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Gov. Stitt signs pardon for longtime advocate of incarcerated women

CLAREMORE — Twenty years ago, Rhonda Bear was probably not someone with whom many people wanted to be associated. She was an addict, wanted in four counties and on her way to prison.

But Thursday, about half the town of Claremore seemed to be crammed into a tiny coffee shop on Will Rogers Boulevard, cheering for Rhonda Bear, crying for joy and wanting to shake her hand.

Even the governor of Oklahoma was there.

“Three cheers for Rhonda!” shouted Debbie Davis, a friend and colleague of Bear’s.

And there were three very loud cheers.

“You did it!” shouted someone else.

“We did it,” said Bear. “It’s a ‘we.’ ”

Moments later, Gov. Kevin Stitt and a small entourage arrived at She Brews, the coffee shop Bear started seven years ago in support of her mission to help women in recovery. Following a few preliminaries, Stitt signed the executive order that had brought everyone there.

He officially pardoned Rhonda Bear from the long ago drug offenses that sent her to prison.

“Each and every one of you in this room is a testament to her and what she means to her community, to her neighbors and to the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said.

“Her story exemplifies the need for second chances,” he continued. “Seventeen years ago, Rhonda left her past behind. She says prison saved her life, but also it was the mentorship and the community and the folks that came around her and her faith in Christ that has moved her forward.”

Stitt says meeting Bear during last year’s campaign convinced him that criminal justice reform is a worthwhile undertaking.

That meeting may not have led directly to this week’s historic commutation of sentences for more than 500 convictions, but it clearly contributed.

“He didn’t take notes during the conversation, so I didn’t know how well it was going,” Bear said, recalling their first discussion. “But he remembered. He remembered everything that was said.”

State Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, said Bear earned the city’s respect by doing what she said she would do.

“Rhonda kept on that hard path, and then she started producing evidence that what she was doing was working,” Quinn said.

Since her release from prison in 2002, Bear has worked not only to maintain her own sobriety but to help other women make the transition from incarceration to self-sufficiency.

She is director of the Stand in the Gap Ministries Women in Transition program and founder of two coffeehouses and 13 transitional living homes.

Debbie Davis is one of those Bear has helped.

Davis said Bear’s efforts have been largely successful “because she puts faith first. But there has to be community support, too, and (criminal justice reform) is not going to succeed if the governor is not supporting it.

“When you’re incarcerated, you know you broke the law. But we’re people with feelings, too.”

Gallery: Gov. Kevin Stitt pardons Rhonda Bear

Judge fines Trump $2 million for misusing charity foundation

NEW YORK — A judge Thursday ordered President Donald Trump to pay $2 million to an array of charities as a fine for misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests.

New York state Judge Saliann Scarpulla imposed the penalty after the president admitted to a series of abuses outlined in a lawsuit brought against him last year by the New York attorney general’s office.

Among other things, Trump acknowledged in a legal filing that he allowed his presidential campaign staff to coordinate with the Trump Foundation in holding a fundraiser for veterans during the run-up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses. The event was designed “to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign,” Scarpulla said.

In a defiant statement issued Thursday evening, though, Trump suggested he was neither sorry nor in the wrong.

“I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give major money to charity (19M), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State,” he wrote.

He assailed a series of Democratic attorneys general of New York who were involved with the suit, saying they should have spent their time investigating the Clinton Foundation.

“It has been 4 years of politically motivated harassment,” Trump said.

Trump’s foundation will be dissolved and its $1.7 million in remaining funds will be given to other nonprofits, under agreements reached by Trump’s lawyers and the attorney general’s office. As part of those agreements, made public Thursday, the two sides left it up to the judge to decide what penalty Trump should pay.

The settlement was an about-face for Trump. He had tweeted, “I won’t settle this case!” when it was filed in June 2018.

Trump’s fine and the charity’s funds will be split evenly among eight organizations, including Citymeals on Wheels, the United Negro College Fund and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Attorney General Letitia James welcomed the resolution of the case as a “major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain.”

“No one is above the law — not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the president of the United States,” said James, a Democrat.

The president admitted, among other things, to arranging for the charity to pay $10,000 for a 6-foot portrait of him. He also agreed to pay back $11,525 in foundation funds that he spent on sports memorabilia and champagne at a charity gala.

Trump also accepted restrictions on his involvement in other charitable organizations. His three eldest children, who were members of the foundation’s board, must undergo mandatory training on the duties of those who run charities.

Charities are barred from getting involved in political campaigns, but in weighing the Iowa fundraiser, Scarpulla gave Trump credit for making good on his pledge to give $2.8 million that his charity raised to veterans’ organizations.

Instead of fining him that amount, as the attorney general’s office wanted, the judge trimmed it to $2 million and rejected a demand for punitive damages and interest.

The Trump Foundation said it was pleased by those decisions, claiming that the judge “recognized that every penny ever raised by the Trump Foundation has gone to help those most in need.”

Trump Foundation lawyer Alan Futerfas said the nonprofit has distributed approximately $19 million over the past decade, including $8.25 million of the president’s own money, to hundreds of charitable organizations.

At the time of the Iowa fundraiser, Trump was feuding with then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and refusing to participate in the network’s final Republican presidential primary debate before the Iowa caucuses.

Instead, he held a rally at the same time as the debate at which he called on people to donate to veterans’ charities. The foundation acted as a pass-through for those contributions.

James said the evidence of banned coordination between campaign officials and the foundation included emails exchanged with then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

In one email, a Trump company vice president asked Lewandowski for guidance on precisely how to distribute the money raised.

Trump also admitted in the agreements to directing that $100,000 in foundation money be used to settle legal claims over an 80-foot flagpole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, instead of paying the expense out of his own pocket.

In addition, the foundation paid $158,000 to resolve a lawsuit over a prize for a hole-in-one contest at a Trump-owned golf course, and $5,000 for ads promoting Trump’s hotels in the programs for charitable events. Trump admitted these transactions were also improper.

As part of the settlement, Donald Trump Jr. reimbursed the Trump Foundation for the cost of the portrait.

Wait 'til next year: Autumn colors for northeastern Oklahoma trees have peaked

If you’ve noticed that the trees in northeastern Oklahoma have taken their sweet time turning colors this fall, you’re not alone in wondering what’s up.

“Turkey Mountain is usually my barometer, kind of my measuring stick, and I noticed it just hasn’t shown its colors,” said longtime Tulsa arborist Don Massey. “Typically the last week of October, first of November is the peak time around here.”

Massey and Cynthia Robinson, horticulture manager for Tulsa Botanic Gardens, have some not-so-good news for Tulsa-area fall color lovers.

“Pretty much what we’ve got is what we’re going to get,” Robinson said.

Massey was a little more hopeful but said forecasts for this weekend in the 20s probably will seal the deal. “A cold snap in that 20-degree range will just scorch those leaves,” he said.

Through consecutive years of drought not so long ago, Tulsans learned all about how lack of moisture can kill any hopes for a colorful autumn. But precipitation definitely has not been in short supply in 2019, and cold weather came on right when the leaves were supposed to turn, so what happened?

Shortened daylight is what first triggers the changes in the trees, the experts said. From there out it’s a matter of the species of trees, moisture levels and weather.

“It tends to be those cool nights and sunny, cool days that will give you the great colors, but there’s kind of an art and science to it,” Massey said.

“Usually water and cooler temperatures are good for fall color, but there is a fine line between too little or too much,” Robinson said. “The recent heavy rains combined with that early freeze essentially slammed the brakes on it right in the middle of it happening.”

Regional temperatures that dipped down to about 27 on Halloween eve combined with the heavy rain and 25 to 30 mph wind gusts that hit Wednesday night killed any hope for improved fall colors.

“I took a picture of the tree in my front yard yesterday because I thought that was going to be about as good as it was going to get for this year, and I was right,” Robinson said. “This morning my yard was covered with a lot of sad, drab leaves.”

Robinson said the colors in the leaves, the pigments, are cold-sensitive, so when the trees with their moisture-laden leaves were caught in below-freezing temperatures, the result was a graying of the landscape.

“Just like putting blueberries or strawberries in your freezer, those colors are not as bright as they were,” she said.

“Cold can do two things to a leaf: It stops it from producing those pigments so you no longer have that little pigment factory, and it also can destroy what’s there or make it look less bright to our eye. That’s how things kind of end up looking gray.”

The trees are fine, she added. They will do their thing and make the transition for winter. A tree doesn’t care how it looks.

“In horticulture you learn it’s such an exact science with factors that are sensitive to light and water and temperature. There is just a sweet spot, and then you get a great visual show for us humans.”

Road trips still are worth taking around the state, and reports from southeastern Oklahoma are that the colors there are a bit more pronounced than around Tulsa — perhaps not as great as other years but still worth seeing, Robinson said.

“It’s kind of like your favorite football team,” Robinson said.

“You can keep cheering for them, but sometimes they just don’t live up to your standards. You still love them, anyway, and you keep waiting for next year.”


BEYOND THE SIDELINE: A continuing fall feature looking at the stories that make Tulsa-area high school football unique
Bill Haisten: After 80 years of bus trips, the Rogers football program looks ahead to a new stadium and better days
Ian Maule 

Ropers football players line up for conditioning drills during a practice at Will Rogers College High. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Before Friday’s season-ending trip to Collinsville and a clash with the Cardinals, Will Rogers College High football coach Parker Childers will oversee the loading of 40 players and their equipment onto a Tulsa Public Schools bus.

The Ropers also take to Collinsville a 36-game losing streak. The Ropers haven’t experienced a victory since September 2016. During a four-game stretch this season, Rogers was outscored 210-12 by Tahlequah, Pryor, Claremore and Skiatook.

In spite of unfortunate circumstances, though, there is optimism and energy within the program.

For 80 years, because Rogers never had an on-campus stadium, Ropers squads have been bused to all games. For games that were classified as “home games,” the Ropers played for several decades at the University of Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium. More recently, Webster’s Marshall Milton Stadium and Booker T. Washington’s S.E. Williams Stadium were “home” venues for the Ropers.

During the 81st season of Rogers football, however, home games will actually be played at home.

Ian Maule 

By the start of the 2020 season, Will Rogers College High will have a new football stadium. Pictured are Rogers sophomore quarterback Macuric Demry (top) and, from left, senior QB Gator Cason, Ropers coach Parker Childers, Tulsa Public Schools Athletic Director Gil Cloud and former Rogers QB Dave Rader. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

By the start of the 2020 season, yet another big-ticket Tulsa Public Schools facility project will have been completed. Positioned on the west edge of the Rogers campus — which is positioned a few blocks northeast of the University of Tulsa campus — will be a beautiful, $4.5 million stadium that could change the culture of Rogers football and certainly should enhance the neighborhood.

“This goes beyond Rogers football because so many different sports will use it,” said state Sen. Dave Rader, who during the ’70s was a Rogers quarterback. “Plus, there’s a community here, waiting to use it.

“If you see little-league soccer and flag football games here, it becomes a community landmark. Kids aren’t any different now than when I was a kid: they like nice, new things, and maybe this will (compel) more kids to stay here and play football for Rogers and graduate from Rogers.”

After starring at Rogers, Rader was a TU quarterback and the TU head coach. A decade before Rader attended high school, Gil Cloud was a Rogers student and football player — a two-way lineman and placekicker for really good Ropers teams.

More than 50 years since he graduated from Rogers, Cloud is the overseer of the school’s stadium development. As the TPS athletic director, his work on behalf of the district’s coaches and athletes has been a godsend.

Ian Maule 

Tulsa Public Schools athletic director Gil Cloud (right) walks with Rogers head coach Parker Childers at Will Rogers College High.

IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

The Rogers stadium will be built on the footprint of Frnka Field, on which soccer is played and football is practiced. Frnka Field is named in memory of Henry Frnka Jr., a Rogers running back who died after sustaining a head injury during a 1946 game against Central. Frnka was the son of Henry Frnka Sr., who had been TU’s head football coach from 1941-45.

The new venue still will be known as Frnka Field, but it will be part of a stadium that has not yet been named. It also will be the competition home of the Rogers soccer and track programs. The stadium project is part of a $15 million bond project approved by voters in 2015.

Per Tulsa Public Schools board policy, a committee will preside over a three-month stadium naming process. Suggestions will be accepted from Rogers alumni and other members of the TPS community.

Because Cloud is a distinguished Rogers grad, because he has done a masterful job of sustaining programs on the tightest of budgets, and because he was involved in the development of new field houses at Booker T. Washington, Edison, Memorial and McLain, it seems natural that his name would be considered for the Rogers stadium.

Rogers’ first-year head football coach is Parker Childers, an Edison graduate who at 26 is believed to be the youngest of all Oklahoma varsity head coaches. His previous football experience amounted to having coached seventh- and eighth-graders at Thoreau Demonstration Academy.

With the Ropers, Childers’ offensive coordinator is his father, Scott Childers.

Ian Maule 

At 26, Will Rogers College High football coach Parker Childers is believed to be the youngest head coach in Oklahoma high school football. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

“I inherited a team that hasn’t won in three years,” said Parker Childers, who was hired only two days before the start of spring practice. “Our guys are playing football because they really want to play football. I’m just trying to be as much a mentor as a coach.”

As the Rogers program has lacked a winning identity and an actual home venue, scores of talented athletes chose to attend high school elsewhere.

“In some ways, the new stadium could be a recruiting tool,” Childers said. “Kids like to go to the newest, greatest place, so that alone could help us. Some of the guys who’ve been deciding to play football at other schools — maybe they’ll decide to help us at Rogers.”

Among Ropers seniors is quarterback Gator Cosar, whose career ends with the Collinsville contest on Friday.

“I’m just happy that our younger guys get to play in (a new stadium),” Cosar said. “I’ll be here to watch.”

While Rader acknowledges the value of a Rogers stadium, he has fond memories of his football bus trips of 40-something years ago. Only nine-tenths of a mile separates the Rogers campus and the TU campus, but there always was a bus ride to Skelly Stadium for the Ropers’ “home” games.

“Our whole team fit on one yellow bus,” Rader said. “As we were about to turn right onto Eighth Street, a senior would bark a command, and all the players simultaneously would buckle the chin strap on their helmets.

“When we got to Eighth Street, we knew it was time to get serious.”

Ian Maule 

Rogers football players walk up a hill after their practice at Will Rogers College High. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

As of next season and beyond, the Ropers’ bus mileage will be reduced. They’ll get to play at home. And if the new stadium does have a positive impact on the makeup of the Rogers football roster, the Ropers might just win at home.

Ian Maule 

Oklahoma state Sen. Dave Rader talks with Tulsa Public Schools athletic director Gil Cloud at Will Rogers College High. Rader and Cloud are former Rogers football players. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

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