Ron Slauenwhite’s move to Muskogee in 2001 came as a result of his work as an ambassador for Bacone College.
The Connecticut native, whose work earned him and his wife honorary master’s degrees conferred in 2005 by Bacone, still advocates for the local college. But Slauenwhite’s ambassadorial role has broadened a bit, and he has become quite an advocate for his new hometown.
“The people here are just outstanding,” said Slauenwhite, who spends his Friday afternoons at the Muskogee Tourist Information Center. “Getting a tag (for your car) in Connecticut was like getting a root canal. They treated us like human beings here.”
Slauenwhite said his experience at the local tag agent left such an impression that he felt compelled to take a couple of friends from Connecticut there to check it out.
“They said, ‘Why are you taking us to the tag office,’” Slauenwhite said. “I want you to see how people are treated when they register your car.”
Slauenwhite said his friends were amazed with the courtesy people were shown.
“They had never been treated that well while registering their cars,” Slauenwhite said. “But that’s just an example of how nice the people are here.”
Encounter leads to long-term connection
Ron Slauenwhite, a retired insurance agent, never imagined an encounter in 1978 with a young preacher who moved to Connecticut would result with such a long-term connection his family has had with Oklahoma.
The preacher, a young man from Muskogee, had graduated from Oklahoma Christian University. Slauenwhite’s new acquaintance made such a good impression that Slauenwhite decided the university would provide an ideal education for one of his daughters.
The preacher helped make that happen. During his daughter’s first semester, she met her future husband and the couple settled down in Oklahoma. Slauenwhite and his wife, Nancy, began making regular trips to Oklahoma and have remained friends with the preacher from Oklahoma.
“All these things just worked out,” Slauenwhite said. “It’s funny how you connect with people’s lives like that.”
Mission trips lead couple to new home
During those frequent trips to Oklahoma, the Slauenwhites familiarized themselves with the state. But they had no idea then that Oklahoma one day would become their home.
After Slauenwhite retired nearly a score of years later, he and his wife attended a Nationwide Insurance meeting in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was inducted into the company’s hall of fame. They extended that trip by visiting Des Moines, Iowa.
During that trip to Des Moines, Slauenwhite saw a Bacone College display and became interested in the school and its mission. His interest prompted him to sign up as a volunteer in mission for the church, of which Bacone College is an affiliate.
“We had been coming to Oklahoma for years to visit our daughter,” Slauenwhite said. “So I decided I was going to be a volunteer for the American Baptist Churches.”
After debating where the Slauenwhites might want to serve as mission volunteers, the couple opted against Kodiak, Alaska, in favor of Muskogee, home of the Bacone College campus. Slauenwhite said he and his wife visited Muskogee shortly thereafter to begin their mission work for Bacone and the Murrow Indian Children’s Home.
“We went back home with all kinds of stuff so we could represent the college and the children’s home all over New England and the northeast,” Slauenwhite said. “In 2001, we were on the road somewhere in New York. The (Bacone College) president was there and he said, ‘We want you to move to Muskogee.’”
The Slauenwhites answered the call. After selling their longtime home in Connecticut, the couple moved to Muskogee. Nancy Slauenwhite initiated a campus beautification project shortly thereafter, and she still takes advantage of every opportunity she gets to plant flowers and maintain the flower beds she created across campus.
Volunteer works shifts to community
Slauenwhite said he still volunteers his time to promote Bacone College and Murrow Indian Children’s home, but his travels are less frequent.
“Now they have paid people who do what we used to do for free,” Slauenwhite said, noting Bacone’s improvements and growth during the past few years. “This college has really taken off academically, physically and financially.”
While his work with Bacone has slowed, Slauenwhite said he stays busy volunteering with a number of civic organizations.
“Anybody who says there isn’t anything to do in Muskogee isn’t looking very hard,” Slauenwhite said. “I’ve never been so busy in my life.”
Slauenwhite cited such things as the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, the museums in Muskogee, Honor Heights Park and the special events there, like the Azalea Festival and Garden of Lights.
“We send gift subscriptions of Oklahoma Today to our friends in Connecticut so they can get a picture of what Oklahoma is like and what there is to do.” Slauenwhite said. “Once they get here, they want to come back.”
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
My wife and I were members of the American Baptist Church in Connecticut. We became Volunteers in Mission for the church and represented Bacone College in New England and other eastern states. In the winter we would spend a month working here at the college. Eventually, they asked us to move here.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR FREE TIME?
I am active in several organizations: I am president of the Morning Optimist Club, a Gideon, a Civitan, I volunteer at the Tourist Information Center, and serve on the board of the Civic Center.
HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
I retired from the insurance business in 1998.
NAME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE YOU ADMIRE AND EXPLAIN WHY YOU LOOK UP TO THEM.
Several people: Vice Mayor Robert Perkins and his love for kids; Barbara Staggs and her work for the betterment of this community; and Betty Franks, who gives so much of herself to Muskogee.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT COULD BE DONE TO MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
We have to break the cycle of poverty here by education and employment opportunities. We have too many of our people who are working poor. The Capella Healthcare money could do a lot to encourage people to improve their lives through education and job training.
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU SINCE YOU HAVE LIVED IN MUSKOGEE?
Meeting many wonderful people, people committed to making this the best place it can be. The churches play an important role in reaching out to those in need. Muskogee has been blessed with good leadership.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
Muskogee is a great city with unlimited potential. I think the future will bring opportunities to this city. We have an infrastructure in place to enhance growth and opportunity. The best is yet to come.
Meet Ron Slauenwhite
Hometown: New Milford, Conn.
Career: Insurance agent.
Family: Wife, Nancy, two daughters, three grandchildren, four great-grandchildren.
Hobbies: Reading, sports enthusiast, politics.