OICA CEO Joe Dorman (right) is joined by (from left) former Lt. Gov Jari Askins, former Gov. George Nigh, and former Village Mayor Cathy Cummings at a recent OICA Chili Cookoff. Cummings succumbed to gallbladder cancer over the weekend. (OICA Courtesy Photo)
Over the past week, Oklahoma lost two individuals who did much for our state’s children in their own ways.
Most people are aware of the passing of Toby Keith, the Oklahoma country music performer with multiple top hits. A diehard Sooner, his songs also touched Oklahoma State fans with his song “Should Have Been a Cowboy” played after each sports victory.
Far too many people are not aware of his generosity, especially toward children. The Toby Keith Foundation, established in 2006, has been helping children with cancer treatment care since inception. They streamlined their efforts around no-cost housing for children with cancer, and in 2014, the foundation opened OK Kids Korral. This is a cost-free, convenient, and comfortable home for pediatric cancer patients receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, Stephenson Cancer Center, and other nearby facilities.
Toby was also a supporter of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, making donations of signed memorabilia for us to auction off at our events.
Toby passed after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer.
Another champion for children also was taken from us too soon. Cathy Cummings died from the effects of gall bladder cancer. A longtime restaurateur in Oklahoma City, most became acquainted with Cathy during her lieutenant governor campaign in 2014. She and I quickly became friends, which includes her husband Sean, and their children. Following the race, Cathy went on to serve as a council member and mayor of The Village, as well as running for Oklahoma county commissioner.
“People need to be listened to with a little empathy and compassion, and whether I want to hear it or not, it’s still my job to listen and I’m a good listener, “said Cummings. “My experience and my willingness are my strongest attributes.”
I would disagree with her self-assessment though. Her strongest attribute was her always upbeat and positive personality. Whenever you saw Cathy, whether at Vito’s, her Italian restaurant, or just around town, you were welcomed with a hug and true interest in how you were doing. Sean was once asked if she was like that all the time, and he confirmed that was truly who she was all the time.
One effort that Cathy took on in 2013 was to shed light on living conditions tied with earning $9.00 per hour, which was considered a “living wage” at the time. She and Sean attempted “The Living Wage Experiment” to bring awareness to the struggles that minimum wage workers face.
A “living wage” is considered to be an amount of pay high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. The minimum wage in Oklahoma is currently $7.25 an hour, the federal allowable minimum. OX Fam America shows that Oklahoma ranks 11th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for percentage of those workers with lower wages. 36.0% of all workers in Oklahoma earn less than $12 per hour — 4.7% more than the national average.
Cathy never forgot that experience, and she continually worked to improve conditions for working Oklahomans and their families. She and Sean supported OICA through our annual chili cook-off and they donated customized meals for us to auction off from their restaurants. Her family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to assist families struggling to pay for school lunches. You can give at this link: https://gofund.me/c59f74a4
I am thankful for the efforts of both these wonderful Oklahomans for children. They will truly be missed.