With only a few days left on the 2023 calendar, the Okmulgee Times and Henryetta Free-Lance look back on some of the events and newsmakers that made the headlines.
It can truly be said there is never a dull moment in Okmulgee County. There were good times, but also those bad times that caused us heartache and sparked a search for answers and solutions.
Here are the memories over the past year featured in the Times and Free-Lance: —
• Tragedy struck when, following a search for two missing teens, seven bodies were discovered at the home of Jesse McFadden in Henryetta. He had been scheduled to appear in court on charges of soliciting sexual conduct with a minor and possession of child pornography, and authorities went to his home when he failed to appear.
• About 200 community members gathered at the Henryetta High School gymnasium for a vigil in re- membrance of the Henryetta murder victims.
• Rep. Scott Fetgatter made a visit to Henryetta to visit with constituents and hear their concerns following the tragic killings.
• With the help of the Muscogee Nation’s Better Roads Department, the bridge along the Old Morris Highway was completed, allowing the road to be reopened after intense flooding washed out the previous bridge.
• The Okmulgee Times welcomed four new staff members: Luwana Cowell (legal publications), Elizabeth Ponthieux (receptionist) and reporters Dawn Carter and Joshua Jackson.
• Rick Pearson was announced as the new City Manager at the monthly Okmulgee City Council meeting.
• During the 97th annual Oklahoma FFA State Convention, Lane and Shay Pilkington were recognized for establishing a permanent trust within the Oklahoma FFA Foundation.
• Reporter Dawn Carter held a conversation with Katina Holland about her experience navigating her grief in the years following her husband’s passing.
• VFW Post 1189 led a Memorial Day event at the Military Circle at Okmulgee Cemetery to honor the lives of fallen military members.
• In Henryetta, Genny Mooney was named as the new executive director of the agency.
• A multi-day manhunt took place following the shooting of an Okmulgee police officer. The officer was treated at St. Francis Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
• The manhunt ended when Christopher Alfred Harris was arrested at the Bel-Air Motel on charges of shooting with intent to kill.
• Local youth Mya Paladin was recognized for setting up a lemonade stand to start raising funds for college. Mya said she hopes to attend Harvard University.
• Wesley George was sworn in as a new school board member, replacing James Williams.
•The Roy Madden Spring Rodeo drew thousands to Nichols Park
• Henryetta Public Schools approved a new therapy dog program on campus. Kalani and Shadow, therapy dogs from Morris Public School, were introduced to members of the board of education by HES counselor Jennifer Huckabay. With the two animals were MPS Counselors Kelli Baker and Lisa Merrill.
• First Family Federal Credit Union presented HPS $1000 to kick off the aid for the therapy dog training and care. Miss Mace arrived the next day after a trip to Arkansas.
• A major storm caused “major infrastructural damage” when strong winds toppled trees and left around 400,000 people without power.
• The City of Beggs was approved for a $1M grant from the Oklahoma Water Resource Board to improve the city’s infrastructure – specifically improvements to the dam.
• Thousands were in attendance at the Muscogee Nation Festival. There were several events, including a parade, musical performances and many fun activities highlighting the community and culture of the Muscogee Nation.
• Undersheriff Fred McGuire retired after serving for more than 18 years alongside Sheriff Eddy Rice.
• The Oklahoma Tennis Hall of Fame held a successful clinic in Henryetta.
• Lindsay Bunch was sworn in as the new County Treasurer following the departure of Treasurer Vonna Lampkins. Lampkins had served the county in this role for 36 years and was later recognized for her service.
• The City of Okmulgee, with the help of local sponsors, held a booming 4th of July celebration at Okmulgee Municipal Park. There was music, food and games before the big display at nightfall.
• As part of the Unsung Heroes highlighting the newspaper staff, Dawn Carter sat down with Patrick Ford, Editor-in-Chief for the Okmulgee Times and Henryetta Free-Lance as he talked about his upbringing, the events that brought him to what was then the Okmulgee Daily Times and his hopes for the future.
• Green Country Technology Center was awarded Gold Star status by the Oklahoma Association of Technology Centers.
• OSUIT President Dr. Bill Path announced his retirement. Dr. Path spent the last 38 years in higher education in both Nebraska and Oklahoma.
• The Okmulgee YMCA Surge Swim Team hosted several teams for a meet.
• Preston Superintendent Mark Hudson was inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The longtime educator and coach was recognized for his decades of on-field success.
• Representatives from local banks – First National and Mabrey – donated backpacks and school supplies to Okmulgee Public Schools.
• The Roy LeBlanc Invitational Rodeo returned for its 68th year, hosting thousands of competitors and spectators for several events and vendors downtown and at the Muscogee Nation Complex.
• The City of Okmulgee donated $5,000 to the preservation of the oldest black hospital in Oklahoma. Through his nonprofit, Landmark for All Generations, Leman Lewis has worked and advocated for resources to restore the historic building.
• Mayor Baldwin and Commissioner Erik Zoellner released doves aptly named Love, Joy and Peace across different parts of the county as a symbol of what’s important to our community and our world.
• Winnie Cooper commanded the stage during her solo performance “A Night with Winnie” at the historic Orpheum Theatre. Winnie showed her range through ballads, show tunes and even some opera.
• In an effort to be proactive in addressing the ongoing opioid crisis affecting our community, the Okmulgee County Consortium held a drive-thru event to distribute free medication lock boxes and disposal kits as well as the opioid overdose medication Narcan.
• Henryetta Labor Day Celebration kicked off with four days of events, including the Jim Shoulders Rodeo.
• Two inmates at the Okmulgee County Jail were handed additional charges after they attempted to escape the prison. Richard Gutierrez and Christopher Harris allegedly assaulted two officers at the Moore Detention Center, stealing a taser and a set of keys from the staff.
• Nacole Ryan Bain, aka Spears, of Schulter, was sentenced to 324 months in federal prison for the Second Degree Murder of Addison Waddell, which took place in June 2018.
• The 2023 Okmulgee County Fair began at the fairgrounds as 4-H, FFA, OHCE groups and the community showcased their work during the threeday event.
• The Okmulgee Bulldog Quarterback Club honored the life of a valued member and ardent Bulldog supporter Aleena Harley during their game. Harley’s nephew Jeremiah is a member of the Bulldog football team.
• Henryetta High alumni Makayla Baxter was tapped to play the lead in the award-winning production “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical” which took the stage in late September at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
• Okmulgee County resident Vince Harjo entered a guilty plea in federal court to possession of material involving sexual exploitation of a child. The charge arose from an investigation of the FBI and the Muscogee Nation Lighthorse Police.
• A severe thunderstorm produced flooding and baseball sized hail which caused severe damage to cars and homes in the Henryetta area. Hail up to three inches in diameter pelted the region and resulted in loss to some city and residential property.
• Dr. David Warden was appointed as a trustee for the Henryetta Economic Development Authority.
— See Part 3 in Wednesday’s edition as we welcome in a new year!