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

Author: C.L. 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 https://thechurchstudio.com/

To learn more about The Church Stu­dio Foun­da­tion, vis­it https://thechurchstudio.com/foundation/

Tere­sa Knox has kind­ly donat­ed some items that we will give away! To join the give­away click here: http://uniqueoklahoma.com/go/the-church-studio-giveaway/


  1. Judy Keefe

    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 …

    • C. L. Harmon

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


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C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


  1. Judy Keefe

    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 …

    • C. L. Harmon

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


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What you lose today you may never get back. But within that loss is a gain that has a value only you can give it. You can allow that loss to have no wisdom or knowledgeable insight. You can let anger, regret and bitterness guide you to your next life situation and then build upon them. But when those foundations crumble, remember that you built that life with what you considered the greatest value your past experiences afforded you. - C.L. Harmon
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