Three governors witnessed Chickasaw Nation Ambassador At-Large to the United States receive honors for his never-ending mission to enhance the quality of life of others.
Neal McCaleb was honored by the Putnam City Public Schools Foundation recently at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Governor Bill Anoatubby and former Oklahoma chief executives Brad Henry and Frank Keating joined more than 430 others in attendance.
McCaleb became the 11th honoree of the foundation’s Wall of Fame.
McCaleb used the honor to speak about the importance of teachers who touch the lives of students every day.
He singled out one instructor from his youth, calling her simply “Miss Hickey.” McCaleb’s mother died when McCaleb was 5 years old, but Miss Hickey was there “when I needed some special attention,” he said.
“Teachers do make a giant difference in the lives of kids,” he said. “It was a time when I needed some special attention. My mother had just passed away the year before and Miss Hickey was a loving teacher, a good teacher who brought the kids along well.
“She made everybody feel the warmth of her love. Teachers are so important in the development of the lives of children.”
He recalled “I had the honor of nominating her for teacher of the year when I was serving in the Oklahoma Legislature” and said his fondness and memories of her remain fresh 61 years after graduating Putnam City High School.
The foundation is celebrating the centennial of Putnam City Schools. McCaleb, with a gleeful voice, noted he has celebrated 72 of those years “almost three-quarters of the centennial. I started at Putnam City in first grade and graduated in 1953.”
It was former Gov. Keating who asked the audience to look at the breadth of the ambassador’s selflessness to others since “1953 right on through to 2014.”
McCaleb served Gov. Keating’s administration as secretary of the Oklahoma Transportation Department and leader of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
“What is amazing to me about Neal, and for all of us who love him as a human being, a dad, as a husband, as a father and grandfather, is that he is always optimistic and always trying to do better for others,” Gov. Keating said. “He was always thinking big. He was always thinking about Oklahoma. He was never ‘through.’ (His) is a life that isn’t ending anytime soon, but is committed to us as a friend and neighbor. (His life) is a magnificent panorama of a fellow Oklahoman.”
McCaleb served three presidents – Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He served several years in the Oklahoma Legislature as minority floor leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and served as assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs on a federal level.
He now serves the Chickasaw people as ambassador, a post he was appointed to in 2013 by Gov. Anoatubby after the death of Ambassador Charles W. Blackwell.
McCaleb joins 10 other distinguished Putnam City Schools graduates on the Wall of Fame. Several of the honorees are Neil Woodward, Amazon Inc., executive and 1980 grad; Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City mayor and 1976 grad; Steve Largent, former OU football and pro football standout and 1972 grad, and Debbie Giannopoulos, a renowned opera vocalist and 1970 grad.
The foundation is dedicated to enhancing the educational opportunities for students of Putnam Schools. It has named a Wall of Fame honoree each year since 2004.
A portrait of McCaleb, unveiled during the ceremony, will be placed in the Putnam City Schools administration building.