Muskogee rancher, Rehabilitation Services commissioner dies after sudden illness
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Muskogee thoroughbred and cattle rancher, and community leader Ray F. Kirk died suddenly March 14 in Muskogee after a brief illness. Commissioner Kirk was the first Muskogee citizen ever appointed to the Commission for Rehabilitation Services, the governing board for the state Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). The Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee is a division of DRS. At the time he was appointed to the commission, Kirk said, “Muskogee is very fortunate to have the school (for the blind) because of the outstanding work the staff does to educate visually impaired students brings attention to our community from all over the state. DRS also does a great job for people with disabilities in Oklahoma, and I’m proud to accept an appointment that will allow me to work closely with citizens who receive services, as well as disability advocates and agency staff.” Kirk joined the commission in 2006, serving twice as chair in 2007 and 2010. He was reappointed in June 2012 by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman. “Commissioner Kirk was absolutely dedicated to serving Oklahomans with disabilities and making sure that students at the School for the Blind had the same educational opportunities as other students,” DRS Executive Director Michael O’Brien, Ed.D., from Oklahoma City, said. “He was an honorable man who made a difference in the lives of more than 92,000 people each year through the work he did with our agency.” “Ray Kirk was not only an advocate for the school, he was a friend to every staff member and many of the students – he was the best friend I’ve got in Muskogee,” said Jim Adams, who moved to Muskogee to accept the superintendent position at Oklahoma School for the Blind in 2011. “He supported us 150 percent in making improvements and was the best champion for this school in the Muskogee community and across the state that we have ever had.” “One thing for sure, he had strong convictions about that school [for the blind] and those convictions evolved to all divisions of the agency,” Commission Chair Lynda Collins, from Mannford, said. “From the onset, I could tell he was dedicated, but I also saw the fun side, his sense of humor and the way he enjoyed the camaraderie that was developing between the three of us [on the commission].” “We’ve lost a true friend with a passion for the Oklahoma School for the Blind and School for the Deaf and the whole agency,” said Sen. Earl Garrison, from Muskogee. “He enjoyed helping those schools so much – if there was a meeting at the school, he was there to offer input -- and he believed in their mission and what they were doing. We just need a lot more commissioners like him with that kind of passion as public servants today.” Kirk owned and operated a 585-acre cattle and thoroughbred horse ranch southeast of Muskogee with his wife Elada. He had one daughter, Kim Stotts, and two grand-daughters. He was employed as a State Farm Insurance Companies agent for 32 years before his recent retirement. Kirk graduated from Tahlequah High School and Northeastern State University with a bachelor’s degree in education. He completed graduate studies at Wichita State University while teaching in a private business college and coached and taught classes in public schools for several years.