discovered a quaint pub a four-mile walk away with a thatched roof, a waterfall and peacocks that’s now become a tradition for students to visit.  

Velie’s travels also reached across the globe to places like Bolivia, Bulgaria and Ukraine where he gave academic lectures. He aspired to give students a glimpse of the world outside Norman — a goal shared by OU’s administration under Boren.

“There’s a big world out there,” said Velie, whose own worldview has expanded since he first settled in small-town Oklahoma. “I think it’s healthy for students to realize that and just get a sense of what the rest of the world is like, what they’re doing.”

‘Nobody else was doing it’

Velie found ways to be curious in his own backyard as well.

Cobb-Greetham sat in Velie’s classroom 25 years ago reading books she didn’t previously know existed written by Native American authors.

“I don’t even know how to explain what it meant to me the first time I was in a class and I read these texts,” Cobb-Greetham said. “I am Chickasaw, and when I read these books by native authors that I didn’t even know existed they weren’t anywhere else and they weren’t being taught anywhere else — it meant the world to me. And I wanted to become a part of that and to share that as well.”

Cobb-Greetham, now the chair of OU’s department of Native American studies, credits Velie with helping shape the academic field she and many others at OU have built careers on.

“Alan Velie insisted that the literary works of this renaissance be taken seriously as significant texts within the academy,” she said.

In 1969, two years into a budding teaching career, Velie became the first in the nation to teach American Indian literature in an academic setting, at the request of his department chair.

“I didn’t know a thing about it,” said Velie, who had just written his thesis and dissertation on Shakespeare.

Looking for texts to teach, he found only nine novels in publication — including N. Scott Momaday’s 1968 House Made of Dawn — which he taught alongside the poetry section of a Mohawk newspaper.

Cobb-Greetham recalls sitting in Velie’s classroom the first time.

“You’re like ‘Who is this slightly-grumpy-sounding rugby player who’s in here talking about Native American literature?’” she said. “You’re like ‘What?’”  

But his “gruff” personality didn’t translate into arrogance — instead, he acted as a conduit between the academic community and the writers whose works he taught.  

“He didn’t hold himself out as like, ‘Oh, I’m the expert on this,’” Cobb-Greetham said. “He mostly saw himself as a way to help introduce literature from these communities…He understood that the knowledge and the expertise lives within our tribal nations and communities and he honored that.”

The Native American studies department, which emerged out of an interdisciplinary program, was built on the contributions from the discipline’s first scholars, Velie chief among them.   

Velie taught the Native American literature course for years until new faculty members rose up to take his place. Still, he continued to pursue the field as a scholar, writing three books and over 40 articles and editing several anthologies on the subject.

“Indians are such an important part of Oklahoma history, and one of the best ways to understand Indian culture is to read novels about it,” Velie said.  

Al Velie rugby field

Velie’s love of literature is rivaled only by his other main hobby — sports of all kinds, but especially contact sports.

“At his retirement reception there was a lot of rugby talk — and some literature,” Cobb-Greetham said.

During his undergraduate days at Harvard, Velie crossed the yard one day and saw a group of young men playing rugby. He immediately knew he wanted to join.

“I couldn’t imagine what they were doing but it looked like fun, so I asked if I could do it too,” Velie said. “And they said, well, come out Tuesday — so I did.”

Over six decades later, a sign bearing his name stands in the corner of a patchy field on the south end of campus to mark OU’s rugby field in honor of the club’s founding father.

Velie agreed to sponsor an OU rugby team in the mid-70s when approached by two law students, with one stipulation — he would play on the team. He continued to do so for several seasons in his late 30s until he took a permanent spot as the team’s sponsor and biggest fan.

Velie was not so much beloved for his abilities on the field, but instead the “abilities, expertise and passion he exhibited in pre- and post-game celebrations,” Weber said in a speech delivered at the retirement reception, sparing the details “in the interest of family harmony.”

His physical abilities were severely inhibited when he suffered a stroke in February 2014 that sent him to the hospital for nearly a month. With time, he learned to walk and talk again, but still has limited use of his right arm.

“I think the most remarkable thing is his humor — his sense of humor and his enjoyment in humor,” Weber said. “His ability to laugh, his willingness to laugh, is undiminished by his physical circumstances, and I just think that is remarkable — absolutely remarkable.”  

Weber admires the way his friend made a graceful come-back, returning as soon as he was physically able to a class that met him with a standing ovation.  

‘That’s a remarkable legacy’

These days, Velie sits in a new office in Cate, a converted dormitory, with a window gazing out at Dale Hall, one of many buildings he pre-dates. He navigates the halls using a walker and cruises to meet friends for lunch at the Union on his very own golf cart provided by the university after his stroke.  

Wearing open-toed sandals and a sport coat layered over a Hawaiian shirt, Velie is every bit the combination of rugged rugby player and sophisticated scholar that his various interests suggest.

As OU faces a new era, relics of his past clutter the desk and shelves — a coffee-stained mug bearing an Oxford crest, photos of he and his wife on exotic trips and a vast collection of books amassed over the years.

But, reflecting on a life’s worth of contributions to OU, it’s not the books that matter most to him — it’s the students.

“That’s the best legacy you can have the only real legacy is students,” Velie said. “I mean, you can write all kinds of books, but most of them don’t sell and anyway, I think students are more important.”

 

Blocked in: One neighborhood’s journey with OU expansion

BY KAYLA BRANCH

Tucked in the southeast corner of the University of Oklahoma’s campus complex sit eight blocks on the precipice of change.

East of Jenkins Avenue and south of Lindsey Street is the area known as the Hardie-Rucker neighborhood, where housing sprang up post World War II for veterans returning to school. It has since transitioned to a community boxed in by OU in every direction, according to a survey prepared for the city of Norman by Jo Meacham Associates.

OU’s main campus lines the west side of Hardie-Rucker, while athletic facilities and the Duck Pond are perched to the north. A field of OU-owned land, as well as railroad tracks, lay to the east and recreation fields partially owned by OU, along with a Norman park, make up the southern border.

There are four main streets in the neighborhood — Lincoln Avenue, Garfield Avenue, McKinley Avenue and George Avenue — and as OU has grown, parts of the neighborhood have been used for university facilities. This includes the southeastern block of Jenkins and Lindsey, which now holds Headington Hall, a freshman and athletic dorm.

Campus casts a growing shadow on Hardie-Rucker, literally and figuratively, as OU buildings inch closer and houses in the area are bought by OU’s Board of Regents.

Below are stories from residents still living in the area and their perspectives on how OU’s expansion will change the neighborhood they call home.

The students: Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt

For the last three and a half months, Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt have been adjusting to life inside of a house rather than in a dorm.

Weller, an early education sophomore, met Brandt, a health and exercise science sophomore, when they became roommates during their freshman year at OU in 2016. Now, the two live on Garfield Avenue with one other roommate.

After a friend of a friend graduated, the house was left open and Weller said it was a great fit.

“We only looked at this house because we knew someone who lived here before, but we really like it and how close it is to campus,” Weller said. “I didn’t even have to get a parking pass, which is wonderful because they’re so expensive so I can just walk.”

Garfield is dotted with ‘For Rent’ signs in some yards and cars parked along the street; most of the houses are close to the same size — a post-WWII square build.

Weller said rent is cheap — $1000 a month, split between three roommates — and their three bed, one bath house has a large backyard and the right amount of indoor space for their two dogs.

This is unlike OU’s recently opened Residential Colleges directly to the east of Hardie-Rucker, in which a similar floor plan would cost $5,499 a semester and no pets are allowed, not including service animals, according to the Residential Colleges website.

The street has been a welcoming place to live so far, with a mix of other students and some families, so the thought that it could be changed by the construction habits of the university is a sad one, Weller said.

“I’ll be really disappointed if that happens,” Weller said. “Dorms are OK, but you don’t get the space, you don’t get to have pets. It’s just really nice to have an actual house.”

While having more living options can be a positive, Brandt said there should be other priorities for the university, such as updating and increasing classroom space.

“You go and sit in Dale Hall with torn up seats but they build new places for people to live with nowhere for those people to park,” Brandt said. “I understand that they are trying to give students that option of where to live, but you can’t take away other options too. Not everyone can afford to or wants to live on campus all four years.”

The staffer: Kyle Davies

The dinosaur displays at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History have been through an extensive process of cleaning and filing, which was probably done by Kyle Davies.

Davies is a fossil preparator, meaning he helps collect, clean and prepare fossil specimens for study or display, and has lived in Hardie-Rucker for the last 20 years, he said.

“I came to Norman in the late 1990’s and moved into this neighborhood because it was only two blocks away from where my work building was,” Davies said.

First, Davies said he lived in a rental property on the edge of the Hardie-Rucker area, but now has moved to McKinley Avenue in his own home, which he thinks is becoming more rare in the area.

“After living here for a few years, I found that I liked the neighborhood and so when I decided to buy a house, I hunted around in this neighborhood,” Davies said. “It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood that’s close to campus. It is a little isolated, which may seem like a strange thing to say, but we’re really the only residential space left in this particular area.”

Davies said those that live on his street permanently are suspicious that OU will buy many of the properties in the neighborhood and build over it.

Currently, OU’s Board of Regents owns roughly 10 houses in the area, along with the Headington Hall dorms and multiple lots for parking, according to the Cleveland County Assessor’s website. If the area is bought and demolished by OU, relocation or retirement could be in his future, he said.

“Things change all the time and as things continue to grow, they will need to grow the university, so I’ll just have to accept it when it happens,” Davies said. “When the time comes, I’ll have to relocate or maybe I’ll even be retired by then. It’ll take time. The joke goes that we still have a few blocks before they get to us.”

The local: Steve Vixen

Handmade wooden furniture with varying price tags are positioned around Steve Vixen’s front yard during OU game days.

Vixen, a long time resident of Norman and over 20 year resident of McKinley Avenue, is a carpenter who spends his free time collecting reclaimed wood from projects he’s worked on and turning it into chairs and benches and tables.

He’s given benches to neighbors and helped renovate houses on the street, but Vixen’s ties to the neighborhood go deeper than friendly gestures.

“We bought this place because of my brother, Mark,” Vixen said. “Mark has cerebral palsy, but he’s been able to work at OU throughout the years. We got this place so he could have a home and still get to work by himself.”

Vixen and Mark live together now, and Vixen said the neighborhood is a positive place to be, mainly because of the diversity of residents.

“We’re really close to campus, so there is always an eclectic group of people who live here and I enjoy it,” Vixen said. “I like living next to the college students actually, there was a kid just the other day who’s an engineering student that came over and asked me to help him build a rocket. So that was pretty cool.”

Hardie-Rucker is changing though, Vixen said, as some of the older residents pass away and as OU collects more and more homes.

“The older man who lived next door to me recently passed away and his wife is still there, but I really expect her to sell out to OU sometime soon,” Vixen said. “If you really think about it, we’re basically on campus since we’re surrounded by OU property and they buy these houses, too. We’re all just waiting for OU to come in and buy us up.”

As that time comes closer, Vixen said he and Mark are hoping to last as long as possible in the neighborhood.

“We’re hoping to hold out,” Vixen said. “Mark is getting older and the fact that he can get out and around campus for a few hours a day is really good. We’ll miss it, we’ve really enjoyed the neighborhood.”

Thomas Wavering and the Birth of the Innovation Hub

BY CARLY ROBINSON

“Our mission is to increase innovation and entrepreneurship across OU and throughout our community. We want to create a vibrant innovative ecosystem filled with dynamic companies and opportunities for amazing OU students to find the career of their dreams here in Oklahoma.”

Suddenly, education takes on a new meaning through the words of Thomas Wavering, the Founding Executive Director of the University of Oklahoma’s Innovation Hub. He reminds us of the underlying goals we are all striving to attain throughout our college careers and beyond: to be passionate, to seek the heights understanding that anything is possible and to build a community of like-minded individuals to challenge us in our pursuits.

Designed as what creators refer to as a “maker space”, the Innovation Hub stands as a modern space for visualization and collaboration. Complete with a Digital Fabrication Lab, Data Visualization Zone, wood-working shop and so much more, the I-Hub destroys all perceived notions of what student collaboration should look like in today’s society.

Prior to his involvement with the Innovation Hub, Wavering spent over 18 years in leadership and executive roles, often with universities, pursuing research, development and commercialization of innovative technologies through various startups and products. Throughout these roles, however, he was consistently disappointed by colleges’ unrealized potential as a result of politics and bureaucracy.

The I-Hub brings about an entirely different approach to the concept of creation, and encourages diversity. Unlike many study centers on any given college campus, the Innovation Hub invites everyone from every background, be that business, engineering, research, marketing, science, etc. This space is not directed toward any certain group of people, but rather to the masses. The idea is to combine as many different individuals as possible to bounce ideas off of in order to bring about the most successful results in any goal. In fact, members of the Norman community are invited to experience all the Hub’s amenities as well. These unique features are what attracted Wavering to get involved and make a difference.

Wavering’s first day on the job was the first day the Innovation Hub opened in September of 2016. Since opening, he has taken on a wide variety of responsibilities, including the creation of their engaging programming, establishing policies, expanding basic capabilities to include a Code Lab and even the introduction of a Startup Legal Clinic.

The I-Hub was built on a platform of community involvement that Wavering emphasizes abundantly. It is clear in his tone that the people who pass through the doors are what make the Hub so successful. It is referred to as a “hub” because it attracts so many and is said to have many “spokes”.

Although the Innovation Hub is already wildly popular after being open for only a year, Wavering envisions even more potential for the center. According to OU public affairs, to aid in these efforts, the I-Hub was awarded the SBIRxOK program from the U.S. Small Business Administration with $2.5 billion worth of funding. This program is intended to encourage small business research, especially among women, and is lead in some cases by Wavering himself. For example, the Oklahoma Innovation to Market Roadshow is a “series of half-day workshops across Oklahoma to help innovators envision commercial outcomes for their ideas, consider collaboration opportunities and learn more about SBIR and the new SBIRxOK efforts.”

Wavering’s efforts to inspire leadership and progression in the community are very telling of his character and offer an exciting potential to bring ideas to life in the Norman area. The Innovation Hub finally gave him the opportunity to cultivate enthusiasm and motivation in a university setting.

“No other university in the country has anything comparable to the Innovation Hub”, said Wavering.

As the world becomes more technologically advanced at such a rapid pace, so do the needs involved in education. In a constantly changing society, Wavering pictured a space that welcomed new and evolving concepts.

As seen in an article from Sooner Magazine, Brandt Smith, director of the Innovation Hub’s fabrication lab, explained that “there is value in diversity. We want to broaden the perspective of people by putting them together”.

Smith and Wavering’s unique outlook on bringing people together from all backgrounds is what makes the center a breeding ground for growth. Students are given the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others in the community and vice versa. The community is given a look into the future, in a sense. They are able to observe our generation’s progressions and aspirations while simultaneously acting as mentors.

Wavering explains that the Hub is currently working on creating a new and improved website, but encourages the community to follow along on social media or sign up for their email list (innovationhub@ou.edu) to keep up to date on the programming they have in place and are anticipating in the future.

In a society revolving around immediacy and never ending demands, Thomas Wavering’s unique initiative and mind-set is something to admire. We need to start focusing on the fact that our ideas do have the potential to come to life. We need to focus on our passions and finding a way to utilize them on a regular basis in a way the benefits our community. Wavering’s upbeat attitude in terms of the future in addition to his work to bring about confidence and leadership in young creatives is an inspiration carried over to the success of the Innovation Hub.

A difficult run

By Parker Biggs

The way he runs is aggressive and intense. As he races past, you can see the veins popping out and intensity in his face. But the thing that sticks out most is the passion. You can see it in his face, as he dons Oklahoma Nike gear head to toe.

As he exits the track, he wipes the sweat off of his face with his grey “Oklahoma Track & Field” t-shirt and smiles. He smiles after running around the oval track 16 times, equaling nearly 4 miles. It was an off day for him, so he couldn’t complain. The hard stuff was later in the week.

“He grew up loving sports. He loved competition, but more than anything he loved winning. That was something he always talked about. Everything changed when he got to OU, I think. It was different. He just didn’t really have it anymore”, said Blake Yount, a former teammate. This lead to an unfulfilling freshman season, where he didn’t compete and was eventually redshirted.

The high school accomplishments from Staub are endless. The Jenks High School standout was part of 4 team state championship teams. His tenure included being named a Freshman All-American and Oklahoma Runner of the Year, before he could legally drive a car and was capped off by breaking the state record in the 2-mile race, with a time of 9:16 as a junior.

“He was on another level. Our team was really really good. But Chris was on another level athletically”, said high school teammate Will Littlefield.

He’s a rare talent for a distance runner. At 6’1” and weighing 190 pound of mostly muscle, Staub outweighs every one of his distance running teammates by at least 35 pounds.

None of this translated to the collegiate level, upon the high school All-American’s arrival. When talking to him, he often reiterated how easy it was for him in high school.

“He was better than everyone in Oklahoma at the high school level. I don’t think realize he realized how much work he was going to have to put in for him to succeed in the Big 12. He wanted to come to OU and be a star on the track team, but also have a social life, too. He likes being the life of the party”, said Staub’s roommate, Andrew Miller.

His social skills are apparent when spending time around him. Groups of teammates would walk by him, yet he seemed to dominate the conversations without even trying. It was his need to be out with his friends Wednesday’s through Saturday’s, however, that hurt his track career, upon arriving in Norman.

I could feel my head pounding as I heard Staub speak about his Sunday morning practices at 7 am that he arrived to after 4 hours of sleep. While his times on the track remained stagnant, teammates continued to improve.

“We didn’t really care much freshmen year. We both cared more about going out and meeting girls than we probably should have. I think this definitely slowed down Chris’s progress”, said Yount, who is now running at Colorado State.

While Chris began to focus more for his redshirt freshman season, he still was not fully invested. He competed in both cross-country and track, but never broke through to truly contribute to the team. All he could do was shake his head in disappointment when asked about his 2016-2017 season.

“He wasn’t enjoying himself. He didn’t seem like he really wanted to be at practice. He was drained. It was hard on him not to win. It got to the point where I don’t think he wanted his parents to watch our meets. He needed something to motivate him. That finally came last track season”, said Taylor Click, a graduated teammate. Getting beat by an unnamed teammate in a meet was that motivation.

“Chris won’t admit it, but that stung. He knew he was better than this guy. His times in high school blew his out of the water. Chris is a significantly better runner. After that, he was a different person. He was more passionate when he showed up at the next practice, and hasn’t looked back since”, Click went onto say.

With this turning point coming at the end of the season, Staub had a summer ahead of him to prepare for the current cross-country season. A study abroad trip to Italy could not slow down his preparation. Multiple classmates of Staubs mentioned his 6 am runs through the streets of Rome, Florence and Venice. That drive continued up until his arrival for fall practice in August.

“I’d already transferred to CSU (Colorado State) when they all reported in August. But I got a couple texts from old teammates saying how much better Staub looked than he did his first few years”, Yount said.

This revitalized passion is already starting to payoff. Staub has competed in every one of the Sooners’ cross-country meets so far this fall, being the third ranked runner on the team. Staub is happy with his progress, but made sure I knew that cross-country is a little long for him and that his hard work will really show up when track season starts.

“It’s weird. He hardly ever goes out anymore. He’s really locked in. Now that he’s a junior (redshirt sophomore), he realized that his time is running out. He doesn’t want to waste his lone opportunity to be a college athlete”, Miller said. “I can tell that he really wants to win. He’s a competitor. I think he’s got that feeling again. He doesn’t want to be mediocre. He wants to win”.

As he exited the track facility, he made sure I knew when he had upcoming meets in Norman. It was clear that he is now confident in himself and wanted others to see. Before he hopped in his bright orange Jeep, I had one last question for him. I asked him if he loved running for the University of Oklahoma.

His answer? “Hell yeah”.

Campus Corner Mural: Sooner legends turned comic book heroes

When Dean Codner was a young boy, he and two of his friends spent their time riding bikes to collect pop bottles. They would sell the bottles to buy candy and comic books, whose graphic style illustrations they would go home and try to mirror.

“Our whole quest, especially in the summer was to try to find comic books as much as we could and read and draw out of them,” said Codner, eyes lighting up as he referenced Marvel Comics and the Hulk, his favorite character.

Now, the 57-year-old artist is painting a mural on 588 Buchanan Ave. in the midst of Campus Corner commemorating the area’s 100th anniversary. The mural’s design is inspired by the comic book art of his childhood, but this time with with local superheroes: Sooner legends.

“Good job,” people would say. People walked by Codner and his mural on a rare breezy late summer day. He’d glance over, breaking his concentration to say thanks before returning to his work.

Art served Codner as an escape from a dysfunctional family. He says his parents were alcoholics, creating a lot of violence in his home. His grandmother would take him to Saturday art classes. She encouraged Codner to pursue art.

“She encouraged me to keep trying. She said ‘You don’t have anybody but yourself so if you never try you’re never gonna know if you can make it’,” Codner said.

As he reminisced about his youth, a little girl walked up to watch Codner paint.

“Come here Carly” said Michelle Boone to her daughter.

“No” she whined as Boone tried to get her to walk away.

The little girl stood and continued to watch Codner with concentration.

Every Monday, she goes to art class, Boone said. The pair, from Wichita Falls, Texas began talking to Codner.

“My grandmother used to take me three to four hours to paint.” Codner says smiling looking over at the little girl with an affinity for art like him.

A doodler by trade

As Codner grew up, he began to see differences in his artistic ability versus his classmates. He continued to develop his skills through high school when his father died

His grandmother wanted him to study art and he worked with his teachers to apply for college scholarships.

“As kids we did a lot of camping and hiking and we did a lot of outdoor activity and she always thought I was going to go into doing art or forestry,” Codner said of his grandmother.

He was offered a two-year scholarship at UCO. After switching his major three times he settled on commercial architecture and advertising design.

Barry Howe, Codner’s friend from high school was helping him paint the mural. Codner looked over “Here’s what you do,” he said demonstrating the brush technique. “See how it’s flat, see how there’s more control, take the brush sideways like that.”

Howe nodded, watching the brush strokes in Codner’s hand.

Howe graduated from OU with a degree in business. Codner and he were old wrestling buddies and had known each other for 40 years.

Although Howe doesn’t have much painting experience, Codner saw a talent in him, said Howe.

“I’m a doodler by trade,” Howe said, the corner of his mouth curling into a smile.

When the Norman Arts Council said they wanted to do a historical mural, Codner started thinking about the best way to present something that would appeal to college students as well as older generations.

He thought about Billy Vessels, the first OU Heisman trophy winner and OU basketball legend Wayman Tisdale. The two legends are painted as heroes on the mural, a sooner comic book.

Painting in the black lines that shape the words ‘Campus Corner’, Howe looked up at the wall.

“To have done something that’s going to be here for decades is a pretty neat experience,” he said.

Sooner Heritage

Sitting on a stool in camo shorts and a matching hat, Codner stared intently at his paintbrush, detailing bits of the mural.

Codner painted billboards in the ‘80s and ‘90s when things were hand painted. He did work for companies like Coca-Cola and different restaurants. The large scale canvases appealed to him.

“If I want to live my own dream with the blessings God gave me then I need to make an effort,” Codner said.

His gold cross necklace beamed brightly against his white T-shirt.

Growing up in Oklahoma, Codner had always been a fan of OU football. He would gather with friends on Saturdays to watch the games.

He remembers the days of Sooner legends — Tinker Owens, Jack Mildren, Joe Washington and Barry Switzer.

“It was just part of a heritage for us growing up,” Codner said

Today Campus Corner is a sea of crimson and cream on game days. Before the game, people gather together in anticipation. After the game, people flood the area to celebrate victories said Erin Patton, executive director of the Campus Corner Association.

“Campus Corner and the university go hand in hand,” Patton said

The association sponsored the mural, and will be fundraising soon to expand Dean’s design. The expansion will feature iconic buildings and landmarks over Campus Corner.

As cars whizzed by, Codner looked up at his work. The grandiosity of comics book heroes and sooner icons melded together.

“It’s going to be meaningful,” Codner said

The Unseen Force Behind Oklahoma City’s Jones Assembly by Haley Dobson

It may be difficult to catch a glimpse of Brittany Sanger’s small stature amongst the multitude of gleaming pots and pans and the swarm of bodies in white aprons through the large, waist to ceiling windows at The Jones Assembly. She works quietly and moves quickly, helping everyone wherever she can to ensure each dish is perfect. At any given time, she might be plating, cutting, frying or even butchering to prepare a dish from her curated fall menu. And this happens all before noon.

Sanger is the executive chef of the at The Jones Assembly in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she brought her culinary expertise all the way back to her hometown from Paris, France.

After facing many obstacles at home and abroad, including isolation, harsh teachers, a language barrier that left her confused about her place, and even those who doubted her ambition and ability, Sanger uses her experience to create a dining experience unlike any other in the metro. In March, 2015, with plans to open a music venue, bar and restaurant in Oklahoma City’s Film Row, Brian Bogert and Graham Colton asked Sanger to partner with them and operate the kitchen.

Bogert continually followed Sanger, a long time family friend, on social media as she worked in California, France and Boston. He was impressed by her ambition and knew she would be perfect for the concept.

Sanger’s culinary experience began at a well-known seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, California, during the summer before her senior year of college at The University of Oklahoma. She decided to change her major from pre-med to communications and planned to go to culinary school after graduation. Although she applied to many schools in America, her first choice was Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

According to the Le Cordon Bleu website, the school is, “considered to be the guardian of French culinary technique.” Sanger has maintained high standards for herself when it comes to her career. She found herself moving to Paris, a city she had never visited, to go to an esteemed culinary school while not knowing a lick of French.

“It was a big risk for sure, but I think at the time I was so excited about the whole thing that I wasn’t nervous at all,” Sanger said.

To graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, Sanger had to pass three different levels of lectures and practicals. The three-hour-long final exams for each level consisted of an empty recipe sheet of a difficult dish, which she had to know from memory and execute in a miniscule time frame. Sanger faced 10 culinary chefs from around Paris for each final and had to pass each time in order to graduate on time.

After her military-like schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, where Sanger estimates she spent 10 hours a week ironing her white uniform to meet her teachers’ extremely high expectations, she decided to apply to be a cooking assistant at the school for the summer to gain even more experience in the kitchen. She then took that experience to a kitchen at Paris’ notable Le Meurice Hotel.

For three months, she worked unpaid with only four other women and about 250 men (who liked to yell in French when frustrated.)

“It was definitely the hardest part of my entire experience in Paris,” said Sanger. “It tested my patience, but also my ability to stay strong and not let others and how they treat me defeat my dream.”

When her visa ran out, a friend she met in Paris asked Sanger to work for him at a new restaurant called Liquid Art House, an artsy venue with global cuisine. The executive chef for the restaurant was a well established woman in Boston who Sanger was eager to work for. She saw this time as an important opportunity to push herself to become even better at her craft, and Boston seemed like a great city to work her way up as a chef.

“The one thing I did know was that I was not going to be working in Oklahoma City,” she said.

At that time, Sanger believed that no restaurants in her hometown of Oklahoma City were up to her standards that she had built in Paris. However, in Boston, she learned a lot about restaurant management and what strong leadership should look like in smaller kitchens.

Although she made many close friends and loved living in Boston, she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Bogert and Colton to open a restaurant where she could have creative control in the opening. It took her two months to make the decision, however.

“I definitely thought long and hard about this opportunity. I knew if I did it, it would pretty much be my baby and I wouldn’t have a life for a while,” Sanger said. She said she wanted, “to help create a higher standard of what’s to come here (in Oklahoma City).”

Through all she learned in Paris and Boston, she believed she had the technical skill and discipline needed to run a kitchen herself. When Sanger told the chefs at Liquid Art House about her move, they said she was too young and inexperienced to open her own restaurant, but those who doubted her did not stop her from following her dream of working in a kitchen she could be proud of calling her own.

Madison Moore, a hostess at The Jones Assembly, said it is easy to talk highly of both Sanger’s cuisine and character.

“Not only does she care about her food and her image, but she cares about the people around her,” Moore said.

Moore sees locals come to the restaurant to food they cannot find anywhere else in Oklahoma City. She said often customers will come for dinner and come back for brunch or lunch the next day just to try more of Sanger’s unique creations.

Bogert believes customers appreciate Sanger’s worldly perspective with her use of ingredients, plating and different flavor profiles. Sanger specializes in seafood from her experiences on the East and West Coasts, but landlocked Oklahoma does not stop her from accessing fresh seafood. Four to five times a week they receive shipments of fresh salmon and scallops.

Bogert said even with their considerable staff, Sanger often uses her skills to butcher and prepare the seafood herself.

“She’s definitely a silent leader, but she’s always there. She works long and hard hours and kind of leads by example,” said Bogert.

Moore also described Sanger as collectively helpful in the kitchen, and how, even in stressful situations, she always stays calm so no one is afraid to ask for help.

“Never for a second have I regretted moving back (to Oklahoma City). It’s been an incredible experience and it’s taught me a lot more than I ever would have thought,” Sanger said.

Profile: Life in drag

BY BLAKE BUSH

The blinding stage lights shine on the boy in a dress twirling to music blaring behind him. Silhouettes of the audience screaming love at the queen and holding dollar bills out. He snatches up the attention. His lips follow the lyrics effortlessly as his body flops to the floor. Roaring applause, and the lights dim. His number is finished, and he returns to the dressing room, counting his dwindling tips.

Jonathan Cleveland-Hindman, a 25-year-old queen known as Jexa Ren’ae Van de Kamp, took the stage once again after The Wreckroom drag club reopened its doors to the public in July. The Wreckroom was Oklahoma City’s premiere drag club for LGBT youth, and was previously closed for financial reasons.

“Drag is all about expressing myself,” said Cleveland-Hindman, host and performer at The Wreckroom. “It was a way of escaping reality, and just stepping into a different life for a second.”

At 14 years old, Cleveland-Hindman began his drag career after stepping into the spotlight one amateur night. That one performance turned into 11 years on stage and counting. Under the wig, he was able to control the frustrations from his life. His frustrations stemmed from his adolescence, where he was evicted from multiple houses and was in relationships he said were toxic.

He used to work the days away trying to afford a decent living. He paid for his share of electric, water and rent through his previous boyfriend. He and his previous boyfriend were eventually evicted from overdue rent and unpaid bills, forcing them to live with relatives.

“I didn’t have the greatest life growing up, like my ‘boy life’ wasn’t that great,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “Drag was the only thing I could control. I threw my emotions at everyone on stage—somewhere I could control.”

He blossomed into his drag personality throughout the years performing at The Wreckroom. He built lifelong friendships, built a foundation with his father and built connections with those around him that pushed him into his drag career.

“We are all connected by The Wreckroom. It gave us experience. It gave me experience,” said Hunter Foster, creative media production senior and drag performer. “We are all family because when you are in a changing room, and you see a man in pantyhose, you automatically have a deep connection with them.”

Through drag, Cleveland-Hindman was empowered to push through his personal obstacles. He wants to keep The Wreckroom open for a long time so other people can make lifelong memories like he has.

“The Wreckroom was my life and it made me into the person I am today,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “This is a place that needs to stick around for the LGBT youth so they can feel accepted and be true to who they are without fear or fear of rejection.”

He noted that, at a young age, he was reserved in sharing his sexuality or passion for drag because of the social implications of growing up in a small town in Oklahoma.

“It can be difficult for kids who are part of the LGBT community to feel accepted,” said Dusty Hawkins, visual communications junior and social activist. “It’s getting better, but we still have a long way to go.”

The locked doors of The Wreckroom during its closure was heartbreaking to Cleveland-Hindman and many other performers that started their careers there. He said that the acceptance and tolerance around the country was causing issues with funding places like The Wreckroom. He believed that the increased tolerance toward LGBT youth today was negatively affecting The Wreckroom because the LGBT youth could be more public about their sexualities.

“Whenever it closed, a piece of me had died,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “I had so many memories there. I was crowned there. My mother came there, and my dad came to support me and that changed my entire life.”

Cleveland-Hindman grew up in an actively religious family and struggled with his father about sexuality and gender identity. In 2015, his parents came to support him in one of his performances.

“I felt like everything I was fighting for in my entire life was to get his approval. It validated me in a sense,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “That’s what I want. I want the environment there to be as accepting as that—a place where you can come however you are, and however you want to be.”

Throughout the two-year hiatus, Cleveland-Hindman had difficulty separating the line between his reality and his fantasy. Every dollar he made was spent on drag, including makeup, outfits, accessories and wigs. He revolved his entire life around his drag personality, and believed that he was losing himself in the midst of his art.

“It’s easy to forget who you are. I am Jonathan 95 percent of the time and Jexa 5 percent of the time,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “The face you wear everyday should be the one you love versus the one that you create for yourself.”

Originally drag was a solace, and the club was a place for safety from the social implications of his sexuality and his extensive collection of makeup brushes, but as he grew, he developed a knack for empowering other queens through his style and actions.

“I admire them [the queens] because not only are they out, but they’re proud of who they are. I wanted that,” said Cleveland-Hindman. “Once I started ripping apart the layers of who they were as people, I realized they were severely flawed, and that didn’t fit me. So, I try to be a role-model for other queens.”

Cleveland-Hindman continues to host and perform at The Wreckroom, and is working on his side project Haus Down Productions. He dedicated his project to sharing the drag world with people around Norman, and to perform for charitable causes. He has raised funds for organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, and his group has performed in the Norman Art Walks and other art-related businesses.

“Norman doesn’t really have a place for the LGBT community outside of campus, so things like The Wreckroom and Haus Down Productions are experiences LGBT youth can have without having to be 21,” said Foster.