Retiring Jenks Mayor Vreeland leaves city a better place
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/25/12 at 4:26 AM
JENKS - He may be best known for how frank and decisive he can be, but there are many sides of the coin that make up Vic Vreeland.
Vreeland, 54, who stepped down as mayor last week after 24 years on the City Council, may tell strangers on vacation that he's from Tulsa, but the Jenks native will always bleed Trojan maroon.
He credits most of the city of Jenks' success to the quality of the Jenks public school system, where he played football and baseball, and graduated in 1976.
He didn't go to college, but worked successfully in the insurance business and has had a seat at many of the tables that have helped shape the region.
He's a Democrat in this nonpartisan-voting city and considers former Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick, a Republican, his mentor.
Dick said that Vreeland was a very positive person to be around.
"You never had to question where he stood. If he had a position, he'd tell you what it was as opposed to telling you what you want to hear," Dick said. "He really loves the Tulsa community, not just Jenks, and is a strong believer in working with other elected officials."
As one of the members of the original Vision 2025 leadership team, Vreeland fought hard for Jenks projects like the Oklahoma Aquarium but embraced downtown Tulsa projects as well, urging voters not to let downtown Tulsa deteriorate.
"My job was to keep the suburbs in the thing and bring them along," Vreeland said. "It was not easy. Tulsa had historically not played well with the suburbs. That was really the first time we had ever done anything like that as a region."
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said that Vreeland cuts to the chase.
"I quickly learned that if I needed an opinion about something, I never had to worry that it would be cleaned or whitewashed in any way if it came from Vic. I think everybody has appreciated that," she said. "I often told him if we ever grew to a point where we could have a regional governance, he's be the perfect guy to do that."
Though he's known as a regional mayor, it doesn't mean there haven't been some disagreements.
In 2005, when Tulsa leaders and south Tulsa residents opposed a bridge at 121st Street and Yale Avenue, Vreeland was quick to respond that it wasn't if, but when, a bridge would be built. Bixby and Jenks needed the emergency access, he said.
City Manager Mike Tinker, a former city councilor, worked as closely with Vreeland as anyone.
Tinker and Vreeland traded mayor and vice mayor titles through the years.
Tinker said Vreeland always allowed staff to express their ideas, and whether one agreed with Vreeland in the end, they appreciated his honesty.
"He was Chris Christie before Chris Christie came along," Tinker said, comparing Vreeland's style to the New Jersey governor.
Vreeland allowed anyone who wanted to speak at a city council meeting to do so. There was no sign-up sheet and he even took questions.
Some of the more pointed questions actually came from his own friends like old high school chum Mike Sharp, who is now himself a city councilor.
They sometimes disagreed and then went duck hunting the next morning.
Vreeland's ties to Jenks go back three generations. His grandfather, Morris Engel, who had a huge influence on Vreeland, operated a dairy.
Vreeland is an only child from a broken family, but for 30 years he's been happily married to Pam Vreeland, who looks forward to a dinner out with her husband without being interrupted to discuss city business.
"I know no one works as hard at moving the city of Jenks forward as he does. No one cares that much," she said.
The city has changed tremendously under his watch in terms of residential growth and the addition of riverfront development, new and expanding industries, new highways and bridges, and the Oklahoma Aquarium.
The small community more than doubled in size, from a sleepy town of fewer than 7,000 people to a suburb of more than 17,000.
But he doesn't take credit for that.
"If the citizens of Jenks and the rank and file employees say 'I didn't always agree with that SOB,' but at least I was fair, then I've done my job," Vreeland said.
Vreeland and Kirby Crowe of PMg, which manages the Vision 2025 program for the county, met in high school driver's education class.
"He has not changed a bit. Vic has a huge caring sense of community. He always has. I think that's one of the things that keeps Jenks as strong as it is," Crowe said. "Jenks will miss him. I think he'll always have Jenks' best interest, even in his next venture, because it's home. I think that's a good thing for the community."
Vreeland stepped down to pursue a new business opportunity in government consulting.
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381 firstname.lastname@example.org
Then-Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland (right) is greeted by Martin Garber, president of the Oklahoma Aquarium Foundation, as he arrives for a ribbon cutting on Nov. 13. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World