By RENEE FITE
As a young girl, Deborah Jo Smoke volunteered to take poppies around to businesses for donations. This past Monday morning, she made a cake for a monthly meeting as a member of the local American Legion Auxiliary.
Smoke, a 1965 graduate of Sapulpa High School, first came to Tahlequah that fall to attend Northeastern State College, as it was called then. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree in education, and followed up with a master’s degree in college teaching in 2000.
“My daughter Audra Conner and I obtained our master’s at the same time. It was a very special day,” said Smoke.
Before moving to Tahlequah, she was active with the Spavinaw American Legion, volunteering and selling cards at bingo.
“The legion also helped form a youth baseball team, which my husband helped coach, and he worked the concessions,” she said. “I helped form the Spavinaw Days and Powwow in 1981, and chaired the annual powwow for 15 years.”
She served as a board member of the South Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce for one term, promoting the south Grand Lake area with many events, like the battle re-enactment of Cabin Creek and the Cabin Creek Powwow. In 1982, she helped find and write a grant for a community building, and In 1983, they formed the Spavinaw Community Building Board Inc. and were funded.
“In 1985, with the help of Cherokee Nation, we started a nutrition program which is still in operation today,” she said.
In 1994, she transferred to Cherokee County Department of Human Services.
“We often had fundraisers within the office to help clients in the residential homes at Christmas or nursing home residents,” said Smoke.
In 2000, a year-long advocacy program with the Department of Aging services had a huge impact on her work and volunteering. She learned new ways to advocate for disabled, homeless, and the aging population.
She moved to the Peggs area with her husband, William. She retired from the Department of Human Services in 2000 after 28 years as a social worker. After two weeks of retirement, she began a career as a patient benefit coordinator at W.W. Hastings Hospital, retiring from there March 23, 2012.
Auxiliary work at Hastings and VFW
At Hastings, she joined the activity committee.
“We sold T-shirts and jackets to employees to raise money for events within the hospital such as the annual employee cookout, golf tournament and Christmas dance,” she said. “When I retired, I became a lifetime member and I still help with the employee activities.”
Smoke’s volunteer activities include serving as the treasurer for the VFW auxiliary and assisting with bingo and other projects, usually cooking; as a board member of the O Si Yo Men’s Shelter with fundraising and grants; and on the board of directors of the Spavinaw Community Building.
“I have been given so many tools through the many years as a volunteer, advocate and worker that it would be a sin to waste the knowledge I have gained. I try to help in any way that I can to give back,” said Smoke. “I have assisted people with filing their Social Security claims and directing them to other resources.”
The one criteria she has for volunteering is that the groups serve others.
“I have always been a social worker at heart. The needs of others always concerned me,” said Smoke. “My mother and grandmother were always volunteering with the veterans groups and at church. I would always tag along and help serve or clean up.”
Smoke believes qualities for a volunteer include honesty and a willingness to give of your time.
“Never think you don’t have something to give.” Smoke said. “Don’t waste your time on yourself; share it with others. There is always something to be done for someone or some organization. When a person gives of themselves, they will be rewarded in other ways than money.”
The groups she volunteers with, “chose me,” she said.
“I have always felt that opportunity knocks and that when it does one should take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself,” said Smoke.
The friendly people are what she likes about Tahlequah – that, and the family time.
“I love to go to ball games and events of the grandkids – Trey Conner, Lynsey Conner and Macey Conner,” she said.