Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Chamber of Commerce & My Friend Dean

Originally posted June 25, 2009, and modified in the few days following; Updated February 4, 2010, to add: In Memoriam — Tammy DeAnn Schirf Koelsch

The design of the invitation to Dean Schirf's retirement from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce could not have been more appropriate — a transparent vinyl page describing the event which overlaid a photo of downtown Oklahoma City and the Heartland Flyer, two icons which at once capture the essence of what this man has been about during his 31 years with the Chamber, but, in fact, which also evidence Dean's roots and interests extending backward much further than those 31 years of time.

This article is only in its beginning stages but here's what I have so far. You can skip the introduction by clicking on the following links — but, other than the photos, the areas are not yet done:

Retirement Photos     A Family Affair     Times Before Oklahoma City
The Chamber Years     Dean's Lifelong Love Affair With Trains
Postscript: Remembering Tammy

INTRODUCTION. It was my privilege to be invited to attend this event as one of Dean's many friends — God knows that I'm not one of the rich and famous, I'm just a guy who loves my town and who is wholly enjoying the late-in-life process of learning and writing about its history. Before August 2007, I didn't know a thing about the man or even who he was. Almost two years ago, I wrote the first of several articles (others of which are yet to come) on Oklahoma City's history and love affair with trains & trolleys, that being called Trains & Trolleys and then I wrote another and another, the latter being done on August 27, 2007. On that day, I quite unexpectedly received an e-mail, part of which read,
Doug, wanted to drop you a line complementing you on the fine job on above and to invite you to come and visit me at the OKC Chamber’s offices as I would like to show you some of the rail photos in our achieves.

I am also a big railroad freak going back to when my dad took me to the Rock Island roundhouse in El Reno, where he worked in the late 1940’s. I have extensive memorabilia on the Rock Island including an early Rock System Map prior to 1900.

Let’s set a time for you to come over and again thanks for the contribution you are making on the early rail history of Oklahoma City.

Dean Schirf
Of course, I gladly accepted the invitation and my pleasures of that first meeting have already been told and I'll not rehash them here. Since then, it has been nothing but pleasure for me as our friendship has grown and as I've learned much from him about this city that I'd have otherwise not have known. I've also learned a bit about the man himself — slowly and over time — he doesn't talk much about himself but I've learned some things about him just the same.

Beginning with that first meeting, Dean has made major contributions to this blog not only for his providing early-day train photos, some owned by him, most by the Chamber, but also for penning this article and, as well, making available for publication here his already published and wonderfully nostalgic article, The Rock Island Railroad and My Friend Red. That story tells not only of his friend Red Betts but also tells about Dean and the beginnings of his love affair with trains when he was a boy living in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Another of his articles is "in the can," so to speak and would already have been done but for the fact that my nose got misdirected into other things that caught my fancy. For now, read on and learn a little about The Chamber of Commerce & My Friend Dean.

RETIREMENT PHOTOS. The following were taken in the Santa Fe Station on a hot afternoon on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. My lens certainly didn't capture everyone such as Gov. George Nigh, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, Clay Bennett, and Ed Kelley & Steve Lackmeyer with the Oklahoman.

Click on any photo for a larger image.

Around 4-4:30 PM As People Were Arriving

Dean and Tom Searles

Dean's Brother, Larry, & Dick Beale

Larry Nichols & Dean

Steve Collier & Dean
(Steve is Dean's co-worker, your writer's cousin by marriage)

Dean's Lovely Wife, Suzan, & Dean

Suzan & Dean & Janet Gray, Dean's Sister

Willa Johnson & Dean

Dean & Ken Nance

Dean's Daughter, Tammy Koelsch,
Knocked Our Socks Off With A Video Ode To Her Dad

Master of Ceremonies Roy Williams, the Chamber's CEO,
& John Johnson, Executive Director of ACOG

Gerald Gamble, Prominent Real Property Guy
Gives Dean Some Stuff

Roy Williams Gives Dean An Amtrak
Trip for Two Anywhere In The Country

Dean Takes The Podium
And Tells His Life Story

Dean Brings Son Trevor, Tammy & Suzan Up Front

Dean Wraps It Up With
His Version Of What A Train Sounds Like


Members of Dean's family converged at the depot for the event which celebrated Dean's work at the Chamber. The following photos were taken by members of his family and were kindly forwarded to me by Dean's daughter, Tammy Koelsch. If a "hand" icon is visible when mousing-over an image, click on the image for a larger view.

Dean & Trevor

Tammy & Dean

Tammy & Her Husband, Jonathan Koelsch

Trevor and His Girlfriend, Stacey Pifer

Suzan, Tammy, and Suzan's sister, Pat Russell

Lots of Others At The Post-Event Dinner

DEAN BEFORE OKLAHOMA CITY. During Dean's remarks at the podium, he gave a brief and heartfelt retrospective on his life before becoming a Chamber employee. He kindly supplied those remarks to me in the printed form which follows.
Born in Brooklyn N.Y. In 1942 where parents from Oklahoma moved to during the war and father learned his craft as a welder at Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. After war ended moved back to El Reno where father worked for Rock Island Railroad and he would often take me to the roundhouse ... it was here that the love of trains was born.

Family moved to Chickasha in late 1940s due back injury sustained by my father at the railroad. My passion for trains was continued by hanging out at the Chickasha Rock Island Depot and rail yard.

Over time I came to know a wonderful Rock Island employee named Red who worked the evening shift. (Some 30 years later I would write a story about Red).

I can trace my love for Oklahoma City while living in Chickasha finding myself on a visit to downtown standing at the corner of Park Ave and Robinson looking up at the two tallest buildings in the state ... the First National and Liberty National Bank Buildings ... a sight I shall never forget and a moment that "mesmerized" me for life. From that moment on I fell in love with downtown Oklahoma City and knew then that Okie City would be where I would put my roots down and work and start a family..

In the summer of 1956 the family moved to Wichita, Ks., as my father could no longer find steady employment in the Chickasha area.

I missed Oklahoma almost immediately and needed a connection point in order to follow the "goings on" in Oklahoma City. I often would go to the Wichita downtown library and it was here I found out about chambers of commerce. I started writing the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to send information, especially pictures of downtown skyline, street scenes and aerial views ... the OKC Chamber faithfully responded to my request and over time I developed quite a file on my favorite city.

I even slipped a one dollar bill into an envelope along with a request to the Katz Drug Store at Main and Robinson to "PLEASE" send me some postcards of downtown Oklahoma City ... and lo and behold several weeks later the mailman delivers this big Manila envelope of postcards of downtown OKC!!

Cities sort of became my hobby and I wrote a number of chambers across the country to send pics of their downtown areas that it eventually got to the point I could ID the major cities from skyline and aerial shots.

Perhaps I wrote those requests a few times too many ... I specifically remember a letter from the Tulsa Chamber advising me "to quit writing as we have sent you everything we got!!."

So at a time when young teenage boys were putting up pictures of Annette Funnicello and Bridget Bardot on their bedroom walls, I was plastering pics of downtown Oklahoma City on mine.

Writing the Oklahoma City Chamber continued throughout my High School years and four years of active duty in the U. S Navy.

Following my four years of active duty in the Navy, I moved to my beloved Oklahoma City in Jan of 1966 to start my civilian life. I found employment by starting out in credit and collections at several downtown locations including Liberty National Bank.

I got my first big break in 1969 when Hertz moved their National Data Processing Center to Oklahoma City. I worked my way up to Sales Administrator and in the Fall of 1977 my boss asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the chamber's annual membership drive ... to which I responded, "You bet I would."

While working on the membership drive I found out they had a position open to hire an assistant economic development director to work with Jess Matheny who headed up the chamber's economic development efforts at that time.

I had three interviews for the position. First one was with Harry Birdwell the General Manager, then Jess followed by a final interview with Paul Strasbaugh who was the Executive Vice President (now the title is President)

I can not put into words the feelings of joy and gratitude when I received the word in Jan of 1978, that I would become an employee of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce ... in what was really the realization of a dream going back to that day in the early 1950's when standing at Park and Robinson "mesmerized" by the skyscrapers of downtown Oklahoma City ... a city that I would now have the honor and privilege in representing for the next 31 years as an employee of my beloved Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
DEAN AS A CHAMBER GUY. Dean's tenure with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce spanned the time between January 1978 and June 2009 — that's a span of six Oklahoma governors, one of whom, George Nigh, was present at the ceremony. They are: David Boren, George Nigh, Henry Bellmon, David Walters, Francis Keating, and Brad Henry. Although Gov. Henry was not present at the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins was.

Dean began his employment with the Chamber as Assistant Director of Economic Development on January 16, 1978; became Vice President of Government Relations in 1979 and has carried out the duties of Corporate Secretary since 1982.

What did he do and why do we care? Well, I've got the Chamber's list of Dean's accomplishments, but I wanted to check it out and make my own. Among other things, I searched the Oklahoman's on-line archives. Searching for the phrase "dean schirf" produced 294 hits between June 4, 1972, and the date this article is being written. So, in addition to the official story, you'll get my unofficial one, too ... no, I didn't find any mug shots so there won't be any of those kinds of stories to tell.

Here are some of the articles that I dug up on my own — the list is not inclusive since there would be too many and I tended to focus on the earlier and not the later years of Dean's tenure with the Chamber. Click on any link to read the referenced article. Dean's name is rarely the focus but his presence is obvious in the background.
  1. Amtrak: November 17, 1981; July 13, 1989; April 28, 1991
  2. Broadway Extension: May 2, 1993; June 9, 1993; April 15, 1994; April 27, 1994; February 23, 1996
  3. Centennial Expressway (I-235): April 22, 1988 (front page) and April 22, 1988 (full article)
  4. Chamber History: January 21, 1983; May 21, 1989, page 1; May 21, 1989, page 2; May 21, 1989, page 3
  5. City Bond Issues: December 13, 1995
  6. City Eyesores: August 15, 1988
  7. High-Tech Business: May 19, 1988
  8. I-35 As NAFTA Corridor: December 23, 1994
  9. Kilpatrick Turnpike: January 28, 2001
  10. Mass Transit, Generally: November 3, 1980
  11. "Oklahoma River" Designation: February 21, 1994
  12. Right-To-Work: January 4, 1995; March 31, 2000; March 18, 2001; May 6, 2001; August 12, 2001
  13. Road Improvements, Generally: April 23, 1995
  14. Rock Island: March 30, 1990
  15. Tax Issues: May 11, 1985
  16. Tinker: March 27, 1988, with photos and March 27, 1988, readable article; November 19, 1988 (Navy project); August 25, 1993; April 23, 1995
  17. Zoning Issues: May 27, 1988

DEAN AS A TRAIN AFICIONADO. Dean has been for all of his cognizant life a train junkie and his posts in this blog show that abundantly and don't need to be repeated here. See this link and this link, for starters.

POSTSCRIPT. A melancholy closing chapter of this article must sadly be written, at Dean's request, and I am deeply humbled to comply. About six months after Dean's retirement, his and Suzan's daughter, Tammy, died. You will have read, above, that the video presentation by Tammy at Dean's retirement party was the show-stopper of the event. As she spoke, all eyes in the grand hall were mesmerized on the video monitors as Tammy waxed lovingly about the love, affection, and devotion between a daughter, her father, and the family and their lifetime together. Only the most hardened cynic would not have reached for a handkerchief as she voiced her endearing words about her experience, opinions, and affections about and for her dad. Her sweet words were presented by video since it was expected that her health issues would prevent her attendance in person — even though her will overcame those obstacles, but only for the day and a brief time thereafter. In the above photos, you will see her beaming face directed toward her parents, Dean and Suzan, her loving husband Jonathan, and her devoted brother, Trevor, among many others. Dean wanted me to add a few words about the e-mails she and I exchanged in putting the above article together, but, the truth is that any other words I might add would pale by comparison to and could not possibly begin to match the image of Tammy, shown below. Instead of using my words, she speaks to you herself in a comment to this article, below.
My dad, Dean, is my hero! And as I said in my video, he is just as respected as a father as he is your fellow colleague and friend. I thank the Lord every night that of all the little girls, God handpicked me to be Dean Schirf's Daughter! I am so very blessed!
In Memoriam
Tammy DeAnn Schirf Koelsch
June 21, 1974 ~ January 8, 2010

Rest In Peace. She is with the angels.

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T said...

Doug, so far outstanding! My dad, Dean, is my hero! And as I said in my video, he is just as respected as a father as he is your fellow colleague and friend. I thank the Lord every night that of all the little girls, God handpicked me to be Dean Schirf's Daughter! I am so very blessed!
Thanks Doug!
Tammy (Schirf) Koelsch

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, Tammy. I'm so sorry not to have met you and your brother last Wednesday. Perhaps that will happen one day. Most of the city hasn't a clue of what Dean has done for it over the years ... I had no clue myself until beginning to learn about that a couple of years ago. Your dad is an unsung hero in my book ... and I'm certain that you are right about what you said! (I hope that my own daughter feels the same about me!)

Feel free to add any stories you'd care to.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit teary eyed with this addition Doug. It's obvious you gave Tammy a lot of joy with the original part of this post, and I'm amazed at how you were able to add this very fitting final tribute with such simplicity, and yet such power.
To all concerned, Dean Schirf has, without a doubt, made his mark on this community and for the better. He is truly one of the greatest men I've ever met.
-Steve Lackmeyer

Doug Dawg said...

This comment is really from Dean, which I'm posting at his request as a reply to your above comment, Steve. The words below are Dean's:

The last thing I did last night before leaving our meeting was to say thank you to Doug for his comments and picture of Tammy on his blog site ... he acknowledged the thank you and asked me if I had seen your comments to which I responded I had not.

Upon arriving at home I pulled the site up and very much appreciated your comments to Doug for his beautiful comments about Tammy but was stunned by what you said about me ... I even shared it with Suzan to show her there was at least one person out there that really liked me ... but seriously Steve, I am certainly not worthy of such high praise but thank you nonetheless ... one of the things I enjoyed at the Chamber was meeting people, especially people who shared similar interests, and then react on those interests in bringing forth a greater community, including the telling of the story that has brought us to this point ... men like Paul Strasbaugh and Ray Ackerman and it is in that same regard that I also place you and Doug for all that the two of you have done and I know will continue to do for this place we dearly love so much and call home.

Thank you my friend!!

Doug Dawg said...

This is another comment from Dean. For some reason, his attempts to post comments on his own are not working. The words below are all Dean's.

Thank you Doug for your most heartfelt remarks regarding the passing of my daughter Tammy on January 8th, 2010.

For almost all her life, Tammy battled a myriad of health problems including cancer in 1995. Throughout it all, she never lost site of her love for others who suffered from various sicknesses, especially young children in their battles against cancer. I really did not think that Tammy would be present at my retirement and her attendance sent my heart soaring and the video she recorded just knocked me out ... I will always have that video and I want to thank you Doug for taking all the pictures you did at my retirement, many of them showing Tammy ... they are priceless!! She was so proud of your website on my retirement that she sent it to a number of friends and business associates that could not attend the event. That event was the last time Tammy got out in public and it also marked the first time I had seen her in makeup and dress clothes in over five years ... she looked beautiful!! Tammy's health really declined following the retirement event ... she did rally one more time to attend her mother's birthday at the end of October ... she tried to attend the family Thanksgiving Dinner but was so sick she and her husband Jonathan had to return home ... she grew weaker and sicker and was unable to participate in any Christmas doings.

Tammy is the most courageous person I have ever met!! She endured great pain and suffering yet never complained ... her faith in her Lord and Savior never wavered ... she is my hero and I thank God that He allowed Suzan and me to have her for 35 blessed years ... I miss her beyond words but knowing she is now in the arms of her Heavenly Father allows me to go forward hoping that some day I will see her again, pain free and lighting up heaven with her beautiful smile.


Doug Dawg said...

Dean, you said,

"I miss her beyond words but knowing she is now in the arms of her Heavenly Father allows me to go forward hoping that some day I will see her again, pain free and lighting up heaven with her beautiful smile."

Tammy is already lightening the heavens with her beautiful smile ... and, yes, my friend, take comfort, you will see her again.