, Muskogee, OK

March 15, 2013

Rancher, rehab commissioner dies

— Muskogee thoroughbred and cattle rancher, and community leader Ray F. Kirk died suddenly Thursday in Muskogee after a brief illness, according to a media release.

Kirk, 70, was the first Muskogee citizen appointed to the Commission for Rehabilitation Services, the governing board for the state Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). The Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee is a division of DRS.

At the time he was appointed to the commission, Kirk said, “Muskogee is very fortunate to have the school (for the blind) because of the outstanding work the staff does to educate visually impaired students brings attention to our community from all over the state. DRS also does a great job for people with disabilities in Oklahoma, and I’m proud to accept an appointment that will allow me to work closely with citizens who receive services, as well as disability advocates and agency staff.”

Oklahoma School for the Blind Superintendent Jim Adams said Kirk was not only an advocate for the school, he was a friend to every staff member and many of the students.

“He was the best friend I’ve got in Muskogee,” said Jim Adams, who moved to Muskogee to accept the superintendent position in 2011. “He supported us 150 percent in making improvements and was the best champion for this school in the Muskogee community and across the state that we have ever had.”

Kirk joined the commission in 2006, serving twice as chair in 2007 and 2010. He was reappointed in June 2012 by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman.

DRS Executive Director Michael O’Brien said Kirk was “absolutely dedicated to serving Oklahomans with disabilities and making sure that students at the School for the Blind had the same educational opportunities as other students. He was an honorable man who made a difference in the lives of more than 92,000 people each year through the work he did with our agency.”  

Commission Chair Lynda Collins said Kirk had strong convictions about OSB, and those convictions evolved to all divisions of the agency.

“From the onset, I could tell he was dedicated, but I also saw the fun side, his sense of humor and the way he enjoyed the camaraderie that was developing between the three of us [on the commission],” Collins said.

Sen. Earl Garrison of Muskogee said the Oklahoma schools for the blind and for the deaf lost a true friend with a passion for the schools.

“He enjoyed helping those schools so much,” Garrison said. “If there was a meeting at the school, he was there to offer input, and he believed in their mission and what they were doing. We just need a lot more commissioners like him with that kind of passion as public servants today.”

Kirk owned and operated a 585-acre cattle and thoroughbred horse ranch southeast of Muskogee with his wife Elada. He had one daughter, Kim Stotts, and two grandaughters. He was employed as a State Farm Insurance Companies agent for 32 years before his recent retirement.

He graduated from Tahlequah High School and Northeastern State University with a bachelor’s degree in education. He completed graduate studies at Wichita State University while teaching in a private business college and coached and taught classes in public schools for several years.