How a Tiny Mosquito can Alter a Life

How a Tiny Mosquito can Alter a Life

How A Mos­qui­to Can Change Your Life


The fol­low­ing sto­ry is one that I felt com­pelled to write for a cou­ple of rea­sons. The first is sim­ply because it’s an incred­i­ble sto­ry about sur­viv­ing when all of the odds appear stacked in the oppo­site direc­tion. The sec­ond is the rea­son that caused the first. I think most would agree that we have an unusu­al­ly wet sum­mer in Okla­homa. Rain brings stag­nant pools of water which unfor­tu­nate­ly bring mos­qui­toes. Although most bites from these pests are just itchy annoy­ances, there is a dead­ly threat swarm­ing amid those annoy­ing pests. We at Unique­la­homa feel that the fol­low­ing sto­ry will help shed light on this dan­ger­ous threat and hope­ful­ly prompt our read­ers to take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves dur­ing this sum­mer sea­son.        –C.L. Har­mon

Unique­la­homa is about unique, hence the name. That term can cov­er many dif­fer­ent aspects from peo­ple to places and events. On occa­sion, it can even involve an expe­ri­ence. After hear­ing of a man who death cod­ed five times in a ten month peri­od, I cer­tain­ly thought that a unique expe­ri­ence had occurred. I was intrigued and decid­ed to find out if it was true and, if so, how it hap­pened. Nathan Johns relayed a sto­ry to me that is not only almost unbe­liev­able but extreme­ly unique in Okla­homa.

Imag­ine going from a com­plete­ly nor­mal life with a wife, one-year-old son, and busi­ness to a state of chaos that brings you to the edge of death with­in a mat­ter of days. Johns lived, died and lived again and can tell us exact­ly what this is like. A tiny seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant pest would prove to be the largest obsta­cle he has ever faced. A sim­ple mos­qui­to bite would change his life for­ev­er. Dur­ing a back­yard activ­i­ty with his son in 2012, Johns was bit­ten and con­tract­ed West Nile virus.


He lived in the 71st and Sheri­dan area in Tul­sa at the time and it was lat­er deter­mined that the cul­verts with­in his neigh­bor­hood har­bored the dead­ly mos­qui­toes when the cul­verts held stand­ing water. The City of Tul­sa did spray to keep the pop­u­la­tion down, but it’s impos­si­ble to kill them all, Johns explained. A month lat­er, Johns became irri­ta­ble, lethar­gic and weak. This prompt­ed him to go to the hos­pi­tal where he was mis­di­ag­nosed with gas­troen­teri­tis and sent home. By the fol­low­ing day, he was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing from his high fever and began to become immo­bile.

Again he was mis­di­ag­nosed dur­ing his sec­ond trip to the emer­gency room. Due to his low­er extrem­i­ties becom­ing par­a­lyt­ic, the doc­tors believed he had Guil­lain-Barre syn­drome, a rare dis­or­der in which the body’s immune sys­tem attacks the nerves. Weak­ness and tin­gling in the extrem­i­ties are usu­al­ly the first symp­toms, and so it seemed a plau­si­ble diag­no­sis. How­ev­er, while treat­ing Johns for this, test results came back that showed he had West Nile virus, which is dif­fi­cult to diag­nose due to the long ges­ta­tion peri­od after the bite cou­pled with the delay in the man­i­fes­ta­tion of symp­toms. Because there is no cure for the virus, hos­pi­tal staff could only mon­i­tor his vitals and offer sup­port­ive treat­ment at this point and keep him from dying from the symp­toms.



A short time lat­er his brain began to inflame from encephali­tis, and that was just the begin­ning. He then began suf­fer­ing from Acute Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­tress Syn­drome (ARDS) which occurs when flu­id builds up in the tiny, elas­tic air sacs in the lungs. This con­di­tion alone has a 85 per­cent mor­tal­i­ty rate, Johns said. At this point, he had been trans­ferred to a long-term facil­i­ty after hav­ing been revived twice from death. The doc­tor in charge of his case decid­ed that induc­ing a coma due to the pletho­ra of issues Johns was hav­ing. As time passed, that same doc­tor informed Johns’ moth­er and wife that due to the brain swelling in com­bi­na­tion with the oth­er health issues, Johns was most like­ly going to be “veg­etable-like” and die soon. Not trust­ing the doctor’s eval­u­a­tion, his fam­i­ly request­ed the coma-induc­ing med­i­cine be stopped. He rec­om­mend­ed John’s be “unplugged” from the res­pi­ra­tor and let nature take its course.

How­ev­er, the doc­tor was wrong, and when he awoke, he was able to iden­ti­fy his moth­er and still appeared of a rea­son­able mind. That doc­tor was imme­di­ate­ly fired from Johns’ care team and the pul­mo­nolo­gist who had been treat­ing Johns took over the case.


This doc­tor was an amaz­ing man. He saved my life. He called me his mir­a­cle patient,” Johns said. In addi­tion to all of his oth­er issues though and in spite of his con­tin­ued men­tal health, Johns’ heart rate began to beat rapid­ly out of con­trol. The new doc­tor moved him from the care facil­i­ty back to the hos­pi­tal to get his heart rate under con­trol. The doc­tors even­tu­al­ly stopped his heart and revived him to reset the rate. At this point, he is com­plete­ly par­a­lyzed and on a ven­ti­la­tor to breathe. Doc­tors believed his periph­er­al ner­vous sys­tem was erad­i­cat­ed at this time.  This sys­tem con­sists of the nerves and gan­glia out­side of the brain and spinal cord. Because it was not the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem that was com­pro­mised, Johns was still able to feel the pain of his mus­cles seiz­ing and atro­phy. He said that he wished he would not have been able to feel any­thing at that time. Due to him being unable to move, he blinked his eyes to com­mu­ni­cate using cer­tain num­bers of blinks to rep­re­sent let­ters of the alpha­bet.

I was very, very mis­er­able and frus­trat­ed at this time, but I didn’t want to die. I want­ed to be here for my son,” Johns said. He does admit think­ing dying would be bet­ter for his fam­i­ly. For­tu­nate­ly for him, his con­di­tion caus­ing him to be out of the realm of con­tin­ued cog­ni­tive thought kept him from focus­ing on all of the neg­a­tiv­i­ty that was sur­round­ing him. At this point, Johns was tee­ter­ing in no man’s land between the liv­ing and the dead.

I was hav­ing vivid images. I real­ly thought for a time I went to hell,” he said. Johns fur­ther explained that there were sev­er­al repeat­ing dream-like sce­nar­ios that occurred, but not sure if those were hap­pen­ing dur­ing the brief sec­onds when he was dead or dur­ing moments of extreme­ly high fevers. He describes beings attempt­ing to “destroy” him while he is trapped in his bed. He describes it as being tied to real­i­ty, but still feels as though he is not actu­al­ly in the sce­nar­ios.


My recu­per­a­tion was extreme­ly grad­ual, and I couldn’t do any­thing for myself when I first left the hos­pi­tal,” Johns said. An exam­ple of his con­di­tion at that time would be his inabil­i­ty even to hold a pen­cil. The first sign of hope that things might be get­ting bet­ter was his abil­i­ty to move his big toe on one foot. With a friend’s inge­nu­ity, Johns began using that toe to change the chan­nel by tap­ping it in one direc­tion while still in the hos­pi­tal.

His con­di­tion began to improve slow­ly, and he was even­tu­al­ly dis­charged from the hos­pi­tal after ten long months. How­ev­er, he was still con­fined to a hos­pi­tal bed at home. With months of phys­i­cal and occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py, he was able to regain some mobil­i­ty and strength. How­ev­er, the dam­age was done, and he would nev­er ful­ly recov­er includ­ing his diaphragm which makes it dif­fi­cult to breathe at times. Many of his mus­cles have nev­er ful­ly recov­ered, and this makes it impos­si­ble to stand from a sit­ting posi­tion if he is not posi­tioned in cer­tain angles and heights. Also, he can­not pull him­self up from the floor if he falls since his arms and legs no longer have the strength need­ed to do so.


I thought a fit­ting way to end this sto­ry would be writ­ing about Johns’ atti­tude. While many would feel as though they had been robbed of the life they had, Johns feels that focus­ing on what he no longer can do serves no pur­pose. He accepts that life is not fair and though his con­di­tion can be “frus­trat­ing,” he has a choice to make the best of life. Each day he choos­es to look ahead and not behind, to focus on his fam­i­ly and to believe in his future…and this is some­thing that not even death could take from him.

Who Says An Old Tiger Can’t Learn New Tricks

Who Says An Old Tiger Can’t Learn New Tricks

Who Says an Old Tiger Can’t Learn New Tricks


While lis­ten­ing to Wiley Ole­son dur­ing our inter­view, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I heard the band Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from the big screen while Rocky Bal­boa was gear­ing up for the tough­est fight of his career. As he spoke, I had images of him push­ing him­self to the lim­it in the gym where he shed pounds and built mus­cles as he pre­pared for his first MMA (Mixed Mar­tial Arts) match since 2011 in Okla­homa City.

But unlike Rocky who had his tough­est fight ahead of him, Ole­son has already fought his and emerged vic­to­ri­ous­ly. The fact that he is step­ping into a ring at all is already a vic­to­ry and also what makes his sto­ry so unique. Hav­ing always been com­pet­i­tive and enjoy­ing phys­i­cal con­tact sports, Ole­son began par­tic­i­pat­ing in wrestling and foot­ball from child­hood. These child­hood activ­i­ties would set him on a path to become a pro­fes­sion­al wrestler lat­er in life. As an adult, he began pro­mot­ing him­self as a wrestler while mov­ing up the ranks and mak­ing a name for him­self with five “try­out match­es” for World Wrestling Enter­tain­ment (WWE).

In 2007 a motor­cy­cle acci­dent and sub­se­quent 21 surg­eries would end that dream. The wreck result­ed in bro­ken ribs, a punc­tured lung, torn mus­cles from his neck to his groin area, knee dam­age, shoul­der dam­age, both of which required recon­struc­tion, and even the loss of a few teeth. Also, he had a reti­na detach­ment which required anoth­er 11 surg­eries. The acci­dent was not even his fault, but one of a lapse in judg­ment by a motorist who ran a stop sign.

As a result of the mul­ti­ple surg­eries, recu­per­at­ing times and loss of his dream, depres­sion set in and the pounds began stack­ing on until he reached 305 pounds. Hav­ing a com­pet­i­tive nature and the need to feel fit again, kept his desire alive to be in a ring of one type or anoth­er. He need­ed a push through. The Army Nation­al Guard would give him just that when they ordered him to lose weight or leave the ser­vice. He has been in the mil­i­tary as a Black­hawk heli­copter mechan­ic for 19 years and did not want to leave. So he hired a per­son­al train­er, hit the gym and lost 75 pounds, 30 in the first month alone.

I’ve always been a com­peti­tor, and it’s just always going to be there,” he said. Because of this, it is not sur­pris­ing that he would seek out a new oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­pete.  He soon met a pro­fes­sion­al kick­box­er who gave lessons for the sport. This man helped train and encour­aged Ole­son to get back into a ring with the new skills he was learn­ing – which was all the encour­age­ment he need­ed to begin seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for fight­ing again.  The hard work and ded­i­ca­tion have paid off, and Ole­son said he is excit­ed for this first fight that the many surg­eries post­poned begin­ning in 2011 with that last fight. By the way, he won that match in the sec­ond round.

I am pret­ty excit­ed about this fight because I want to prove all the naysay­ers wrong. I have peo­ple who ask me why I am doing this and telling me just because I lost weight doesn’t mean I can fight. My goal is to prove to myself and every­one else that I, or any­one my age, can do it. I am 48 years old,” he said. As if the motor­cy­cle wreck, surg­eries, and his age were not enough bad luck, Ole­son has also had three heart surg­eries with­in the last year, the most recent in Decem­ber.

Once I win this fight, I want to declare myself a pro­fes­sion­al and then get a few pro­fes­sion­al fights under my belt. I am just so old now that no orga­ni­za­tion is going to take me on seri­ous­ly, so I will just have some fun at the local cir­cuits and make the best of it,” he said. As a result of his age and thus lack of spon­sor sup­port, Ole­son pays for all the costs asso­ci­at­ed with fight­ing him­self. He did say that he would love to have a spon­sor or two though since train­ing and equip­ment are so expen­sive.

The crowd may not hear “Eye of the Tiger” on the night he fights, but it’s a good bet that they will at least be ask­ing who let that old tiger out of his cage. Ole­son is fight­ing Lee Bell on August 3 at Riv­er Spir­it Casi­no for Dale “Apol­lo” Cook’s Extreme Fight Night.


How One Oklahoma Woman Gave Us Back Our History

How One Oklahoma Woman Gave Us Back Our History

How One Okla­homan Gave Us Back Our His­to­ry


History Lesson

I have this vivid mem­o­ry while in junior high school of sit­ting in a class­room with oth­er stu­dents my age and feel­ing the bore­dom in that room as being suf­fo­cat­ing. Or maybe I was hop­ing that some­one would put a pil­low over my head and suf­fo­cate me to end the bore­dom. Either way, you get my point…It was a snooze fest! Back to my mem­o­ry though, this old man, who must have been in his six­ties, was ram­bling on about some world his­to­ry event in a monot­o­ne voice out of a big text­book. I don’t recall what it was, but I do remem­ber think­ing why is this old guy read­ing that from the book. I mean, hell he is old enough, Why not just tell us about his life in his own words? So I thought at the time any­way. But, I was onto some­thing. As I grew old­er, I did cul­ti­vate a love of his­to­ry and remem­bered lat­er as an adult how fas­ci­nat­ing it would have been if that old man had told his class about his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ences through­out his own life. Or at least weaved the his­to­ry he was a part of into the his­to­ry that he wasn’t involved. If my math is cor­rect as to his age, this means that he would have been a child dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, prob­a­bly fought in WWII, wit­nessed the Kore­an and Viet­nam Wars, the tumul­tuous six­ties gen­er­a­tion and its Civ­il Rights Move­ment, JFK assas­si­na­tion and the Nixon res­ig­na­tion, among count­less oth­er his­tor­i­cal events. Why was this foun­tain of his­to­ry spout­ing out bor­ing bits of infor­ma­tion from a book when he could have been shar­ing real-life his­tor­i­cal accounts?

Pho­tos from For­got­ten Okla­homa Group on Face­book

Find­ing Fla­vor In Tech­nol­o­gy

I would ven­ture to guess that there were oth­ers like me who thought the same, many of whom left high school with dis­taste for his­to­ry. For­tu­nate­ly though and as tech­nol­o­gy advanced, his­to­ri­ans began to rec­og­nize a need to record his­to­ry from the peo­ple who lived it through doc­u­men­taries. This renewed inter­est as peo­ple was able to hear real-life accounts of actu­al bat­tles, human expe­ri­ences of pain and tri­umph and become emo­tion­al­ly involved in the expe­ri­ence. As tech­nol­o­gy pro­gressed even fur­ther into the social media soci­ety of today, peo­ple like Amy Hedges of Cleve­land, Okla­homa got involved. Not only did she just get involved, but she has also brought 60,000 oth­ers along with her to be a part of it as well.

I remem­ber when I got my first 500 likes, I freaked out! Holy cow there are 500 peo­ple who like what I am doing,”

Hedges said. She was refer­ring to her Face­book page For­got­ten Okla­homa. Like many of us, she was dis­en­chant­ed with her expe­ri­ences in his­to­ry class­es and did not ini­tial­ly have a great inter­est in the sub­ject. What she did have though was a love of pho­tog­ra­phy and old hous­es. These inter­ests cul­mi­nat­ed in a large col­lec­tion of pho­tos of old homes through­out Okla­homa; her father con­vinced her to post them on Face­book. Appre­hen­sive at first think­ing no one else would be inter­est­ed, she final­ly set up the page and began post­ing.

Getting History Rolling

Fol­low­ing this mile­stone, Don Tay­lor of Ral­ston joined in and began post­ing too. He is a Pawnee Coun­ty his­to­ry enthu­si­ast and has a large col­lec­tion of state his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ra­bil­ia which he felt fit nice­ly with what Hedges was doing. Tay­lor had set in motion a prac­tice of vol­un­tary sub­mis­sions into play, and sud­den­ly they were com­ing in from all over the state. Hedges explained that it was ini­tial­ly only aban­doned hous­es, but when Tay­lor began post­ing old pho­tos of oth­er objects and peo­ple, it start­ed to take on a life of its own.

We were real­ly rolling on this deal! Word got out, and more peo­ple were send­ing in pho­tos want­i­ng me to repost them. I had so many that it was out of con­trol,” Hedges said. She had struck a vein and hit a gush­er it seemed. Try­ing to keep up was becom­ing a full-time job. She want­ed everyone’s sub­mis­sions to get expo­sure, but it was over­whelm­ing to keep up with the flow. She thought chang­ing the page into a group would help. At this point, she had 20,000 peo­ple on her page. She said many peo­ple were con­tact­ing her by mes­sen­ger ask­ing why their pho­tos had not been shared. She had a year back­log and was work­ing to get post­ed.

The group idea seemed like less work because peo­ple could post their own pho­tos and mem­o­ries. As with most things in life, it was, and it wasn’t. New prob­lems arose such as peo­ple want­i­ng to post entire fam­i­ly pho­to albums or just pho­tos of the state with no his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. This led to the need for more new rules, guide­lines and page admin­is­tra­tors. How­ev­er, Hedges dealt with each new issue, and the group con­tin­ued grow­ing. In fact, she even expand­ed out­side of cyber­space and orga­nized “group meet-ups” every few months which are field trips to his­tor­i­cal places. These meets give mem­bers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet and share per­son­al his­to­ries.

Also, the group sells mer­chan­dise, sell­ing t‑shirts and cal­en­dars and then donates part of the pro­ceeds to muse­ums in need of repairs.

I am still flab­ber­gast­ed every day. It’s crazy! I nev­er imag­ined that it would get so big.

From Snooze To Schmooze

I am still flab­ber­gast­ed every day. It’s crazy! I nev­er imag­ined that it would get so big. And hon­est­ly, we are grow­ing so fast that we have almost one hun­dred requests per day to join. And our engage­ment lev­el in the group is so high, it’s unbe­liev­able. When I checked recent­ly, we had 253,000 engaged,” Hedges said. She also receives fan mail. She said that peo­ple mail her cards telling her how much the site has touched their lives and the dif­fer­ence she is mak­ing. In some cas­es, mem­bers have even con­nect­ed with fam­i­ly mem­bers they didn’t even know they had. She is in awe as to how many peo­ple have con­nect­ed through the group and became friends. Many of these peo­ple have become such good friends that they take “For­got­ten Okla­homa vaca­tions” where they trav­el and take pho­tos for the site, she said.

Hedges said what she loves most about the group is that it gets peo­ple excit­ed about his­to­ry and com­pels them to research their own fam­i­ly his­to­ries. It encour­ages them to take the bore­dom out of his­to­ry and brings the old mun­dane pages of a text­book to a liv­ing breath­ing his­to­ry. Hedges and her group mem­bers have tak­en the next step in the evo­lu­tion of learn­ing his­to­ry. They have tak­en the tra­di­tion­al snooze­fest of old and turned it into a vibrant schmooze­fest for any­one who wish­es to under­stand the peo­ple who made Okla­homa his­to­ry. So for­get about the Okla­homa class that killed off your inter­est in his­to­ry and become revived with the For­got­ten Okla­homa that has brought the sub­ject back to life.

Check it out Here

Pho­to from For­got­ten Okla­homa Group on Face­book

Colin Warde Follows His Yellow Brick Road: Oklahoma and The Film Industry

Colin Warde Follows His Yellow Brick Road: Oklahoma and The Film Industry

Col­in Warde and The Film Indus­try in Okla­homa

CL Har­mon

Have you ever won­dered what it’s like to work on a movie set and in the show­biz field? I have, and so I asked some­one who knows, a native Okla­homan who is a big part of the still small, yet grow­ing film-mak­ing indus­try in our state. His descrip­tions of his expe­ri­ences read much like a Show­biz 101 class for all those inter­est­ed in var­i­ous aspects of the field while giv­ing insight as to what it’s like to pur­sue a career in the film and tele­vi­sion career. This Still­wa­ter res­i­dent recent­ly spoke to Unique­la­homa about fol­low­ing his yel­low brick road to a field of dreams amid an indus­try where jobs come and then are gone with the wind.

Col­in Warde is one of the thou­sands of cogs in a machine nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of any prod­uct. As with any func­tion­ing piece of machin­ery, each cog, nut, bolt, and han­dle is a must if the machine is to keep run­ning smooth­ly. Over the past ten years, Warde has played many roles in the big machine that projects new worlds on the big screen and the small one. His role in this capac­i­ty has led him to work in many places and among many fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple. But just as Dorothy on her yel­low brick road, his path too leads him back home too. And there is no place like home…to be in the movie indus­try!

Behind The Scenes

Warde’s dream was not that of the actor who wants to make it big in Hol­ly­wood. Although he does act on occa­sion, he always felt that the act­ing gig was finan­cial­ly volatile. He, instead, chose a dream of doing some­thing that he enjoyed which was still men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing. As an Eagle Scout, he had been chal­lenged, and that was some­thing he want­ed in a career as well. Although unaware at the time in 2003 that work­ing in the film indus­try was the path he would fol­low, an invi­ta­tion to work with a friend on an ama­teur film project would set him on that course. His friend and fel­low stu­dent at OSU asked him to act in a hor­ror movie. (Think Blair Witch Project type of film.) How­ev­er, the act­ing did­n’t intrigue him as much as every­thing else did.

It would­n’t take long before he began to real­ize how many dif­fer­ent aspects are in involved in mak­ing a movie. As this was low bud­get, there was­n’t any mon­ey to pay for all of these dif­fer­ent aspects, and so his friend was jug­gling them all on his own. This issue became an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Warde to begin work­ing behind the scenes to help out his friend. After grad­u­a­tion, he was unsure as to which direc­tion to go. He was not sure about act­ing, but he felt some­thing in the enter­tain­ment field was call­ing to him. He ini­tial­ly thought Chica­go was a good place to get his feet wet…he was wrong. There just was­n’t a mar­ket there at that time.

FILM 101

The lack of mar­ket has become a real­i­ty that I deal with all of the time, Warde said. He was learn­ing how quick­ly the wind of for­tune can sweep in and how quick­ly they can be gone to the wind. He moved back to Okla­homa and set­tled in the city (OKC). He had bought into all the hype of crime and gang activ­i­ty in Los Ange­les and New York City, and it had made him uneasy about mov­ing out to one of those places where there was a thriv­ing mar­ket. As such, he was at a stand­still. Then his moth­er sug­gest­ed that he check out Okla­homa City Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege because she had been told that it had a very good film and video pro­gram. At first, he was skep­ti­cal. After all, this was Okla­homa, not exact­ly a mec­ca for the film indus­try.

His skep­ti­cism was laid to rest though when he learned that Fritz Kier­sch, Direc­tor of Chil­dren of the Corn and Gray Fred­er­ick­son, Co-Pro­duc­er of The God­fa­ther Part II and Apoc­a­lypse Now were teach­ing class­es in the pro­gram. So at 25 years of age and with a Bach­e­lor Degree already in hand, he became a stu­dent again and loved it. His involve­ment there would lead to an inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. Kier­sch and Fred­er­ick­son were pro­duc­ing a hor­ror movie enti­tled “The Hunt” over spring break and nat­u­ral­ly put out that they were look­ing for help.

The Tie That Binds

I have a friend who always tells this sto­ry about me. While all of the oth­er stu­dents were show­ing up for inter­views in sweat­shirts and dressed like they were going for a job at Piz­za Hut, I came with a tie and resume pre­pared for a pro­fes­sion­al inter­view. He found out lat­er Kier­sch had said he hired him as soon as he saw he was wear­ing a tie. He was employed as a pro­duc­tion assis­tant and had a great time learn­ing how a movie gets made. He con­tin­ued liv­ing in OKC and began mak­ing con­tacts and build­ing his resume by work­ing in pro­duc­tion depart­ments one movie or com­mer­cial at a time in the mar­ket that was grow­ing in Okla­homa.

Warde explained that when peo­ple see you on set and notice that you work hard and show up on time, some­one will even­tu­al­ly ‚“scoop you up and ask you what you like doing and what inter­ests you‚”. When this hap­pened to him, he end­ed up in the art depart­ment, which con­sists of the set and props. Some­thing about cre­at­ing an atmos­phere and devel­op­ing an ambiance appealed to him. This would ben­e­fit him great­ly when he moved to Los Ange­les. He was lured out there by a friend who got him a job on a tele­vi­sion series. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that mid-sea­son replace­ment did­n’t  go any­where, and four months lat­er he was out of a job, but not for long. He then worked on the Jeff Gold­blum cop show, Raines. Work­ing in tele­vi­sion was excit­ing for him even though the shows he worked on did not mate­ri­al­ize into long-run­ning series.

Winds of Fortune

But hey I was work­ing in LA, and it was excit­ing,” Warde said. He explains that every­thing on tele­vi­sion as far as suc­cess and longevi­ty is like throw­ing spaghet­ti at the wall and see­ing what sticks. Because of this, one might get on a show and have a job for ten years or one that lasts only a few months. He explains the type of is work like an adren­a­line rush where there is intense ener­gy fol­lowed by a calm noth­ing­ness. The film and tele­vi­sion indus­try is not a steady pay­check, but there are so many avenues in show busi­ness with so many peo­ple involved that one can usu­al­ly find work of one sort or anoth­er. A phone call from a net­work exec­u­tive who remem­bered him from the first series he worked on remem­bered him and offered him a job that count­less peo­ple must have envied.


Nobody knew that I had been watch­ing Star Trek my entire life when they hand­ed me the keys and code to the build­ing with all of it‚ every­thing from the fran­chise! Warde was a huge fan who had just been giv­en the respon­si­bil­i­ty to sort, cat­e­go­rize and sell the entire lot of mem­o­ra­bil­ia from one of the most suc­cess­ful fran­chis­es in cin­e­mat­ic his­to­ry. He was in awe, and although it was not what he came to LA to do, he could­n’t turn it down. The tough­est part was decid­ing what had to be destroyed. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not all of it could be sold. This was “heart­break­ing” he said. There were six ware­hous­es of every­thing from phasers to cos­tumes to large set com­po­nents. “It looked just like the ware­house in the Indi­ana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark with crate upon crate in a des­o­late loca­tion. Over the next three years, he ran online auc­tions aver­ag­ing $100,000 per week in sales while mak­ing a very good liv­ing for him­self. Although he was not work­ing on a set at the time, it was an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty to be work­ing in an atmos­phere of such his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

The Voy­age Home

Sad­ly though, all good things come to an end. With­out anoth­er job lined up and a child on the way, the next step up was the voy­age home. He came back to Okla­homa, became a father and began rein­vent­ing him­self to fit into what was hap­pen­ing, pro­duc­tion-wise at home. At that time, com­mer­cials were the big thing, and he found him­self immersed in that aspect of it, again in the art depart­ment. The tim­ing was per­fect. The Okla­homa City Thun­der had become a big deal, and sud­den­ly huge com­pa­nies like Nike and ESPN among oth­ers were there to cash in. This influx of new busi­ness made his tal­ents in the art depart­ment very valu­able. He was local and avail­able. All of his hard work and patience was pay­ing off.

August Through December Osage County

I was hun­gry and fierce. It was awe­some! I was build­ing my kit and all of my equip­ment and gear,” he said. All of the com­mer­cials would final­ly lead to his big oppor­tu­ni­ty in Okla­homa, work­ing on August: Osage Coun­ty with an all-star cast includ­ing Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Chris Coop­er, Ewan McGre­gor and Sam Shep­ard among oth­ers. An inter­est­ing fact from behind the scenes, Warde said that August Osage actu­al­ly went all the way into Decem­ber Osage. As per his job of keep­ing the set look­ing like it was sum­mer (Set Con­ti­nu­ity), the art depart­ment was paint­ing the grass green and using zip ties to replace fall­en leaves from the trees. There is no busi­ness like show busi­ness as the say­ing goes. Since his return to Okla­homa, he has become one of, if not the top art per­son in Okla­homa. This accom­plish­ment is some­thing he is very proud of and val­i­da­tion that he has been on the right road these past ten years. He also now works in pro­duc­tion design as well which puts him work­ing with the direc­tors on the over­all feel of the pro­duc­tion.
Warde has worked with and loves men­tor­ing peo­ple and con­sid­ers him­self a teacher to those who tru­ly have a desire to work in the indus­try. Dur­ing his career, he has had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in a lot of loca­tions due to his desire to be a part of the film indus­try. Also, just like Film 101, he is always will­ing to teach new­com­ers how to find their role and become part of the big­ger pic­ture that is movie mak­ing.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words, A Thousand Pictures Tell of a Legacy

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words, A Thousand Pictures Tell of a Legacy

A Thou­sand Pic­tures Tell of a Lega­cy



Have you ever met some­one for the first time and instant­ly know that this per­son is going to be your friend? There is just some­thing about them that you con­nect with…as though you already knew them on a deep­er lev­el. I recent­ly inter­viewed some­one like that. He is a hum­ble and kin­dred spir­it of sorts, a fol­low­er of nos­tal­gia who makes his­to­ry in his efforts to cap­ture it. He is a man who watched the orig­i­nal Pink Floyd’s The Wall and shot it with a cam­era he smug­gled in. He is a man who shared a joint with Tom Pet­ty dur­ing an inter­view. He is a man who got Pat Benatar to hold up a copy of a mag­a­zine with a Play­boy Play­mate on the cov­er. He is, with­out a doubt, a unique indi­vid­ual. Allow me to intro­duce Ver­non Gowdy III.

Like many teens and young adults of the 1970’s, Gowdy fell in love with rock music and con­certs. Back then, he was a “sci­ence nerd” who stud­ied what was under a micro­scope and not behind a micro­phone. How­ev­er, the idea of look­ing at some­thing through a nar­rowed lens intrigued him. Just as an organ­ism in biol­o­gy class came alive to the human eye under mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, music came alive to him behind the lens of a cam­era. This would start a life-long pas­sion that would bring some of the most inter­est­ing peo­ple in the world into his frame of view.



He had been hooked on con­certs as a live music fan since his first con­cert in 1975 when his sis­ter took him to see Rod Stew­art. But, dur­ing his col­lege years at OU, he began to cul­ti­vate an inter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy as well as con­cert going. Soon, an oppor­tu­ni­ty arose that he believed would allow him to merge the two inter­ests. He was right!

I had been tak­ing pic­tures at con­certs since 1976, but in 1977, I noticed a review of a show with pho­tos in the col­lege news­pa­per and thought I could get bet­ter pic­tures than that,”. He imme­di­ate­ly applied for a posi­tion with the Okla­homa Dai­ly col­lege news­pa­per and was hired. It wouldn’t be long before he got his first assign­ment. Who could’ve known then that his first show would become of great his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance world­wide? It would be a small event back then dubbed as the Sex Pis­tols at Cain’s Ball­room. In recent months, that show would be com­mem­o­rat­ed 40 years to the day by a large write-up in the Tul­sa World and an inter­view with con­cert pro­mot­er Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer who booked them. Deter­mined to suc­ceed with this first show, he drove his Camaro for over four hours in a snow­storm to make the engage­ment. Any­one who has dri­ven an old Camaro knows that it’s a sled with a mind of its own when it comes to ice and snow. Even then he was deter­mined to get the shot.


Gowdy con­tin­ued hon­ing his pho­tog­ra­phy skills while with the paper, includ­ing sports, con­certs and oth­er sub­ject mat­ter rel­a­tive to a school paper. How­ev­er, it was the con­certs that he loved shoot­ing. Because of this love, he had some­thing that most peo­ple didn’t have; authen­tic, one-of-kind con­cert shots of famous musi­cians play­ing live. As impos­si­ble as it is today even to believe such things were ever pos­si­ble, Gowdy used his posi­tion as a part-time employ­ee for Tar­get work­ing in the Records & Cam­era depart­ment to not only spin the new albums released, bur also to dis­play his pho­tos on the counter and sell them for a dol­lar or two. He did this with man­age­ment approval. It prob­a­bly wouldn’t take secu­ri­ty long today to toss an employ­ee off the receiv­ing dock today if they attempt­ed such a thing. But hey, it was the 70’s!

I got my Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence degree in Micro­bi­ol­o­gy in May 1979 and began work­ing as a Senior Research Tech­ni­cian at the Okla­homa Med­ical Research Foun­da­tion (OMRF) doing can­cer research. I worked there for about a year but then quit to do JAM Mag­a­zine full time,” Gowdy said. The “sci­ence nerd” still want­ed to focus on what was alive, but it was what was liv­ing on a con­cert stage that cap­ti­vat­ed him more than what was liv­ing under a micro­scope. The first issue of JAM mag­a­zine debuted in Sep­tem­ber 1979. He was then able to work out a deal with the man­ag­er of the Boomer The­atre in Nor­man where he obtained an office in which to give JAM mag­a­zine a home.


This oppor­tu­ni­ty turned out to be a gold­mine for Gowdy. It just so hap­pened that Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer of Lit­tle Wing Pro­duc­tions had start­ed book­ing shows there. So now Gowdy had a steady stream of artists such as Pat Benatar, The Talk­ing Heads, The Fab­u­lous Thun­der­birds and many more in the same build­ing. Instant mate­r­i­al! Even bet­ter was that he only had to walk down­stairs to shoot pho­tos of the shows for the mag­a­zine. Gowdy recalls a fun­ny sto­ry in 1979 when Pat Benatar played that venue: Gowdy and his busi­ness part­ner asked her to hold up a JAM t‑shirt and a copy of the recent edi­tion, which hap­pened to have a cov­er pho­to of Playboy’s 25th Anniver­sary Play­mate Can­dy Lov­ing. He recalled her facial expres­sion as she held up the cov­er of Lov­ing to be one of, ‘Uh…do I look weird hold­ing this up?’. She was very “cool” about it though, he said.

The mag­a­zine idea had been the brain­child of three for­mer employ­ees of the col­lege paper who saw a need for a pub­li­ca­tion about music in Okla­homa. With very lit­tle expe­ri­ence, the three men turned it into a pop­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion that was even spon­sored by area radio sta­tions. Although the pop­u­lar­i­ty was grow­ing, prof­its were elu­sive, and by 1984 Gowdy began ques­tion­ing if he was on the right track. He decid­ed it was time to move on and his part­ner David Huff took the strug­gling mag­a­zine to Dal­las where it con­tin­ued in print for sev­er­al more years. Even­tu­al­ly, it moved to online where it con­tin­ues cov­er­ing music enter­tain­ment. Gowdy began tak­ing pho­tos for them again sev­er­al years ago and main­tains the titles of senior staff pho­tog­ra­ph­er and co-founder.


Dur­ing his time with the mag­a­zine, Gowdy would hit the road in search of music. He seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time and always cam­era ready. He shot sev­er­al his­tor­i­cal shows at Texas Jam begin­ning with the first in 1978 at the Cot­ton Bowl. He also flew to Los Ange­les and shot the orig­i­nal Pink Floyd The Wall show and St. Louis to shoot Fleet­wood Mac. Still to come in his pho­tog­ra­phy career were Robert Plant, Sam­my Hagar, Steve Per­ry (Jour­ney), Nan­cy Wil­son (Heart) Niki Sixx (Mot­ley Crue) and many oth­ers in var­i­ous venues. What makes this man so amaz­ing is the preser­va­tion of icon­ic music his­to­ry for which he is respon­si­ble. Although this was not the ini­tial rea­son to shoot, sav­ing his­to­ry is what he was doing. He has an incred­i­ble col­lec­tion of unique moments in his­to­ry that would oth­er­wise not exist. There may have been oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers at those venues, but as any pho­tog­ra­ph­er knows, each shot is a unique piece of art that is dif­fer­ent by each one who points the lens.

At heart, this Okla­homan is a lover of his­to­ry. To this end, Gowdy began putting words and pho­tos to book pages. His desire to keep music his­to­ry alive prompt­ed him to write two books about the Dia­mond Ball­room in Okla­homa City. While shoot­ing there, he became excit­ed about the many music leg­ends that played there since its open­ing in 1964. He was fas­ci­nat­ed as well how the ball­room had such an array of artists rang­ing from Coun­try Swing to Heavy Met­al through­out its exis­tence. He felt the ball­room was a sto­ry worth telling and a piece of his­to­ry that every­one should know.

I feel that my books and pho­tos con­tain his­to­ry that peo­ple should know about and that is impor­tant to Okla­homa his­to­ry,” Gowdy said. In addi­tion to his books on the Dia­mond Ball­room, he has sev­er­al works pub­lished that include com­pi­la­tions of pho­tos from Rock­la­homa and Texas Jam. In addi­tion, he has pub­lished Adven­tures of a Rock Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, Dia­mond Ball­room: From Coun­try Swing to Heavy Met­al and From These Walls: His­to­ry of the Dia­mond Ball­room. He is cur­rent­ly the house pho­tog­ra­ph­er for DCF Con­certs and pro­motes his books at var­i­ous venues. He even donates the pro­ceeds from his Rock­la­homa books to char­i­ty. As I wrote in the begin­ning, this is a man I cer­tain­ly call a friend.

Oh…one more thing. If you ever get a chance to read Sam­my Hagar’s biog­ra­phy, take a look at the back cov­er pho­to. There you will find the icon­ic Gowdy pho­to of Sam­my jump­ing in the air with his Fly­ing V gui­tar tak­en in Dal­las in 1979. And that is a pho­to wor­thy of any his­to­ry book!

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

Hap­py Moth­er’s Day Mom


Unique­la­homa is pri­mar­i­ly about unique and spe­cial peo­ple, ones who make the state a bet­ter place. This week, I thought I would write about the most unique and spe­cial per­son I know. She goes by many names to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, but I just call her mom. She is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion for all the won­der­ful moth­ers in our state who have made tremen­dous sac­ri­fices for the chil­dren they love.

Her legal name is Sam­mie Den­ni­son-Har­mon, and she has graced this world since 1942. A friend and I shared a laugh recent­ly about this arti­cle when he asked if I was going to inter­view her. “What? What the hell for.” I asked. “I already know every­thing I need to know about her,” I said. With­out a doubt, my moth­er is an open book. I thought with Moth­er’s Day right around the cor­ner, it’s a great time for all of you to get to know her too. Obvi­ous­ly, I can­not tell you every­thing about her so I will just hit some of the high­lights.

Three is Not Enough

She is a moth­er of four. What makes this inter­est­ing I think is that her and my father had twins with their first preg­nan­cy. A boy and a girl, the best of both worlds, right? Instant fam­i­ly right out of the gate with a child of both sex­es seemed perfect…and com­plete. Wrong! Not for my mom. She told my father that there was some­one miss­ing, so back to the draw­ing board if you will, they went. For­tu­nate­ly for me, they did, or some­one else would be writ­ing this arti­cle. Still though after me, she knew her fam­i­ly was not com­plete. With lit­tle mon­ey and strug­gling finan­cial­ly with a fam­i­ly of five, my mom knew she would know when it was finished…and it was­n’t fin­ished. Two years lat­er my younger broth­er made his way into this world. She knew then that every­one was now home where they were sup­posed to be.

Fast for­ward a few years, and there is a strug­gling busi­ness, four kids rang­ing in ages from four to eight and chaos that can­not be described accu­rate­ly with any words in the Eng­lish lan­guage. Amid the chaos though, there was always time for a sooth­ing word, a kiss on the fore­head and love pat for each ouchy. There was always time to run by the store for pen­ny can­dy or to bake cup­cakes. There was always time to lis­ten to a child’s prob­lem even with greater adult prob­lems loom­ing just over­head. What there always was it seems, is time for others…and that is the great­est of gifts any­one can give.

Hell on Wheels

It was the sev­en­ties, and my mom wore the hideous pant suits with the cir­cles and arrows, smoked Kent cig­a­rettes, chewed Juicy fruit gum and drank Pep­si while lis­ten­ing to the sol­id gold Coun­try from the AM radio. She was a force to be reck­oned with, a tor­na­do that blew in every direc­tion, a super­hero with seem­ing­ly unlim­it­ed ener­gy. In a Volk­swa­gen Microbus with­out work­ing air-con­di­tion­ing and with six to sev­en kids (She often watched nieces, nephews, and a friend’s son), she was run­ning errands, buy­ing gro­ceries, dodg­ing traf­fic, set­tling argu­ments between kids who were not con­fined to seat belts and find­ing her way to the next stop with­out GPS. Mom did­n’t need GPS because she had GSD aka Get Sh*t Done.

As my sib­lings and I got old­er and began activ­i­ties in school, mom was there to make sure we made the prac­tices, Cub Scout meet­ings, field trips and had the equip­ment, sack lunch­es, and uni­forms even though mon­ey was often in short sup­ply in those days. And, like any good mama bear, she was in that office with any teacher or prin­ci­pal who thought they were supe­ri­or to those whom they taught. They quick­ly real­ized that hell hath no fury like my moth­er when her chil­dren were called out unfair­ly. If had been fair­ly, how­ev­er, then there was a whole dif­fer­ent kind of hell await­ing us at home. I call my mom’s par­ent­ing phi­los­o­phy ‘Jus­tice tem­pered with just enough mer­cy.’ In oth­er words, “I love you so much that I will slap you into next week if you do that again. Now come on, I baked cook­ies.”

Then there were the eight­ies with four teens who enjoyed a good time. I will just leave it at that and plead the fifth on the details. I am sure my sib­lings appre­ci­ate this. She always trust­ed us and also allowed us to make our own mis­takes with a free­dom that I now know as a par­ent, must have been extreme­ly dif­fi­cult. She believed in our abil­i­ty to make respon­si­ble deci­sions and loved us uncon­di­tion­al­ly even when we made a choice that may not have been the best one. She knew when to hold on and when to let go. Any good par­ent knows that this is much eas­i­er said than done.

Left Is Right, Right Is Wrong

My mom has always lived in a back­ward world. AS a lefty in a right-hand­ed world, every­thing seemed a bit more dif­fi­cult for her than the rest of us. I think this was God’s way of giv­ing her the patience and under­stand­ing to help oth­ers through their dif­fi­cul­ties. Who bet­ter to under­stand the frus­tra­tion of life’s dif­fi­cul­ties than some­one who has bat­tled them nat­u­ral­ly all of their lives in a world that is back­ward to them? When things are easy for us, I think it lim­its our patience with oth­ers. But my mom had always had the patience and will­ing­ness to lis­ten when oth­ers need­ed to be heard and help out when it was war­rant­ed. There have been count­less times in my life when she knew just the right thing to say, to do, and the right advice to offer. I know my sib­lings would agree.

A moth­er has the pow­er to cre­ate a hap­py or a mis­er­able child­hood for her chil­dren. They are the most pow­er­ful force in a child’s life. It is the great­est respon­si­bil­i­ty on earth. I can­not imag­ine a bet­ter child­hood than the one she gave me. I still remem­ber wait­ing with my sib­lings on the dri­ve­way of my par­en­t’s body shop, count­ing cars on the high­way eager­ly await­ing her arrival home from a day chas­ing parts, tend­ing to her par­en­t’s needs, buy­ing gro­ceries in bulk and what­ev­er oth­er self­less acts she was per­form­ing for some­one else. Only then to see her step, fraz­zled and tired, out of that truck with­out air-con­di­tion­ing or pow­er steer­ing into the sum­mer evenings with a rare treat of coneys from Coney-Island.

One In A Million

There is not one par­tic­u­lar large event that I can recall that I would say defined my child­hood. What I can say with all cer­tain­ty though, is that there were a mil­lion small ones that came in all shapes, sizes, and forms that define me to this day. I know my mom would say that there are three large events in her life that define here, each of those being a birth­day of her four chil­dren. I could write for hours about this woman who has always put oth­ers before her­self. I could tell sto­ries about how she accept­ed our high school friends as her own, and they still are con­sid­ered fam­i­ly. I could go on about this woman who nev­er stops extend­ing her fam­i­ly by always invit­ing oth­ers to be a part of it. I can even ram­ble about this woman who taught me that for­give­ness is a gift I give myself. Or…I can sim­ply say that this woman is one of the most unique peo­ple to have ever graced Okla­homa and the peo­ple in it she calls fam­i­ly.


Happy Mothers Day MOM!