EVERYDAY HEROES: VanVeen finds value advocating, volunteering

Jeannie VanVeen serves on the Board of the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association and as chaplain of the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Jeannie VanVeen is a retired educator and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She was born in Tulsa and has taught Special Education for 33 years in Tulsa, Pawhuska, Wagoner, and at Greenwood Elementary, Central Academy, and Tahlequah Middle School.

She currently serves on the Board for Oklahoma Retired Educators Association (OREA) where she attends monthly meetings. In her position, she advocates on behalf of retired educators in seven different Oklahoma counties, and their primary purpose is to support pensions.

“I keep up with what’s going on in the Oklahoma Legislature and in Congress and make sure that my officers encourage them,” said VanVeen.

In 2020, retired Oklahoma educators received their first Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in twelve years after pressure was placed by OREA. VanVeen retired in 2007, but she was disqualified from receiving a COLA in 2008.

“When everyone got a raise because of me, I got so mad, and we went twelve years without a raise,” she explained.

She finds value in advocating on behalf of other retirees who rely on their pensions, but she has been happy with the support that she has received from legislators who represent Cherokee County.

VanVeen also serves as a board member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, which is a U.S.-based international women’s organization that provides scholarships for female students. She has served as president and vice president of the Tahlequah Chapter, but currently serves as the chaplain.

They have held different fundraisers that go to students, but in light of the pandemic, much of these campaigns have been halted.

“Last year, we had everything set up for a Bingo event to raise money for a scholarship, and the pandemic hit and we had to cancel it.”

Since the pandemic, they have held one silent auction, but as more people are getting vaccinated, they are excited to start fundraising again so they can better serve the community.

She also volunteers for Feed My Sheep where she coordinates volunteers from St. Bridgid’s Catholic Church where they provide a main dish, fresh fruit, a bottle of water, and a dessert for the needy.

VanVeen and her husband Dr. Henricus VanVeen often volunteer together. They are both first generation college graduates who share a love for serving others. Jeannie VanVeen attended Haskell Indian Boarding School where she developed a love of learning.

“If I had not been there, I would not have gone to college,” she said.

She is proud of her Potawatomi identity, and she remembers her grandfather telling her that she was from the “Big Woods,” referring to Michigan before they were forcibly removed to their reservation in Kansas, and later Oklahoma. Without the sacrifices of her ancestors, she does not see herself being where she is today.

“I tell people that we are Potawatomi and Catholic, and I don’t think I can separate the two,” said VanVeen.

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