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Oklahoma’s Own The Church Studio Former Stomping Grounds of Leon Russell

Author: CL Harmon
Category: People
Date Published: November 2, 2018


CL Har­mon, Lead Author, Osage Nation Member




As she sat there amid the hus­tle and bus­tle of the diner’s morn­ing break­fast rush sport­ing a red Church Stu­dio tee and a slight sense of anx­i­ety, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was sit­ting with a celebri­ty. Dip­ping her tea bag into a hot cup of water, she soon appeared relieved to have made her appoint­ment with me and offered a warm smile once we were seat­ed. She had already been meet­ing peo­ple since 7 a.m., and it was now 10, and she was right on time. I admit I felt a bit ner­vous at first, but that feel­ing soon fad­ed as we began to con­verse. I had been hop­ing for quite some time to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write about Tere­sa Knox. I learned some time ago about her and believed that she is the very def­i­n­i­tion of vision; a woman who sees val­ue in what is bro­ken, beau­ty in what is decay­ing and faith in what can be. With a fresh cup of cof­fee before me and pen in hand, I jot­ted down bits and pieces of her life in my note­book. Each stroke of the pen con­firmed my belief that I cer­tain­ly was in the pres­ence of vision.

Allow Me To Introduce Teresa Knox

Although I con­sid­er her a celebri­ty, she would nev­er refer to her­self that way. The rea­son is, in part, because she is too hum­ble to see her­self that way and part­ly because she is too gra­cious to admit it even if she did. She would prob­a­bly say that she is a per­son who finds pur­pose in every­thing she does; a per­son raised on the wrong side of the tracks who under­stands we define our­selves by our actions, not our cir­cum­stances. For those who may not know her name, she can be rec­og­nized from her accom­plish­ments and caus­es. The list reads as an impres­sive resume of inge­nu­ity and preser­va­tion. We met to talk about her lat­est project, the restora­tion and even­tu­al reopen­ing of famous Tul­sa musi­cian Leon Russell’s record­ing stu­dio The Church Stu­dio which she pur­chased in 2016. And, we will get to that project soon. But to under­stand her rea­son for tak­ing on such a chal­leng­ing project, it is nec­es­sary to know about Knox, the person.

She is the founder of Com­mu­ni­ty Care, Okla­homa Tech­ni­cal and Clary Sage Col­leges in Tul­sa. She found­ed Com­mu­ni­ty Care first under the name of Den­tal Direc­tions, The School of Den­tal Assist­ing which she start­ed while work­ing as a den­tal assis­tant. She got into this pro­fes­sion at 18 years of age after grow­ing up in what she called “poor.” She explained that peo­ple in that type of sit­u­a­tion often live with low self-esteem and tend to make poor choic­es due to that feel­ing. Unlike many peo­ple in her sit­u­a­tion who found escapes in drug depen­den­cy or crime, she had a will­ing­ness to work hard and to let her mis­takes become a teacher. She spent three years as a carhop for Son­ic Dri­ve-In build­ing a work eth­ic and learn­ing busi­ness lessons from books she checked out from the library that still fol­low her to this day. These expe­ri­ences gave her the con­fi­dence to move in a new direction.

Becoming A Better Decision Maker

“Den­tal assist­ing prob­a­bly saved my life,” Knox said. Ini­tial­ly head­ing down a neg­a­tive path in life, the pro­fes­sion gave her a sense of pride and self-worth that had been lack­ing in her life to that point. This new per­spec­tive allowed her to become what she called “a bet­ter deci­sion mak­er” which ulti­mate­ly led to her as an advo­cate for oth­ers who need­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make bet­ter deci­sions in their lives. She real­ized ear­ly in her cho­sen pro­fes­sion that she had a knack for train­ing and decid­ed to mar­ket that skill. So she placed a four dol­lar ad in the clas­si­fied ads of Tul­sa World offer­ing to train peo­ple to become den­tal assis­tants. As a young sin­gle mom work­ing in a den­tal prac­tice, she bor­rowed some equip­ment from the den­tist for whom she was work­ing and began train­ing peo­ple at her River­side Dri­ve apart­ment on Sat­ur­days. Things were going well…for a while any­way, she explained. Then her first snag hit when the state attor­ney gen­er­al sent her a “nasty” let­ter inform­ing her she was oper­at­ing a school ille­gal­ly and would have to stop and pay back the mon­ey she had accept­ed from her students.

The School of Hard Knox

“I was scared. I was dev­as­tat­ed. I didn’t know I had to be licensed.” She said. She then spoke with her employ­er and offered to work for free if he would allow her to use his office to teach her den­tal assist­ing class­es. He agreed, and she became licensed a short time lat­er even­tu­al­ly turn­ing that into the for-prof­it school Den­tal Direc­tions. From that endeav­or, Com­mu­ni­ty Care Col­lege was devel­oped with the oth­er two schools fol­low­ing a few years lat­er. With her con­fi­dence and desire to give oth­ers oppor­tu­ni­ties, she, along with oth­ers who shared her vision, cre­at­ed a learn­ing lega­cy that con­tin­u­al­ly grows while offer­ing mul­ti­ple pro­grams of var­ied stud­ies to hun­dreds of stu­dents each year. The schools have pro­duced thou­sands of grad­u­ates since its incep­tion in 1995.

“I made so many mis­takes. But I would build on each suc­cess, and I learned from tri­al and error. I have a sil­ly blog called ‘The School of Hard Knox’ a play on my last name and it lit­er­al­ly was the school of hard knocks.” She quipped. She added that she loves to work with start-up busi­ness­es now and share all she has learned. She admits that she was a “screw-up” and knows how dif­fi­cult it is to keep going when mon­ey is tight, and entre­pre­neurs can’t afford to pay for ser­vices such as attor­neys and accoun­tants that are so ben­e­fi­cial to busi­ness own­ers. She used her knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence to help busi­ness own­ers under­stand that the busi­ness prin­ci­ples of old are still the best. Treat­ing oth­ers bet­ter than you want to be treat­ed, the cus­tomer is always right, giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ty and tru­ly show­ing grat­i­tude are just a few of the ideas she offers to oth­ers. These, along with per­se­ver­ance, are what bring about suc­cess, she said.

“I made so many mis­takes. But I would build on each suc­cess, and I learned from tri­al and error. I have a sil­ly blog called ‘The School of Hard Knox’ a play on my last name and it lit­er­al­ly was the school of hard knocks.”

Graduating To Greater Things

“At our 20 year anniver­sary, I was going to sell the col­leges, and then I just chick­ened out. I pan­icked. I thought about it, prayed about it and went to bed one night to awak­en with the deci­sion to make the orga­ni­za­tion a non-prof­it. It made sense. We employed the most gen­er­ous team, hadn’t raised tuition in over a decade, gave mil­lions away in schol­ar­ships, and I real­ly felt like we were run­ning a mis­sion at the cam­pus,” Knox said. It took two years to make the change, but upon com­ple­tion, she stepped down as CEO, moved out of oper­a­tions and vot­ed on to become a board mem­ber. She had been tied to the schools for over 20 years, and now they would no longer be a part of her dai­ly life. She found her­self in a “funk” and real­ized that she was going through the griev­ing process. She also real­ized that the future was wait­ing with open arms.

She was already enjoy­ing com­mer­cial real estate devel­op­ment but want­ed to expand that busi­ness and pur­sue her love of his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion. She first pur­chased a prop­er­ty near the his­toric Cir­cle Cin­e­ma in Tul­sa and began restor­ing that with a friend. Soon to fol­low was var­i­ous prop­er­ties in the Pearl Dis­trict includ­ing the Church Stu­dio. Her love of Leon Russell’s music would be the hook, and the stu­dio would be her great­est his­tor­i­cal catch.

Finding A New Church

“First off, I am a huge Leon Rus­sell fan. He was so tal­ent­ed, and I don’t think a lot of peo­ple tru­ly real­ize the tal­ent that he was. He wasn’t just a singer but a bril­liant song­writer, com­pos­er, and entre­pre­neur. He was a top musi­cian in the coun­try in 1972 and could have gone any­where. But, he chose to come back to his home­town. That alone is incred­i­ble,” she said. For her, it was as though she was drawn to The Church Stu­dio as almost hear­ing Russell’s melody of ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ beck­on­ing her to turn the for­got­ten stranger into a new friend. With a nudge from her big broth­er, Lar­ry-anoth­er huge Leon Rus­sell fan—she found her­self dri­ving past it and even pick­ing up the garbage that drift­ed onto the prop­er­ty. She sought out the own­er and bought the stu­dio with­out even going inside.

“At that point, I want­ed it so bad­ly! I want­ed to bring it back to its orig­i­nal glo­ry. I want­ed it to be a pos­i­tive reflec­tion on Leon Rus­sell.” He hadn’t passed away at that time but did a cou­ple of months lat­er. Rus­sell had turned the church into a stu­dio in the spring of 1972. It was also home office to Shel­ter Records. Rus­sell closed the stu­dio in 1976, and it was even­tu­al­ly sold. Knox pur­chased the stu­dio in August of 2016 and decid­ed to breathe new life into a with­er­ing land­mark. She did not know Rus­sell and was “pure­ly a fan” but held his lega­cy in high regard as some­one who men­tored and pro­pelled so many artists includ­ing Tom Pet­ty & The Heart­break­ers, Dwight Twil­ley, and the Gap Band to star­dom and for devel­op­ing the “Tul­sa Sound” with Tul­sa native singer/songwriter J.J. Cale. Famed gui­tarist Eric Clap­ton would pick up this sound and record Cale’s songs ‘After Mid­night’ and ‘Cocaine.’ Lynyrd Skynyrd would also record his song ‘Call Me The Breeze.’ Leon’s mag­net­ism and the oth­er Tul­sa Sound musi­cians like Walt Rich­mond, David Tee­gar­den, Carl Radle, Jamie Oldak­er, Jim­my Markham, and Chuck Black­well to name a few also attract­ed greats to Okla­homa such as Willie Nel­son, Tom Pet­ty, Bob Seger, Peter Tosh, Fred­dy King, George Har­ri­son, Ringo Starr, Kansas, Eric Clap­ton, Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan, and Bon­nie Raitt.

“I not only want to hon­or Leon’s lega­cy but have a place that inspires a younger gen­er­a­tion of musi­cians and is an incu­ba­tion cen­ter for these artists. I am very excit­ed about this and believe the stu­dio will be a des­ti­na­tion for vet­er­an musi­cians and new tal­ent alike,” she said. The stu­dio will be an ana­log, and dig­i­tal state-of-the-art record­ing stu­dio after the restora­tion is com­plete next year. She has hopes to make The Church Stu­dio a beau­ti­ful and func­tion­al facil­i­ty that can com­pete with the major stu­dios around the world. In addi­tion, Knox has also been able to get the stu­dio list­ed on the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and is mak­ing it the home to the Church Stu­dio Archive, a 4,000 piece col­lec­tion asso­ci­at­ed with Leon Rus­sell, The Tul­sa Sound, Shel­ter Records, and the his­toric church.

Charity Begins At Home

There is also The Church Stu­dio Music Foun­da­tion which focus­es on the preser­va­tion of the stu­dio as a land­mark, the lega­cy of Leon Rus­sell, the pro­mo­tion of the Tul­sa Sound and engage the gen­er­al pub­lic through music, pro­grams, film, video, record­ing, and activ­i­ties. She is an avid lover of her home city of Tulsa.

She has recent­ly com­plet­ed the restora­tion of a his­tor­i­cal build­ing in the Kendall Whit­ti­er neigh­bor­hood and is in the process of restor­ing the Har­welden Man­sion in Tul­sa. The three-sto­ry man­sion was built in 1923 by Tul­sa oil­man and phil­an­thropist Earl Har­well. In recent years it has been used to host wed­dings, fundrais­ers, and oth­er events. Knox plans to keep that tra­di­tion, along with adding a bou­tique hotel ele­ment, while pre­serv­ing its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. “In the future, I’d like to con­tin­ue iden­ti­fy­ing his­toric prop­er­ties that need atten­tion, care and love and bring them back to rel­e­vance,” she said.

Writer’s Church Sermon

Much can be said about Knox, much more than can be writ­ten here. Her life with its inter­ests, pas­sions, and beliefs weave togeth­er in this com­plex and beau­ti­ful pat­tern mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to cat­e­go­rize her and explain her with a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion. This pat­tern of hers con­nects and recon­nects to every­thing in her life con­tin­u­al­ly build­ing a lega­cy while pre­serv­ing the lega­cies of so many oth­ers and then offer­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties for so many more to cre­ate new lega­cies. Whether it’s a stu­dent from one of the schools she found­ed, a new musi­cian who will be giv­en a chance to make a mark in the music world, a his­to­ri­an who appre­ci­ates her restora­tion efforts or just a fan who believes he had cof­fee and tea with a celebri­ty at a Tul­sa din­er, I believe we could all agree that land­marks are cre­at­ed when some­one takes the time, effort and pas­sion to build them. Tere­sa Knox has become one of those Tul­sa land­marks. I bet Leon would be proud!

For more infor­ma­tion about The Church Stu­dio and its his­to­ry, vis­it

To learn more about The Church Stu­dio Foun­da­tion, vis­it

Tere­sa Knox has kind­ly donat­ed some items that we will give away! To join the give­away click here:


  1. Avatar

    What a love­ly sto­ry about a love­ly, won­der­ful woman 🙂 — Thanks for writ­ing this and shar­ing it with all of us! Also loved the pic­tures and what they’re doing with that beau­ti­ful old church …

    • Avatar

      Thanks so much for read­ing and for the very nice comment!


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  1. Avatar

    What a love­ly sto­ry about a love­ly, won­der­ful woman 🙂 — Thanks for writ­ing this and shar­ing it with all of us! Also loved the pic­tures and what they’re doing with that beau­ti­ful old church …

    • Avatar

      Thanks so much for read­ing and for the very nice comment!


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