Four to be inducted into 2022 Hall of Fame; 2020 inductees honored

This article appeared in the May 2022 edition of the Chickasaw Times

The 2022 Chickasaw Hall of Fame ceremony will premiere at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 12 on and the Chickasaw Nation Facebook page. The ceremony will also include 2020 Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductees.

This year, four Chickasaw citizens have been selected for induction into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame, the highest honor bestowed upon a citizen by the Chickasaw Nation. These four distinguished individuals share a dedication to the Chickasaw people and their communities exemplified through their contributions to culture, faith and public service.

“Our inductees earned success pursuing a wide range of personal interests and career paths,” Governor Bill Anoatubby said. “However, they all share a sense of purpose, a commitment to excellence and a spirit of perseverance.”

This year’s ceremony will also honor the 2020 Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductees, whose in-person ceremony was postponed during the pandemic. Chickasaw citizens Tim Colbert, Lillian Blackwood Fowler, John L. Hilton, Retired Rear Admiral Kevin Meeks and Ron Parker were inducted during a virtual ceremony in 2020.

The 2022 inductees are:

Mary Ruth Barnes

Mary Ruth Barnes is a Chickasaw artist, author, photographer, storyteller, philanthropist and historic preservationist. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from North Carolina State University, and received her master’s degree in education from Montana State University.

After graduating college, Mrs. Barnes taught high school and college English, art and computer science for 14 years. Mrs. Barnes has won numerous awards for her art and short stories. She is known for her flowing, freestyle, vibrant depictions of outdoor scenes, First Americans and horses. Her specialties are watercolor and acrylic painting.

Mrs. Barnes’ love of nature is reflected in her artwork, which is influenced by her Chickasaw family and experiences with storytelling. Her art reflects the colorful stories her Chickasaw grandfather shared.

Mrs. Barnes is the 2015 Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year and in 2019 she received the Women in the Arts Recognition Award from the Ada, Oklahoma chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

As director of development for the advancement office at East Central University, Mrs. Barnes was responsible for all fundraising activities leading to one of the largest donations in the school’s history of more than $8 million. She later joined the American Cancer Society where she helped raise more than $35 million for cancer research through her role as director of planned giving.

For these efforts, she won “Top Performer” and “Top in the Nation” awards. She retired in 2017 after many years of service with the nonprofit.

Mrs. Barnes is active in her community through the Ada Chamber of Commerce and Ada Rotary Club. She is the past president of Ada’s Business and Professional Women, where she received the Woman of the Year Award in 2006. She has served on her church board, Rotary board, the executive board of Boy Scouts of America and the Ada Arts Council executive board. She is also active through the Philanthropic Education Organization, Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumni Association and the National Watercolor Society.

Rev. Jonas L. Imotichey

Rev. Jonas Imotichey, born Feb. 27, 1904, was an original enrollee of the Chickasaw Nation. He attended primary school in Fillmore and later Chilocco Indian School, where he learned English.

Rev. Imotichey and his wife, Josie, were married for 43 years, and they had seven children. He was a hardworking man with many skills and trades, including farming, woodworking and traditional bow making. Rev. Imotichey also assisted Chickasaw families, who did not have land allotments, by generously donating land so they could apply for federal tribal housing grants. He also routinely assisted his neighbors by providing land for their livestock, farming and storing equipment.

Rev. Imotichey served as a minister at the Sandy Creek Presbyterian Church where he preached sermons in Chickasaw. He was one of the last First Americans to be ordained by what was then known as the Indian Presbytery before candidates were required to attend seminary, during a time when civil rights issues gripped the United States. Rev. Imotichey was a part of the historic gatherings at Seeley Chapel marking the dawn of a new and progressive era for the Chickasaw Nation. He, along with other Chickasaw ministers and leaders, worked tirelessly to regain the right to self-determination, which later became the 1975 Indian Self-Determination Act.

Rev. Imotichey was selected by Governor Overton James to serve on his advisory council prior to his governorship appointment by President John F. Kennedy. He also represented the Chickasaw people on the Chickasaw Advisory Council from 1960 until his death in 1972, including serving several years as vice chairman.

In 1968, Rev. Imotichey was appointed an original member of the board of commissioners for the Chickasaw Nation Housing Authority. He served as an instrumental leader and voice of the community throughout his life and is distinguished for his dedication to the Chickasaw Nation, its people and their culture.

Jefferson E. Keel

Jefferson E. Keel was born July 4, 1947 in Fillmore, Oklahoma. Mr. Keel attended Tishomingo High School and at 16 years of age joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Soon after, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served a total of 22 years. He attained the rank of captain.

He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1968, and again in 1970. Mr. Keel’s enlisted service spanned the infantry with the 1st Cavalry Division, 101st Airborne Division and the elite Army Rangers. He would also serve as an instructor at the U.S. Army Rangers School in Fort Benning, Georgia.

After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1974, he attended Murray State College. He later attended East Central University (ECU) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and received the Gen. George C. Marshall Award for leadership excellence and academic achievement as ECU’s top military student. While in college at ECU, Mr. Keel joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant in field artillery when he graduated.

After college, Mr. Keel returned to active duty, which took him to several locations including Germany as a nuclear targeting officer and Fort Rucker, Alabama, as a fire support and combined arms instructor. While stationed there, he attended Troy State University and earned a master’s degree.

In 1989, he retired from the Army. Among his many military awards, Mr. Keel earned two Bronze Stars with Valor, two Purple Hearts, two Meritorious Service Medals and an Air Medal.

He then returned to Oklahoma to serve the Chickasaw people, working in roles that included mental health therapy, community services, social services and policy administration. He would eventually be elected Lieutenant Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in 1999, serving in that position for 20 years.

During this time, he also served as President of the National Congress of American Indians for six years and made great strides in advancing the needs of the Chickasaw people and of Native and Indigenous peoples around the world. He testified before Congress on several occasions and worked behind the scenes on issues including health care, law enforcement, education, labor, sovereignty and more.

Mr. Keel served as chair and has been a member of numerous organizations and committees. He is an East Central University Distinguished Alumnus and has been inducted into the Military Museum Hall of Honor in Ardmore, Oklahoma, for his exemplary military and civilian achievements.

Mr. Keel is a past co-chairman of the advisory committee to the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the Chickasaw Warrior Society.

Mr. Keel and his wife Carol have been married for over 45 years and have three children together. They now reside in Durant, where they continue their work with their church, community charity work and travel.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a classical composer and Chickasaw citizen. He was born in 1968 in Norman, Oklahoma. His middle name, Impichchaachaaha’, meaning “high corncrib,” is his inherited traditional Chickasaw house name.

Mr. Tate is acclaimed nationally and internationally for composing, producing, performing and directing American Indian-based classical music projects for orchestra, chorus and chamber ensembles.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Northwestern University and his master’s degrees in piano performance and composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Mr. Tate strongly identifies with his Chickasaw culture. Chickasaw music and Chickasaw language are included in his compositions. He states his work is “elemental” and is inspired by his Chickasaw heritage.

His music has been featured in the popular HBO television series “Westworld.” His work has been performed by orchestras across the nation, including the National Symphony Orchestra; San Francisco Symphony and Chorus; Dallas Symphony Orchestra; the Santa Fe Desert Chorale; Canterbury Voices; Colorado Ballet; and Oklahoma City Philharmonics.

Mr. Tate is a U.S. Department of State appointed Cultural Ambassador, a Governor appointed Oklahoma Creativity Ambassador and a 2011 Emmy Award winner for his work on “The Science of Composing,” an Oklahoma Educational Television Authority documentary.

Mr. Tate is dedicated to the development of First American classical composition. He is founding composition instructor for the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy and has taught composition to North American Indian high school students in Minneapolis and Toronto, as well as the Hopi, Navajo and Lummi reservations.

The 2020 inductees are:

Tim Colbert

Tim Colbert served in the Chickasaw Tribal Legislature representing Chickasaw people in the Tishomingo District for an unprecedented 12 consecutive terms, spanning four decades. During this time, he became an associate district judge for Murray, Johnston, Marshall and Love counties in Oklahoma.

Mr. Colbert was born April 9, 1950, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Chickasaw Hall of Fame member, the Hon. George Dixie Colbert, and Ruby Colbert. He was raised in Sulphur, Oklahoma, graduating from Sulphur High School in 1968.

He attended the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University earning his juris doctorate in 1976. Afteradmission to the Oklahoma Bar Association in 1976, he became a charter member of the Chickasaw Bar Association. Elected to the Chickasaw Tribal Council in 1979, Mr. Colbert represented District 5 and later became a member of the new Chickasaw Tribal Legislature in 1983.

As a member of the legislature, he served on the tribal health care and commerce committees. He retired in 2019, a culmination of 40 years as a Chickasaw legislator.
Since then, Mr. Colbert has been active serving the Murray County community as a member and volunteer of St. Francis Catholic Church, Dougherty Volunteer Fire Department, Murray County Bar and Chickasaw Bar Associations.

Lillian Blackwood Fowler

Lillian Fowler was born in Antioch, Oklahoma, the eldest daughter of Bryant Blackwood and Malinda Blackwood (Gibson), an original Dawes enrollee. She attended Bloomfield Academy and Chilocco Indian School. She left school, but later earned her GED diploma in 1977 at age 57.

Mrs. Fowler raised six children in a modest setting, working various jobs, including in a school cafeteria, assembly line and restaurants. Her diverse work experience would serve her well during her time with the Chickasaw Nation.

Her dedication was a major contributor to the early success of the Community Health Representative (CHR) program, being one of only three representatives after its founding in 1969. As a CHR, she experienced firsthand the needs of Chickasaw citizens, especially elders. She established relationships with those she served and helped to voice their needs to the tribe.

One of the most critical requirements she identified was providing quality nutrition to Chickasaws. She accepted the challenge of becoming the Chickasaw Nation’s first nutrition specialist. The position, supported by a federal grant, enabled her to serve citizens living in all counties of the tribe, and in her success, laid the foundation of what has become an indispensable service for Chickasaws today.

Mrs. Fowler was proud of her service and her tribe, and her spirit of giving has been embodied in the Chickasaw Foundation’s Lillian Fowler Memorial Scholarship. Her service to the community was recognized in 2005 with the dedication of the Lillian Blackwood Fowler monument at the Pauls Valley Senior Center.

John L. Hilton

John L. Hilton dedicated his life to the service of the Chickasaw people and the growth of the Chickasaw Nation. He was instrumental in the funding of programs that still benefit Chickasaws every day.

Born in 1952 in Ada, Oklahoma, to John Mitchell Hilton and Ruby Lee Miller Hilton, he attended Byng High School, graduating in 1970. Mr. Hilton earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from East Central University and began working for the Chickasaw Nation in 1979. His career started as a grant writer then as a planner for grants and contracts, section head and finally director of planning.

His efforts directly contributed to the establishment of the Chickasaw Nation Roads Program, which allowed the tribe to contract for the construction of its own roadways. He assisted Chickasaws with direct services including disaster relief, home repairs and emergency aid.

In 1987, Mr. Hilton was appointed special assistant to Governor Bill Anoatubby, a position he maintained until his death. His resourcefulness and compassion reflected in his work ensuring Chickasaw Nation programs were properly funded and supported.

He served as president of the Indian Tribes Community Development Association, a nonprofit organization addressing community development block grant needs for improving housing conditions and boosting economic development in First American communities. He also served as a member of the Governor’s Resource Advisory Committee.

Retired Rear Admiral
Kevin Meeks

Rear Admiral Kevin Meeks has been instrumental in the management and improvement of the Indian Health Service (IHS) in Oklahoma and across the country during his 32-year career in the U.S. Public Health Service. Rear Adm. Meeks, born in 1958 and raised in Byng, Oklahoma, earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Oklahoma.

His career began in 1987 in South Dakota where he served as an Environmental Health Specialist. In 1989, he transferred to Claremore, Oklahoma, followed by an assignment to the Alaska Area IHS. In 1995, he transferred to the Oklahoma City Area Office. From 1995 to 2009, he fulfilled various management positions in the Oklahoma City Area Office, including Assistant Associate Director of the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering (OEHE), Environmental Health Services Branch Chief and Associate Director of OEHE. In 2007, serving as the Southeast Regional Commissioned Corps Liaison, he provided personnel services to more than 300 officers assigned to the Oklahoma City, Nashville and Albuquerque areas.

Rear Adm. Meeks served as Area Director of the Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service from 2009 to 2017. As the Area Director, he served the senior federal official responsible for the provision of comprehensive health care services to one of the largest and most diverse service populations in IHS. He was ultimately promoted to IHS Deputy Director of Field Operations in 2017, where he directed 12 IHS Area Offices and became a crucial leader in providing quality health care to 2.2 million American Indians/Alaska Natives.

Rear Adm. Meeks has been awarded the Surgeon General’s Medallion by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams in 2018 and in 2019, he received the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Ron Parker

Ron Parker has been a judge, statesman, businessman and civil servant serving the Chickasaw people. His 26-year career with the Chickasaw Nation has been marked by compassion and dedication to helping Chickasaws.

Mr. Parker, born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He attended the University of Oklahoma, and spent his early career in Texas and Oklahoma in the apparel business. He returned to Ardmore in 1984.

In 1991, he found his calling with the Chickasaw Nation, first as a Chickasaw Nation judge, and then a tribal legislator in 1992. Reelected to the legislature in 1995, Mr. Parker served until 1997.

In 1997, he began serving as the general manager of Touso Ishto Gaming Center in Thackerville, Oklahoma, the predecessor to WinStar World Casino & Resort. He became a community advocate for the Ardmore area and later served as area director. During this time, he dedicated himself to assisting Chickasaws obtain benefits and services, day or night.

Mr. Parker was a leader in starting the Chickasaw Nation Reentry Program, a service that assists previously incarcerated Chickasaws in obtaining skills and employment to successfully transition back into the community. He faithfully led this program from 2007 to 2017.

In 2011, Mr. Parker was an AARP Indian Elder Honor Award recipient. He has actively contributed to community organizations and boards in the Ardmore area, including C/Sara Foundation, The Grace Center, Boys and Girls Club of Wilson, American Red Cross, Destiny Recover Center and the Chickasaw Nation Juvenile Justice Board.