A dream of better opportunities through education brings thousands of students to Tahlequah to attend Northeastern State University every year.
Steve Garrett, now city administrator in Smithville, Mo., numbers among that group.
Garrett moved to Tahlequah in the late 1980s and moved in away in 1997. He came to NSU to work on a Master’s Degree in American Studies after completing a Bachelor’s Degree in History at NSU.
“I had always been interested in history,” he said. “In high school, I won the NSU History Day competition and won a small scholarship to NSU.”
Garrett grew up in Stilwell, and his mother, Nancy Garrett-Farrier, continues to operate a business there. For the Garrett family, like for most everyone in the small community, the Stilwell Strawberry Festival is an annual highlight.
“There are too many good memories [of the festival] to mention,” he said. “Like many Stilwell folks, I went from parade viewer, to participant in the parade, to eventually assisting in the organization and execution of the event with the Kiwanis Club.”
He appreciates Tahlequah’s creative diversity.
“Tahlequah fostered a great amount of creativity and was home to a wide variety of musicians, writers and artists,” Garrett said. “Tahlequah was and is home to political leaders at the local, state, tribal and national levels. It was easy to be ambitious in Tahlequah.”
Tahlequah is a great place filled with quirky, wonderful people, Garrett said.
“I miss the friends, the church family and the events in town. Tahlequah really offered an opportunity to be a part of the community that other locations can’t match,” he said. “And I miss Del Rancho!”
There are lots of opportunities to be a part of the community, which he also valued.
“I enjoyed the music and the great musicians who played there,” he said. “There were outstanding opportunities provided by NSU to see and do things and meet people we weren’t likely to meet any other way.”
His favorite memories include warm spring days on campus or out at the Illinois River.
“And playing guitar with Big Jim Walker at the old Robinson Music Store,” Garrett said.
Walker is one of two of Garrett’s mentors who have died.
“Big Jim Walker always called me ‘Snuffy,’ and Dr. Brian Rader always referred to me as ‘Mr. Garrett,’” he said. “Dr. Brad Agnew was a tough, but fair, instructor. If you got an A in his class, you earned it. There’s not a day that goes by that I haven’t benefited from lessons learned from Dr. Agnew.”
Tahlequah provided lots of positives, Garrett said.
“It was a place where you could really get to know people and they could get to know you. It was a good place for me to be, where I could develop relationships and skills that would benefit me for the rest of my life.”
He maintains friendships with locals to this day, including Bob and Steph Martin, Dan and Nancy Garber, and Todd and Jenine Hembree.
Music is still a constant in his life.
“I’ve always considered myself a bass player, but also play guitar and mandolin,” said Garrett. “I still play at our church, but now leave most of the music to my boys.”
While living in Tahlequah, he married Angel Henry, also an NSU student. Their three sons – Josh, Jacob and Jackson – were born at Hastings Hospital. Angel taught for a few years at Briggs Elementary School.
“My hobbies include being a dad to three rowdy boys, music and writing,” Garrett said. “I try to enjoy most things, but I enjoy time with my family and reading.”
The best book he’s read is “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and the book he’s currently reading is “American Emperor” about the Burr Conspiracy.
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