Despite sharing the same hometown, we traveled different paths to get where we are today. Alumni Stories are an opportunity for BPS alumni to share personal and professional news (college degrees earned, new employment, family developments, etc…) as a way to foster community and strengthen connections. These posts will be public on the Bartlesville Alumni Association website.

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Check out some of our favorite alumni stories!

Annie Saltsman – BHS Class of 2000


The Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation had the opportunity to not only spotlight Annie Saltsman, an alumnae of Bartlesville High School, but also spotlight her local and successful business, the Eatery.

Annie Saltsman, known by her maiden name, Annie Lafferty while attending Bartlesville High School, had a different experience from other alumni we’ve featured to date.  Having moved to Bartlesville as a teenager and entered Bartlesville Public Schools in the ninth grade, she faced some challenges fitting in with her peers.

Given her struggles in high school, she swore she would never come back home after graduation.  But when she had three children of her own and started a business, Bartlesville was the community she and her husband chose to raise their family and grow her business.

Annie grew up in the Tulsa area with her mom, two brothers, and three sisters.  Most of her siblings were significantly older than her, so during Annie’s teenage years, she and her older sister were the only ones living at home with their single mom.  When her mom took a job in Nowata, the family moved to Bartlesville.  Annie entered Bartlesville’s Mid-High in ninth grade without many friends.  As a teenager in a new school, and coming from a home without many resources, fitting in did not come easily.  Although there were exceptions, many of the students did not welcome Annie to their school.  She struggled to find her place and a friend group.

Despite these social challenges, Annie praised the education she received while attending Bartlesville Public Schools and upon graduating, she felt well-prepared for college.   Annie also spoke highly of the teachers she had, specifically at Bartlesville High School.   She spoke of the significant impact Darla Tresner had on her. Annie loved Ms. Tresner’s journalism classes and enjoyed working with the school newspaper, the Fourth Estate.

During Annie’s senior year, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Caregiving for her mom occupied a lot of Annie’s time. She attributes her ability to balance school and caring for her mom to the supportive teachers and administrators who helped her through this difficult time.   School counselor, Susan Schmidt, worked with Annie to rearrange her tests to accommodate days Annie could not be at school.  She even took Annie shopping for a prom dress.  Principal Boyles facilitated Annie’s early dismissal from school on days when she needed to be at home with her mom.

After graduation, Annie attended University of Tulsa and planned to major in communications, but, influenced by her uncle who taught in higher education, she pursued a business degree instead.  After graduating from University of Tulsa, Annie earned her masters in human relations from University of Oklahoma – Tulsa.  She held several jobs in the Tulsa area, including working for the City of Tulsa, Gerdau Ameristeel, and ONEOK.  Most of her roles focused on human resources.  While working in Tulsa, she met her now husband, John Saltsman.  A few years after they started dating, they got married and had their first child, Elaine.  Annie stayed home with Elaine while John pursued his MBA at Oklahoma State University.  John took a job with ConocoPhillips in the accounting department in Bartlesville and the couple moved with their daughter to Owasso, where they had two more children, Nora, and Joseph.

While staying at home with their children, Annie took an interest in baking and decorating cakes.  She started with a Wonder Woman cake for Elaine’s fifth birthday. She enjoyed the experience of trying to make the “perfect cake,” and do it for a reasonable cost.  She started making cakes for a moms’ group she was in – charging just enough to cover her costs.  From there, Annie’s baking gained momentum.  She created a Facebook page for her business, and at the recommendation of her accountant husband, she got a tax identification number and hired a bookkeeper.

In 2018, John, Annie, and their three children moved from Owasso to Bartlesville and Annie opened Three Kids and a Cake (now the Eatery) on Second Street.  She started her new business small – opening her first location on a $20,000 budget with limited hours.  A year later, she expanded the space to include coffee and customer seating.  During COVID, the small business structure allowed the bakery to shift to curbside service and survive the trying times.

In the wake of COVID, she had a strong feeling that it was time to move locations and expand the bakery’s offerings.  Around the same time, the Kansas City chef, Marjorie Hackler, born and raised in Bartlesville, moved from Kansas City (where the restaurant business had been hit hard by COVID) back to her hometown to be near her sister and find a job in the food industry. Marjorie joined Annie at her new location on Johnstone, under the new name: “The Eatery, by Three Kids and a Cake.”  The bakery expanded its offerings to include breakfast and lunch, in addition to baked goods and coffee.  Annie and her staff recently undertook major renovations in the Bartlesville kitchen to allow the Eatery to do more catering, offer take-and-bake meals, and further expand its menu.

Annie is confident that moving her family and business to Bartlesville was the right decision.  She knows that her children are getting a quality education from Bartlesville Public Schools, just as she did.  However, having entered the schools at an earlier age, her children haven’t experienced the struggles Annie did when she first moved to Bartlesville several decades ago.  She and her family also appreciate the culture and resources Bartlesville has, especially given its small-town feel.  Part of the benefit of the small town is the community’s support of local businesses.  Bartlesville has embraced Annie’s small business and seems eager for the business’ continued growth.

Annie prides herself on making a positive contribution to the local community by serving quality food and providing generous benefits to the local employees she hires.   She gives back to the community through her business – offering discounts and donations to local nonprofits and organizations whenever possible. She is guided by the ideal that you should always give as much as you can afford.  Personally, Annie and John are both active members of the community – sharing their time and talents with various organizations.  Annie serves on the boards of Ray of Hope, Paths to Independence, and the United Way.  John serves on the Parent Teacher Organization at his kids’ schools and is involved with several nonprofit committees.   Annie and her family value kindness, generosity, and acceptance.   They strive to model those values every day.  Bartlesville is fortunate to have Annie, John, Elaine, Nora, Joseph, and the Eatery in our community.  They all make our town a better place to live.

Katie Keleher – Class of 2013


Katie Keleher is pretty much a local celebrity in Bartlesville and we are proud to recognize her in this alumni spotlight. Katie lived in Bartlesville with her parents, Dan and Jane Keleher and her older brother and sister throughout her youth.  She attended St. Johns during elementary and middle school then transitioned to Bartlesville High School.  Katie graduated from Bartlesville High School in 2013.

While in high school, Katie worked for the school newspaper, called the Fourth Estate.   That experience is where she developed her love for journalism.  She credits Ms. Darla Tresner, who led the journalism club, for recognizing her talent for writing. Ms. Tresner’s impact on Katie and so many other Bartlesville journalism students cannot be overstated.  Katie also specifically spoke of the role Dr. Keri Bostwick played in her development.  Dr. Bostwick introduced concepts that prepared her students to make real world decisions and she was invested in each of her students in ways that made them feel cared for. The value of this support did not go unrecognized by Katie or other students.

As we all know, the college decision that awaits all graduating students can be a stressful one. For Katie, Bartlesville High School provided many college recruiting opportunities when she was looking for a college. This gave diversity to the colleges she could choose from and also excitement as she chose which one fit her academic and personal goals best. Katie appreciated how teachers in her different classes provided help with college essays and applications, as well as letters of recommendation for her. This intentional help made Katie’s transition to college smoothe and is due largely to the care that Bartlesville teachers gave to one of many students.

Upon graduating high school, she attended college at the University of Kansas where she got her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2017. While in college, she was an intern for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. and a sports department intern for News on 6 in Tulsa.

After graduating, Katie moved to Idaho to serve as a reporter and weekend anchor for KIFI News Group for about two years.  At that point she was ready to move closer to home and got a job as a journalist for 2 News in Tulsa.  She served as a reporter for them for almost three years. Without its own news station, Bartlesville often relied on Keleher for its news.

In May 2022, Katie transitioned to a career with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.  She serves as the Director of Communications and Community Outreach.  As one component of her job, Katie is working on a new website for the District Attorney’s Office and general public relations. Her career allows her to be very active in the community and help local nonprofits in the Tulsa area.

Katie keeps in touch with many of her high school classmates, still considering some of these friends some of her closest.  When asked what advice she would give to any high schoolers now, Katie responded, “don’t be afraid to go somewhere new and try new things. Get involved and meet new people wherever you go for college and/or jobs.”

Haskell – Class of 2007

Although Will Haskell, Class of 2007, shared many similarities with his peers, he lived in more places and experienced more cultures than most other students.  Will moved to Bartlesville in eighth grade after spending many of his childhood and teenage years in different countries.  His father, Mark Haskell, worked for ConocoPhillips and with his job, moved his family, including will to Jakarta, Indonesia and London, England.  Will spent a total of seven years living overseas before moving to Houston Texas and then Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Upon moving to Bartlesville, Haskell attended Central Middle School, the Mid-HIgh and ultimately, Bartlesville High School.  He graduated in 2007.  After graduation, he attended the University of Oklahoma where he earned a business and management of information systems degree and met his wife, Lauren.  He and Lauren met during Will’s junior year and were married the following his senior year.

Soon after graduation, ConocoPhillips hired Haskell to work in its Information Technology department in Bartlesville.  Eleven years later, Haskell serves as a team lead in Phillips 66’s IT department.  He and his wife enjoy the life they are creating in Bartlesville and their new residence of Tulsa.

Reflecting on the past 15 years since graduation, Haskell states that marrying his wife Lauren is his number one accomplishment, acknowledging that all of his professional accomplishments were possible because of her support and encouragement.  His success in his career can be attributed to his ability to work well with others and his passion for ensuring that his company’s technology meets its customer’s needs.

In addition to a successful personal and professional life, Will has dedicated a lot of time and energy to volunteering.  Haskell co-founded City Served with some friends as a way to give back to the community that had played such a big role in his life.  He and his friends would meet up one Saturday a month to serve wherever they were needed.  He also served on the board of the Bartlesville Community Center and as a member for the Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation’s Professional Growth committee, approving grants from teachers.

So much of Will’s success was influenced by the education he received while at Bartlesville Public Schools and the friendships and connections he made there.  Haskell remembers several teachers at the High School who influenced him much past his years in Bartlesville.   A few names he listed were Michael Bostwick, Terry Brian, and Granger Meader.  They all challenged Haskell to learn more, think critically and truly prepared him for his studies at OU.

One story he shared with us involved his experience being voted the prom king during his senior year. Haskell describes himself starting out at BHS as the unlikely freshman who became that prom king.  He had a bowl cut and his daily uniform consisted of gray sweatpants and a gray hoodie with Adidas sandals and high socks.  For Haskell, that transformation from freshman to senior year represents his journey of self discovery, building friendships and transitioning into adulthood.

In addition to the role Bartlesville High School played in his transformation, he is also grateful for the many friends he made in Bartlesville.  He remains close to many of them today.   As he closes out the interview, Haskell provides this advice to students: Take a wide variety of courses while you can. Provide yourself with time to discover what you want to do in life, and take courses that are available to you. Have fun, but take your studies seriously.

We appreciate Will Haskell for taking the time to share his story with the Bartlesville Alumni Association and are grateful he returned home to Bartlesville to continue making our community a great place to live!

Garrett Giles – 2014

Garret Giles, Bartlesville High School Class of 2014, was on the other side of this interview telling us about his involvement with journalism, how Bartlesville Public Schools helped him come out of his shell, and where it got him today.

Although the beginning of his life was not spent in Bartlesville, it soon began to feel like home for this alum. He moved to Bartlesville in 2008 from Missouri and quickly adapted to Bartlesville Public Schools. He speaks of one teacher who stands out for him – his mom, Sharon Southwick, an algebra teacher at Bartlesville High School. “She was pretty influential in my life,” Giles said with a big smile on his face.

After being gone for 4 years at the University of Missouri, Giles is thankful to be back in the community he calls home.  He gets to see how Bartlesville has grown, the tremendous care people have for one another, and see our city be the best it can be.  During his time away, he spent a significant amount of time being involved in the Rock Campus Church in Missouri that got him on the right track during his freshman and sophomore year of college – he does not know where he would be without that experience.

As a news reporter for Bartlesville Radio, Giles plays a very important role in the Bartlesville community. His love of journalism started in the eighth grade.. He was a part of school publications during his years here.  First, the Paladin at the former Mid-High School, and then the Fourth Estate at Bartlesville High School. He learned a lot from his famous journalism teacher, Darla Tresner, who has also been featured in an alumni story.  In their time together the journalism staff won a number of state titles and created lots of work that is still held in high regard. This kind of work pushed Giles out of his comfort zone and gave him confidence to be who he was meant to be.

When asked about his greatest accomplishments he says that the best part of his job is the privilege he has to meet the amazing people he has met throughout his career.  “Because without the people, there wouldn’t be journalism – they are the story,” says Giles.  He is grateful for the opportunities he has had to cultivate relationships with community leaders.

During his junior year of college, Giles applied for an internship with Bartlesville radio in hopes of getting a summer job. Initially, he was denied acceptance.  A couple days later they called him in to re-evaluate the application. Dressing his very best, he ended up getting the job. “Next thing I know I’m hired at Bartlesville radio as an intern for the summer. I’m not sure if they remember that or not, but I am very blessed to be where I am now and I’m not sure where I would be without that internship,” Giles says jokingly. While developing his career at the station, he was promoted to Assistant News Director. In 2019 the news director, Charlie Taraboletti, retired and Giles was appointed to replace him.  Giles remembers thinking he was way too young for the job and was shaking in his shoes. Since then he has received two Oklahoma Association of Broadcast (OAB) awards – one for “Best Broadcast” and the other for a feature he wrote on the Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 visiting Nowata as part of the Union Pacific’s 150th anniversary celebration.  Reflecting on some significant events impacting our community since 2019, he mentions the flooding of 2019, the pandemic, and all the fallout from that. Giles, clearly proud of his team, stated: “[w]e’ve always been a good news outlet. I think those events really molded us to where we are now.  Seeing the work and what we have done has been pretty tremendous.”

Giles’ career has come a long way in a few short years.  He is grateful for his team and the community’s support of radio as he continues to grow.

Garrett is married to his lovely wife, Katy (Franklin) Giles.  They live in Bartlesville close to the family and community they love.  Katy is a dance instructor for Stage Art Dance.

Jacob Freeman – 2017

Jacob Freeman, Bartlesville High School Class of 2017, has his sights set high for the future, but no matter where life takes him, he will not forget where his journey started. This story gives us a glimpse of where Freeman is today, a mere five years after graduating from high school and moving away from his hometown.

As the oldest child and only brother among his four sisters, Freeman was expected to set an example for his siblings. He graduated from high school knowing that going to college was the first step. During high school, he thought of himself as the quiet kid who got his work done and would “go home and play video games.” Although he does not credit himself to doing much in his high school years, he says his favorite thing about Bartlesville Public Schools was the education he received. “[Bartlesville] education was definitely the best in Oklahoma, just from my personal experience and talking to people from different towns in Oklahoma. I believe that when I was there…the teachers there were setting us up for success just by the way that they taught us.” A memory that stuck out to him was brought up by his teacher, Mr. Warren Neff.  Mr. Neff, former BPS Teacher of the Year, taught his students that they needed to approach a problem one step at a time. Freeman says he thinks about this at least once a week, and it has really stuck with him through the past five years that he has been out of high school.

Currently, Freeman is a senior at Oklahoma State University approaching his graduation. He is to receive a degree in bachelors of science and business administration for management information systems. Along with three minors in information assurance, management and data analyst, following the plan to get his masters. When asked about his greatest professional accomplishment, he speaks of an internship that he received at a career fair. Before landing the internship he had many interviews that did end in a job. Feeling hopeless, he felt his career path was off to a rough start. But at a career fair later that fall, he connected with Sandia National Laboratories based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He had a successful interview and got a wonderful internship.

He lives in Stillwater and is the captain of an intramural soccer team. Despite having no soccer experience since his kindergarten days, he plays with old friends from Bartlesville who have a lot of experience. After winning one soccer tournament, they started referring to themselves as champions, and have t-shirts to prove it.

Freeman’s advice to current and future high school students is that, if you do plan to attend college, it is okay if you do not know what you want to do.  Based on his personal experience he did not know what he wanted to do for his career until his third year in college.  He wants students to ask themselves one question: “If they are looking for a career that has to do with their hobbies, do they want their hobby to become a job? Because then, it is no longer a hobby.” Freeman wants students to be aware of the lines between their personal and professional lives and make sure they continue enjoying the fun in life.

Ending the interview he acknowledges many teachers he wished we had the space to highlight because they all played such a crucial role in his life. Those teachers include: Mrs. Tupper, Mrs. Hendrix, Ms. Hancock, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Hanks, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Arguello, Mrs. Anderson, Mr. Michael, Mr. Jenner, Ms. Keller, and Mr. Minton. He remembers these teachers for the great things they have done for him and how their experience has made him remember how admirable and relevant they are today, and will be tomorrow, and for years to come.

Michelle Perry – Class of 1993

Born in Bartlesville, with a father who worked for Phillips 66, Michelle Perry’s story begins like many other Bartlesville alumni.  But unlike many alumni, the skills she developed in Bartlesville have carried her on a global adventure beyond her wildest imagination.

Perry’s love of music began at a young age. Her father sang in both a local and the church choir (and still does).  Her mother played the piano.  Perry started piano lessons when she was four and was introduced to the horn in 6th grade at Madison Middle School by Bartlesville Band Directors Jeff Lawless and Mary Ann French. She progressed quickly and when Mr. Walter Pitts moved to Bartlesville to take up a position as an additional Bartlesville Band Director alongside Jeff Lawless, he saw something in Perry.  He took her under his wing – giving her private lessons after school, introducing her to recordings of some of the greatest orchestras, horn soloists, and brass groups in the world, including the brass quintet, Empire Brass.  Both Pitts and Lawless encouraged her to listen to world-class musicians and hear them play in person.

She can recall the first time she heard a professional horn player.  She was 16 when, at the recommendation of her band director, she and her dad went to see the Tulsa Philharmonic play.  She went backstage and met Hermann Baumann, the top horn soloist in the world at the time.

This encouragement from her Bartlesville band directors opened her eyes to possibilities beyond Bartlesville.  She began to dream of one day playing in the Chicago Symphony.   But little did she know that the world had much more in store for her.

Perry graduated from Bartlesville High School in 1993.  She studied at Oklahoma University for a year, then transferred to Arizona State, for its strong music program.  Upon completing her studies there, she obtained a coveted Fulbright Scholarship to play the horn in Oslo, Norway.

Living in Norway, traveling around Europe, and studying under one of the most famous female horn teachers in the world, Frøydis Ree Wekre, gave her a different way of looking at life, art, culture, and music. As she began to play with various orchestras, perform in solo recitals, and play in festivals, her international reputation grew.

A highlight during her career was being invited to audition for the internationally acclaimed Empire Brass Quintet – an opportunity of a lifetime. After an intense, four-hour rehearsal, the group was incredibly impressed with her ability to sight read and keep up with them.

When they asked her how she did it, she just smiled, but never divulged that she had actually been listening to Empire Brass recordings for 10 years after being first introduced to their many recordings by Bartlesville band director, Walter Pitts.  She was invited to join their group (as the first and ultimately only female ever in the group),  which served as a further catalyst for her career.

She toured the world with the Empire Brass Quintet for six years, touring through Asia, Europe, Australia, Scandinavia, North America, and South America as their horn soloist. When they were not on tour, she would reside in Boston and often played with the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops.  As her international reputation grew, she played in countless concert halls with some of the best musicians in the world – from being the principal horn in the opera orchestra in the renowned Sydney Opera House, to being a guest musician for orchestras and chamber groups across the world, including all over Europe, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South East Asia and Malaysia, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Norway, Macedonia, republic of Georgia, Malta (a picturesque island in the Mediterranean), and even in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Almost more impressive than Perry’s resume is her perspective on life and advice for young musicians.  She appreciates the journey she is on; and the idea that as someone from a small, conservative town, she has been able to experience so much culture and diversity.  She loves what she does and the perspective it has given her. She said “[i]f just one person is moved by something she does (plays? Listening to her?)  as part of her orchestra experience, then that’s a gift to her.” She simply wants her music to inspire or evoke something exciting in another person.

Her advice to students is to: “find your passion and pursue it. That’s the way to find what you’re meant to do in life.”  She recognizes that she was fortunate to find her passion at 15, and acknowledges that it can be a challenge; but she encourages people to stop separating out what they want to do for work and what they enjoy as a hobby – “what you’re passionate about – that’s what you should do for work.”

Perry firmly believes that everyone has a path to bring their gift to the world. Reflecting back on her initial dream of one day playing in the Chicago Symphony, she says “[d]on’t limit yourself by what you think you have to do or even what you think you want to do…find what makes you happy and pursue it.”  Perry focused on one goal but when she outgrew it, she let it go and left herself open to opportunities she had not even thought of.  She explains that that is how you get the life you’d never expect…the life that’s bigger than any dream you could imagine.

Perry spent most of the pandemic (while most concert halls were closed) at her property in Aruba, although she and her husband currently call Berlin home.

What’s next for Perry: She would love to collaborate with someone on a project to show the public what the horn can really do.  She wants to connect with audiences beyond those individuals that attend symphonies and visit concert halls.  She has no idea what that will look or sound like, but that’s what excites her and that mindset has worked well for her so far.

To learn more about Michelle Perry (BHS, ‘93) or listen to some of her music, check out her website:

Darla Tresner – Class of 1976

Darla Tresner, a College-High Class of 1976, born and raised in Bartlesville,  tells us how she found her way back to teaching at the high school that taught her.

As a young girl Darla Tresner always wanted to be involved in journalism.  In high school, Tresner was active in the journalism department as the associate editor of “The College-High Novelist,” Col-High’s newspaper at the time.  Her journalism advisor, Ms. Edith Hicks, brought Tresner under her wing and encouraged Tresner to return to Bartlesville after college and take over for Hicks when she retired.   This immediately became Tresner’s goal.

Recalling watching OU football growing up, her university of choice was Oklahoma University. Fortunately for Tresner, OU had the third-best journalism school in the nation at the time. Upon graduating, she was ready for a fresh start and ready to make new friends. While attending OU, majored in journalism and became an editor for the Oklahoma University student newspaper during her senior year. One of her proudest moments was when she was giving a speech at journalism day at OU and in walked her Col-High journalism advisor, Ms. Hicks. “I was so proud. I had some really wonderful teachers at the high school. And I was so lucky because school was fun. I had a lot of fun while I was learning and I was very well prepared to attend OU.”

Ms. Tresner always had a great love for the high school and for Bartlesville. “Bartlesville is home and it always has been”, she says. When asked about her adventures as a student and teacher, Tresner expresses that she is very likely to write a book about all the things she has experienced.  She speaks proudly of the people she has taught, seeing them go off to be news reporters, TV hosts, authors, and many other great things. She speaks of Nathan Thompson on Fox News as a sports anchor, Ree Drummond as a host of a cooking show, and news anchor Katie Keleher on Channel 2.

Based on her experiences, Tresner’s advice for future and current high school students is to “set your sights higher and make your years count.”  She explains that if she could go back in time and do things a different way she would go back and learn the things she knows now. Like so many in their high school years, her social life was the most important thing to her.  Despite making good grades, she regrets not taking a chance on classes she perceived as too challenging and not getting more involved with her school. “So I would ask them please, please make the most of your high school years.”

Ms. Tresner is currently teaching her 41st year at Bartlesville High School, working to move the school newspaper from paper to digital promoting it on websites, social media and other platforms.  Technology may change, but in speaking with several of her students throughout those 41 years, they consistently view her as one of their favorite teachers.

In addition to her passion of teaching, her interests include volunteering with a wide variety of organizations and committees around Bartlesville.  She keeps busy serving on the board of “Friends of the Library” and Daughters of the American Revolution, and says, “I’m glad that we have all of these organizations because they each fill an important interest or need in our community.”

To her classmates in the Class of 1976, Darla Tresner humorously says: “I am not as dorky now as I was in high school.”

Phil Henbest – Class of 1966

In this interview with Phil Henbest, College High Class of 1966, we learn about this Wildcat’s time in the war, becoming a pilot at 18, and the difference he makes in the mountains of Colorado. This alumnus’ story is like no other, as it brings us back to a different time that many did not get to experience and shows us what can be accomplished with a foundation of quality education.

Henbest moved to Bartlesville in 1960 with his mother and older brother. While he was attending Madison Junior High, his mother taught 9th grade biology.  He described himself during his time at Madison and College High as a “less than stellar student.”   That said, Henbest acknowledges that those Bartlesville schools and his teachers at those schools were foundational to his success later in life.  He spoke highly of his Latin teacher, Lois Ellsworth; his math teacher, Villa Fender; and music teacher, Frank Robinson.  They all made a significant, life-long impact on him, setting him up for the future and preparing him for the many accomplishments he would go on to achieve. Over 50 years later, these subjects still spark his interest.

One of Henbest’s highest achievements occurred during his senior year at College High. He was working at the Bartlesville airport and managed to earn his pilot license before graduating.    He was also involved in the high school marching band and concert band, and the orchestra at Phillips 66. All of these experiences shaped him into the person he is today.

After graduating, Henbest attended the University of Oklahoma; and in 1970, earned a bachelor’s degree in science and industrial engineering. In July of 1969, shortly after graduating, Henbest was drafted into the war.  He went into the Navy, and was a Naval flight officer for four and a half years. After completing his service, he had a change of heart and attended medical school at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. He used his degree to become a family practitioner in the Navy for three years. Following his time in the Navy, he moved to Colorado and maintained a busy family practice for another 28 years, caring for patients in  nursing homes and hospitals.

From 1989 to 1991 Henbest decided to learn something new – he earned a Masters degree in Liberal Arts at Denver University. He describes the logic behind the shift, stating.  “I figured I had a lot of science between engineering and medicine so I would do a bit of liberal arts which will be helpful in dealing with patients. Most people thought I had been wasting my time doing it, but it was tremendously helpful with my patients and life circumstances.”

When asked about his greatest personal or professional accomplishment, he described his thirty years as a family practitioner.  He attributes his success as a family practitioner to many things – his background in music allowed him to connect with patients; and the broad scope of  education he received helped him treat a wide range of patients and develop strong relationships with them. The compassion needed in his field comes to him from the quote: “[b]e kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (Plato). Recalling this quote reminds him that in his practice, he sees people at their worst. And, as he tells his staff, even though they are seeing people at their worst, caregivers must treat them all like royalty.

Today, Henbest is retired in Colorado and “loving it.” He is married with two sons who both followed in his footsteps to become doctors. His hobbies include music appreciation and  reading.  Reflecting on his time within Bartlesville, Henbest recalls it being a great place to grow up, learn, and create wonderful memories.  He praised the Bartlesville school system for the outstanding educational opportunities it offers its students and the high expectations of its educators and staff.  To this day, he appreciates the strong vision Bartlesville Public Schools has for educating its students and enriching their lives.

Susie Bellinski – Class of 1971

Susie Rogers Bellinski, Col-High Class of 1971 and third generation Bartlesville alum, recently returned to town with her classmates for their 50th reunion.  We were fortunate enough to catch up with her and learn about her experience growing up in Bartlesville, and her journey since graduating.

If you were in Bartlesville in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, you may remember seeing Susie cruising around town in her powder blue, “1964 and a half” Mustang.  You may have even caught a glimpse of her and her seven closest girlfriends as they piled into her car to get the most “bang for their buck” at the Hilltop Drive-In on “Buck Night.”   This is just one example of her self-proclaimed “Leave it to Beaver” life growing up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Susie claims Bartlesville was the “most wonderful place to grow up.” She couldn’t speak highly enough about the benefits of coming of age in a close knit community: everyone looking out for one another, living across the street from her high school, and all the freedoms that come with small town living.  That said, she also shared plenty of stories about the pitfalls of being a teenager where everyone knows you and your parents (and in Susie’s case, even her grandparents). Many of her favorite teachers and administrators had taught her parents, Joe and Ferol Rogers (Class of 1948).  Susie’s Latin teacher taught her mother. Betty Turk taught her father. And Col-Hi’s principal, John Haley enjoyed Susie despite having Susie’s father in his office “countless times” when he was a student – one of those times resulted from an incident where Susie’s father and friends had carried a car into the lobby of  Col-Hi.

When asked about teachers who impacted her life, she referenced too many to count.  She acknowledged not being the easiest student for some teachers, admitting that she spoke often during class…“just not by contributing to the class conversation.”  Band Director Frank Robinson, one of Susie’s favorite teachers, could not be rattled, despite Susie’s gregarious personality.

In addition to complimenting many of her teachers, Susie also highlighted the phenomenal band program, the four years of Latin classes BPS offered, and the excellent and very advanced math program.  She attributed much of the schools’ success and therefore the students’ success to the high expectations maintained by the parents, school board, administrators, teachers and staff.

After spending almost two hours with Susie, it was clear that she is one of those people we all wish we’d been friends with growing up.  She was a great kid.  She kept her grades up, took four  years of Latin, and played the flute and oboe.  But she got in just enough trouble to keep things interesting.  On weekends during the school year, you could catch her at the Youth Canteen where she and her friends would go to “see and be seen.”  During the summer, they would spend their days at the Sunset Country Club.  When she and her friends wanted push their boundaries, they would go to the Mr. Swiss (like a modern day Dairy Queen) after dropping their school books and bags at the library – apparently something prohibited by not only their parents, but also by the public library.  If any parents came by the library looking for them, the kind librarian would cover for students until they could rush back and collect their belongings.  Susie also reminisced about legendary places like Doty’s Dumps, Sanipool, Kane Hill, and the Labadie Mansion.

After graduation, Susie’s father gave her a 150 mile limit on how far away she could go to college. She got her degree from the University of Arkansas (exactly 150 miles from Bartlesville) in daycare and elder care.  She lived in Parson, Kansas for a while, where she met her husband, Larry Bellinski.  They moved to Kansas City, MO, had two children, and from there moved to Colorado Springs, CO, then a suburb outside of Cleveland, OH, and settled in Lewisville, TX.   After spending time at home with her kids and working for a bank and a mortgage company, both Susie and her husband were ready to retire.

They recently moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas fulfilling a dream Susie had since she was a young girl and drove through Bella Vista on family trips.  She knew the town as a magical place where  Phillips 66 executives would build their retirement homes.  She and a group of high school friends have remained close and return to Bartlesville periodically for their reunions.

Personal note from the article’s author: As a parent who moved to Bartlesville from the east coast to raise my four children in this community and in the Bartlesville Public Schools, I can’t express how pleased I was to listen to the positive experiences throughout Susie’s childhood and adolescent years and recognize that so many of the benefits she spoke of have survived despite many local and even global changes.  My children have the freedom to roam our neighborhood streets with their friends; they walk to and from school; teachers and administrators know who they are; and those teachers and administrator, along with other parents, would not hesitate for a moment to let me know of the good and/or bad they witnessed with respect to my children.  Due to the effort of many community and school leaders, for the most part, Bartlesville has been preserved as a close-knit, loving community where our children have room to thrive. We should all be grateful for that.

Russell Vaclaw – Class of 1991

Russell Vaclaw is a graduate of Bartlesville High School Class of 1991, or as he calls it, “[t]he greatest class to ever graduate from Bartlesville.” His roots are planted here and so is he.   He serves as a judge at the Washington County Courthouse and strives to make a difference everyday in his hometown.

Vaclaw has three children – a daughter and two sons.  When his first two kids entered high school, he was too involved in all the different things to process what was happening, but with his third child, he is able to sit back and watch his son go through all the same experiences that Vaclaw had growing up.   He describes the experience as “watching my life in the rearview.”

When asked about any influential quotes, he refers to a quote from a Pearl Jam song, “I am Mine”: “I know I was born, and I know I will die. The in between is mine.”  He says it helps him take ownership over what he does and what he is responsible for. The in between in his life is his chance to do what he can – to love life and love other people.

Vaclaw looks up to his father and his mother. His dad stressed education to him and his siblings, making it a top priority. His mom was an intelligent woman, well-read, and never failed to lose at Jeopardy. “We could have been millionaires if only my mom went on Jeopardy. She could have been the next Ken Jennings,” Vaclaw jokes. His parents expected him to push himself to get better in everything he did. His dad would chide him, “if you get bad grades, you will only wind up digging ditches.” With eight children, Vaclaw’s parents pushed all of them to do their best in a a loving way. “My parents made the time available for each and every one of us. I don’t remember a baseball or football game that my dad didn’t attend. I don’t remember a time when my mom wasn’t taking care of us, and not just one of us, all eight of us.” He described his gratitude towards the way his parents raised him, saying that he was very blessed and thankful for them.

When asked about his time in Bartlesville Public Schools, Vaclaw recalls every teacher he ever had by name and grade. He describes the effect these teachers had on his life, creating memories for a lifetime. A lot of his memories come from playing sports at Bartlesville. A memory he looks fondly on was during his time at Central, before a famous Central vs. Madison football game. Coach Ramiro Gonzalez shared a sympathy card with the team, reading it very somberly and quietly. Inside the card was written “[o]ur deepest sympathy, from the Madison School faculty and staff.” The Central team’s angry reaction to the card motivated them to beat Madison 28-0. For 20 years, the Central team believed that card came from Madison until one day when Vaclaw saw Coach Gonzalez on the golf course and asked him about the letter. Coach Gonzalez laughed and confessed that he had made the entire thing up to get his Central team ready for the game.

When Judge Vaclaw isn’t on the bench, he stays involved in the community by maintaining friendships, being active in the schools, and coaching his children’s sports teams. Currently, he manages his son’s soccer team and is a soccer referee for United States Youth Soccer. “It’s interesting to be a judge and a referee because they are very similar. You don’t care about who is winning, you’re worried about getting the call right,” Vaclaw says. One of his passions is working at the schools and doing presentations on bullying and other issues affecting kids, like the use of social media. Vaclaw and Kerry Ickleberry put together a program to talk to kids about the consequences of bullying. The stories he hears about bullying moves him to want to make a change and do something about these problems not only in America but right here in Bartlesville. He feels he needs to connect to the community but also to his family as well that attended these schools. Russell Vaclaw undoubtedly is making a big difference in this small town. He is an inspiring role model, leading others to success.  He is proud to be a Bruin and the Bruins are proud to have him as an alum.