By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Jennifer Cotner can be seen all over town, helping her community.
She might be waving from a bank float, collecting donations at the Garden of Lights, helping out at the Muskogee Noon Lions Club’s annual Pancake Breakfast.
Cotner’s involvement with the community could well have started with a Lions Club scholarship she earned when she was a student at Stigler High School.
She said she doesn’t even remember how much it was for. At Stigler High, Jennifer played the clarinet in the band and was active in the Technical Student Association.
“When I was a senior, I went to high school half the day and to college in the afternoon,” Cotner said.
She also worked part time for a local pharmacy. That got her interested in seeking a degree in pharmacy. After attending Connors State College, she pursued a degree at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, which has a pharmacy program.
She was there one semester before she got homesick for eastern Oklahoma and her family.
“I was very lonely,” she said.
She also had a boyfriend in Muskogee.
“He was my high school sweetheart,” she said. “We met at church camp. I was 14 and he was 16, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Cotner married her high school sweetheart, Matt Cotner, in 2002 and transferred to Northeastern State University.
Meet Jennifer Cotner
CAREER: Executive administrative assistant at Firstar Bank.
EDUCATION: Degree from Connors State College. Attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University; bachelor of science in health care administration, Northeastern State University, 2004.
FAMILY: Husband, Matt; son, Wyatt, 3; daughter, Jayden, 10 months.
CHURCH: Wagoner United Pentecostal Church.
HOBBIES: Reading, preparing for a 5K run.
Helping the Lions
Club help others
Shortly after starting at Firstar Bank, Jennifer Cotner got involved with the Muskogee Noon Lions Club.
She said she learned how the Lions help the community by offering scholarships, helping with the Ark of Faith and Kelly B. Todd Cerebral Palsy and Neuro-Muscular Center.
“They care about people. They do a lot with Parkview School,” she said, referring to the Oklahoma School for the Blind.
Students from the school help at the club’s annual pancake breakfast.
The breakfast is what keeps Cotner and other Lions busy in late winter.
“We probably start planning six months ahead,” she said. “We start talking about it several months in advance, decide where we’re going to have it. We start getting sponsors, calling for in-kind donations. We use Oklahoma-made products. We call around, go to suppliers, get tickets made, pick up supplies.”
The Lions spend the day before the breakfast setting up tables and chairs.
“We get out at 5 a.m. the day of the breakfast to get things ready,” she said. “Unfortunately I was not going to be there at 5 a.m. this year because of my kids. But in the past I was there.”
And everyone has a job to do at the breakfast, she said.
“I’ve given plates out, put peanut butter and jelly on the tables,” she said. “Last year I was pregnant, and I took tickets.”
She never cooked the pancakes, though.
“Usually, the men do the cooking,” she said. “Sometimes there is a celebrity cook who comes to flip the pancakes for us.”
to help children
Cotner says helping in the community is rewarding in many ways.
A particularly rewarding time came when she and co-workers participated in the Lake Area United Way’s Day of Caring and helped at the Kelly B. Todd Center.
“We spent the day cleaning a room,” she said. “We cleaned a thing that was almost like a jungle gym. We cleaned a rock climbing wall. It was very rewarding for me.”
The Kelly B. Todd Center, which provides physical therapy for children or young adults, helped Cotner’s son, Wyatt. She said Wyatt had a condition called torticollis, in which the neck is twisted and the head is tipped to one side.
“My son had to go there for several months,” she said. “They helped him get caught up. They would stretch his neck.”
Cotner said the center’s director, Pat Pack, a pediatric physical therapist, helped her son roll over.
“He’s doing great now,” she said. “He’s now a smart little guy.”
Cotner recalled being involved in other rewarding events.
For example, the bank collected school supplies for a back-to-school drive.
“With donated money, I went out and did shopping for it,” she said. “We also have a teddy bear and toy tree every year for The Salvation Army or WISH. We help local children who don’t get toys for Christmas.”
When she’s not busy with her family or helping her community, Cotner is running toward a healthy goal — to participate in a 5K run in April.
“My husband is training for a half-marathon, and some of my friends from work run,” she said.
Cotner traces her interest to last November, when she and two co-workers took part in the Muskogee Swim and Fitness Center’s Holiday Fitness Feast.
“We just worked on eating right and watching our calories,” she said. “They had classes on Saturdays, and we took classes in Zumba and cross fitness classes.”
She said the three of them lost a total of 20 pounds.
“I might have gained a few pounds since then, but I mostly kept them off,” Cotner said. “I know the other two girls kept them off.”
In January, a mobile app called Couch-to-5K got Cotner running.
“I do it three to four times a week,” she said. “It tells me what to do. I do a five-minute warm-up. I jog three minutes and walk three minutes. I go back and forth with this, increasing the time that I run.”
She said she uses the app for about 30 minutes at a time.
“I’m now up to about two miles,” she said. “The longer times that I run, I should get up to three miles in 30 minutes.”
Then she’d be almost ready for the 5K. Five kilometers is about 3.1 miles, she said.
“The program is for eight weeks, and in five weeks, I should be ready to run,” she said.
She and her friends plan to run a race in Tulsa called the Color Run.
“They splash colored dye on you every mile,” she said. “It’s just fun.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
I moved to Muskogee in 2002 when I got married.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“Small town atmosphere, great hometown restaurants, community involvement.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“More programs and things to do for kids and teenagers. Less crime, which is true for almost every town.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Executive administrative assistant at Firstar Bank.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“Not much spare time with two kids and working full time. I love spending every minute I can with my family. I am planning on running my first 5K in April.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“All working mothers. I am one, and I understand the challenges that a working mother faces trying to juggle work and children.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“Going to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home with the Lions Club to give Christmas gifts to the children. It was such a blessing to see the kids light up when they got to sit on Santa’s lap and receive a gift.”