Oklahoma women have, for generations, made a tremendous impact on Oklahoma. From activists and politicians to inventors and volunteers, we owe a great deal to women of the past for rising above sexism, racism and a mountain of issues to make meaningful improvements to the state. Today’s women carry a similar weight on their shoulders. Perhaps the issues at hand are different, but our women remain the same – dedicated, confident, passionate and determined to make a difference.
Oklahoma Magazine asked hundreds of nonprofits across the state to nominate these impassioned women, and they delivered. Every woman nominated was impressive; each one is worthy of honor for her dedication to a chosen cause. We’d love to feature them all, but instead, we bring you seven wonder women with different passions. They represent the selflessness of all Oklahoma women making sacrifices so others can have better lives. They prove, as does every woman who strives to make a difference in this world, that grace and strength can take us far.
CEO, Premier Locations
Wendy Drummond has been actively involved in many nonprofits for 23 years, and currently serves on the national board for Girl Scouts USA, the Tulsa Botanic Garden and Visit Tulsa. In addition, she is advisory director for the Tulsa Ballet, Emergency Infant Services and Lindsey House; chair of Tulsa’s Film, Music, Arts and Culture Committee; a trustee for the Tulsa Performing Arts Trust; and a past board member of numerous nonprofits. She is a Big Sister to a ninth grader in Jenks and has been with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for three years.
She has chaired many nonprofit events, including Swim, Rattle and Roll; the Kaleidoscope Ball; and the Red Ribbon Gala. She is co-chair of this year’s Wine Experience for the Philbrook Museum and Icons and Idols for the Tulsa Ballet, both with her husband, Gentner Drummond. The couple also chairs the current capital campaign for Emergency Infant Services and have raised almost $6 million for a new building opening in 2019. Drummond says serving others is her passion; people often ask her how she manages her work-life balance and why she is involved in so many different causes. And the answer is simple: She doesn’t see her nonprofit involvement as work, but rather as a vital part of balancing mind, body and spirit. “At work, my mind is challenged daily. As I near my 50th birthday, I am committed to exercising five days a week and living a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “Serving those in need and making our community a better place to live for everyone is what calms my spirit and makes me feel whole.”
Drummond, who started law school on the same day that her youngest son started the first grade and earned her law degree from the University of Tulsa, practiced for a decade before becoming the chief executive officer of Premier Locations, US Cellular’s largest national agent with 47 stores in seven states.
Art Consultant, volunteer art teacher
Heather Lunsford has made art her lifelong passion, and she shares that with children around the world in countries such as India and Nepal. It’s a rewarding form of volunteerism for an art lover.
“Kids I have worked with in developing nations often haven’t even had a pencil – so to take real art supplies, pastels, watercolor, collage, is extremely exciting for them,” she says. “They work so hard and are so grateful, that the feeling is invigorating. These kids have not ever had the chance to create art before, so they aren’t scared to make mistakes and try.”
Lunsford, an art consultant and collections manager for The Heritage building in Oklahoma City, earned her bachelor’s in painting and art history from Oklahoma State University. She then lived and worked in Spain as a bilingual designer in a home design and art gallery for five years.
When she returned stateside, she taught art in Spanish at the San Antonio Museum of Art and finished a graduate degree in business.
“While teaching there, I discovered how art can transcend so many barriers: money, social, race, language,” she says. “I became passionate about bringing art to kids who have never had the chance to create.”
Lunsford says if kids can learn to create art before they feel the pressure to conform to their peers (make it look perfect), then they’ll have a skill to carry forever. Lunsford typically travels with a charity out of Oklahoma City called 4 H.I.M., His Healing Helping Hands International Ministries.
“They work hard to bring skills and industry to people via micro-loans in the developing world. Many of these micro-loan projects support schools, so they have a built-in audience for me,” she says. “I take a portion of the sales of my artwork, and sometimes my clients will donate, to buy the tickets and pay my travel expenses. I plan to teach 200-300 kids a 30-45 minute art lesson.”
One of her fondest memories was during a trip to Togo.
“I took pipe cleaners and beads to a beach slum in Togo – and the kids were so creative. I gave them a few ideas, bracelets, necklaces, etc., but they created eye glasses, hair ties and things I hadn’t thought of,” Lunsford says. “I saw those pipe cleaners and beads recycled for new art the whole time we were in the village. So, not only had we made art together, but they took those materials home and shared them with their families to make art together.”
Lou C. Kerr
President and Chair, Kerr Foundation
Lou C. Kerr has been involved in so much philanthropic work over the last four decades, her resume spans six full pages. While it’s difficult to whittle down all her nonprofit involvement into a manageable list, Kerr has some favorite memories and projects that she feels have had a particularly lasting impact on Oklahoma.
“Education is a strong passion and one I have enjoyed helping with through board participation and involvement from the very beginning of our foundation work,” Kerr says. “My most proud moments were helping to create the Women’s Leadership Program at Oklahoma State University. It has been going on in Tulsa for nearly 30 years. Dr. Julie Weathers and the OSU School of Business continue to direct the process so young students, women, community leaders and others are able to acquire a quality education and be made aware of educational opportunities through programs to Oklahoma and other states.”
Kerr says most of the colleges in Oklahoma have known of the Kerr Foundation’s help.
“As a former chair of the Oklahoma Independent College Foundation, I have worked with nearly every college and university in Oklahoma in one way or the other. As a member of the select committee of Truman Scholars program, I was able to help students in Oklahoma acquire scholarships from the National program,” she says. “As a United Methodist Higher Education Foundation board member, I helped highlight the need for funds to Oklahoma students.
“OCU Societies was and is another of my proudest moments as the arts received funding need for the talented students attending Oklahoma City University. We have funded various programs in the fine arts schools at the University of Oklahoma, and many libraries and humanities programs throughout the state.”
Her work for senior citizens has also had great, and lasting, impact.
“Long before there was an Area Wide Area Agency or any type of help for seniors, I worked with Gov. Nigh and Gov. Bellmon to change the face of aging issues over the many years,” she says.
Founder, Restoring Identities after Sexual Exploitation
A longtime attorney, Keri Spencer is no stranger to the difficulties families face. Spencer handled delinquency and Families in Need of Services cases as a deputy prosecuting attorney, then represented the state of Arkansas in foster care, adult protective services and administrative services until her family returned to her hometown of Muskogee in 2011.
Today, Spencer is on the pastoral staff of New Community Church in Muskogee and the founder of RISE, Restoring Identities after Sexual Exploitation, a long-term residence for girls ages 13-18 who have been victims of sex trafficking or commercial exploitation.
RISE came about as a logical result of the work of Priceless – an awareness ministry Spencer formed with her daughter, Kayla, in September 2013. Priceless hosts awareness events and educates the public and youth on dangers of sex trafficking in the United States.
“As I became more involved with the anti-trafficking movement in Oklahoma, including with the Child Trafficking Task Force in Tulsa,” she says, “I learned that the greatest need was a place for our minor girls to be able to go once they have been identified as victims to live in safety while they receive restorative services and begin the healing process from the traumas they suffer during their trafficking or exploitation experiences.”
RISE is licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services as a residential facility and is funded through private donations. The facility opened officially Feb. 12, and has six beds with plans to expand to 12.
“The RISE board of directors, staff and myself all firmly believe that no one was put on this earth to be treated as property or raped for profit,” Spencer says. “It is our sincere desire to love these girls and walk with them as they heal and become healthy, happy, independent adults, free from the sex trade.”
Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma
Vicki Miles-LaGrange has always had a passion for the United States government, she says. From an early age, she knew she would go into law by eagerly learning as much about the government and all its branches as she could.
“If somebody said, ‘What do you want to be?,’ I would always say I like government; it’s so necessary; it’s so important,” she says.
While growing up, she would tell her neighbor across the street – Melvin Porter, the first African-American elected to the Oklahoma Senate – that she was going to be a senator some day. After completing law school, Miles-LaGrange did just that – beating Porter in a race for his seat and becoming the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate.
Her years in the legislature were some of the best of her life, she says, not the least because she was instrumental in passing legislation impacting women’s rights, civil rights and family law, but also because of her work on the International Judicial Committee, for which she visited numerous less-privileged countries and shared her knowledge to help governments, communities and attorneys in those countries through difficult times.
But Miles-LaGrange doesn’t toot her own horn for that work. Instead she credits it with changing her life.
“At the end of the day, I think I became a better person for having had that opportunity,” she says.
Miles-LaGrange says she credits her grandmother with teaching her what she calls her slogan.
“When I was a little girl, we used to go up to Fairfax, Oklahoma, and see my grandmother,” she says, “and she used to always say this: ‘Good, better, best. I must work harder than the rest, until my good is my better and my better is my best,’ and she told me you have to give the best you have to give, and your best will be enough.”
A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Sarah Adams-Cornell takes a stand on important issues impacting Native American women, including domestic violence, activism, the Indian Child Welfare Act, sexual assault, and generational trauma. Adams-Cornell co-founded Matriarch, a nonprofit, intertribal, Native-led program to empower women through education, community building and direct services to create positive change within their communities.
She and co-founder Kendra Wilson Clements began the Oklahoma City chapter in 2016 and added a Tulsa chapter in 2017. Their small groups meet twice a month to discuss a variety of issues with the purpose of healing, problem solving and teaching those tools to their children and families.
“Matriarch serves to empower Native women and help them to reclaim indigenous identity in the effort to build and support women leaders of their homes and communities,” Adams-Cornell says. “As Native women are empowered, so are their children, breaking cycles of violence and poverty and creating generations of health and hope.”
The groups incorporate culturally connected arts such as shawl and ribbon skirt making, pottery, painting and bead work.
“We are seeing incredible growth in our sisters, and the bonds formed have added a layer of protection through an incredibly strong support system,” she says. “It’s incredibly exciting to know we are successfully meeting a need in our communities.”
Adams-Cornell’s work doesn’t stop there.
“I’ve been working for the past few years to see Indigenous Peoples’ Day passed in Oklahoma City. Through this work, Live Indigenous OK was born,” she says. “Live Indigenous OK is a group of Native volunteers that track legislation in Oklahoma that will impact Native people. We host events to encourage indigenous people to run for office and run social media campaigns to remind OKC voters what our elected leaders voted for and against while in office. We hope to see progress as we ask the OKC City Council again this year to pass Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
President and CEO, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits
One of Oklahoma’s leading governance experts, Marnie Taylor has more than 35 years of leadership in volunteerism, board service, fundraising and community engagement. She has served on more than 30 boards of directors and serves on the boards of the National Council of Nonprofits, Potts Family Foundation, ReMerge, World Neighbors and the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion.
After meeting and marrying her husband, Clayton, in Chicago, and moving to his home state of Oklahoma, Taylor realized how important it was to get involved, she says. “You just have to do what you say you’re going to do and roll up your sleeves,” Taylor says. “I quickly became immersed in community work, philanthropy, volunteerism and board service. And funny enough, I found a real niche in board governance.”
She has won numerous awards for her service to the community, including the Journal Record’s Woman of the Year in 2013, the Junior League of Oklahoma City’s Sustainer of the Year in 2011 and the 2018 President’s Spirit of Commitment Award.
“Faith is huge for me. My staff, my friends, my family and I talk about God’s gifts to us and how to use them. God has given me so much abundance in life. I feel like I owe it to Oklahoma, to our nonprofits, to our citizens to share those gifts,” she says. “This service is living out what Jesus said – love God with all your heart and love your neighbors as yourself. If we translate that as altruism or passion or drive, then I think I’ve helped to live out God’s purpose for me. That’s why I believe so much in doing good in all the ways I can and all the times I can.”