By RENEE FITE
Home is where the heart is happiest. And though Jay Hannah may now live more than three hours from Tahlequah, he still thinks of this area as his home.
He thinks of Tahlequah as a community of families, and a common village of connections across generations.
“Your neighbors are more than likely descended from neighbors who were close, caring, and contributing when your great-grandparents were alive and living in Tahlequah,” Hannah said. “Tahlequah is a city where the a greater sense of community exists through the inextricably of past, present, and future. It is a town with a soul.”
His great-great-grandparents moved to Tahlequah in the 1880s from what is now Adair County, where Hannah himself grew up.
“Grandpa was a tribal official, businessman, and helped organize the Chamber of Commerce and was active in the Masonic Lodge. Grandmother was active in Eastern Star and the First United Methodist Church,” Hannah said. “We are told they donated the land for the church.”
Great-uncles were bankers, lawyers and businessmen, while aunts were educators and community volunteers. They were part of the early fabric that transitioned a tribal capital into a city where businesses thrive, homes are built, families are cherished, and where learning flourishes, Hannah said.
Tahlequah was first Hannah’s home from 1973 to 1979 when he was a student at Northeastern State University. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and a master’s from Oklahoma State University. He was in the University of Oklahoma Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program and holds a banking degree from the University of Colorado.
The next time Hannah moved “home” was in 1989 to be president and CEO of Liberty State Bank, later renamed BancFirst. He’s now executive vice president for financial services at the Support Center of BancFirst in Oklahoma City.
“My best legacy in banking is having hired Mark Gish to take my place as president of BancFirst Tahlequah. He is much better banker than I will ever be,” Hannah said.
Banking wasn’t always his goal; at first, he wanted to be a professor. He taught two years at OSU while working on his master’s and would have pursued his Ph.D.
“But banking chose me,” he said. “After 31 years, I’m still in banking. I am not a ‘banker’; rather, I am a guy who works in banking.”
When he came to Tahlequah as a banker, Hannah immersed himself in the community. He worked with the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce, Masonic Lodge, Rotary Club, Oklahoma Production Center, NSU Foundation, Tahlequah Education Foundation, Main Street, Cherokee Nation, Arts and Humanities Council, and the business community.
“They allowed me to take my place in the line of those who dreamed about Tahlequah’s future,” he said. “I am still a Chamber member and a lifetime member of Cherokee Lodge No. 10.”
His wife, Valerie, is from Tahlequah, and his in-laws, Dr. Valgene Littlefield and Ruth Littlefield, live at Go Ye Village. That brings the couple to Tahlequah often.
“I’ve told people that Valerie and I still live in Tahlequah; we just keep our clothes in Norman,” he said.
Hannah has a countless number of Cherokee cousins who call Tahlequah home.
“I have to mention that more than few of my Cherokee ancestors are sleeping comfortably on the hill at the Tahlequah City Cemetery. I have a spot reserved there, for later,” he said.
Daughter Natalie Haskins attended Cherokee Elementary School, just like her mom, and is today a headmaster of an early learning center in Portland, Ore., where she lives with her husband, Tim, a native of Owasso.
Favorite memories of Tahlequah include working on the Merle Travis Festival and getting to personally “hold and play” Merle Travis’ Gibson Super 400 guitar. Being the master of ceremonies for NSU’s Centennial Celebration in 2009, and for the inaugurations of Cherokee Nation Principal Chiefs Wilma Mankiller and Chad Smith, are other highlights.
“Being involved in these historic tribal events on the ancient grounds of our Nation’s capitol was humbling,” said Hannah.
Hannah chaired the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution Convention of 1999. That organic document is today the law of the land in the Cherokee Nation. He’s a lecturer at several banking schools for the Oklahoma Bankers Association and for the Citizens Academy at the Oklahoma Municipal League.
Other accomplishments are often chalked up to his alter ego, musician Billie Bob Bovine. Hannah plays guitar in a band that has been around since 1983.
“My band opened for Willie Nelson during a fund-raiser for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, although I like to tell people that Willie closed for us,” he said.
Another fond memory is serving as co-host with Greg Combs for the Rotary auction on cable TV.
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