5. Jack Freese
Attorney – Freese & March
Tulsa attorney Jack Freese looks for the good in everyone. Stories about the seminal moments of his life are told with dry wit and a touch of drama. And gratitude is his middle name.
“While we meet a lot of people who are angry, upset or out of sorts, the practice of law has brought me together with more people of the finest character – dedicated people, caring people – than you could possibly imagine,” he says.
During his formative years, Freese often received “invitations” that involved twisted arms … but turned out just fine. For example, he arrived on the Notre Dame University campus at age 16, fresh out of Tulsa’s Cascia Hall Prep School, and found a note that instructed him to be in the president’s office at 3 p.m.
“After a warm and gracious introduction, he said that he understood I was quite a football player in high school,” says Freese. “I assured him that his informants were really very wrong – that I played for a small school and had limited talent. He assured me I would be out for football on Monday.”
He managed to dodge that bullet only to later receive a visit from two students “who understood that I was a drummer. They said I would either join the band then, or be taken to Lake St. Mary’s for a bath,” he says. “I joined the band on the spot.”
Freese marched for two years before transferring to the University of Oklahoma. He stayed in Norman for law school, after spending a summer as an oilfield roustabout.
Soon after joining a Tulsa law firm, he learned that his reputation had, again, preceded him.
“One of the partners said he understood that I played the drums, and invited me to join a businessman’s Dixieland band,” he says. “We played with the philharmonic to help them raise money, and I sincerely believe people contributed just so they could get out of the auditorium.”
And then there’s the story about how he became an attorney – a profession he’s excelled in for several decades with great acclaim. During his summers as a kid, he traveled with his father, who worked for an oil and gas company. As they drove, his father would ask him questions, such as what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“At age 10, I wasn’t very good at answering,” he says.
But one day, his father again posed the question.
“And I answered, ‘A lawyer, Dad.’ I answered what was in my mind at that second,” he says. “From that day, he made every attempt to guide me, and he put me in touch with his lawyer friends. I had many conversations with successful and practicing attorneys.”
The rest is history.
4. Susan Agel
President/CEO – Positive Tomorrows
Youth is a state of mind, says Susan Agel.
“You have to keep learning. You have to stay active,” she says. “The idea of being retired and just resting doesn’t quite make sense to me.”
Positive Tomorrows is Oklahoma’s only elementary school and social services agency specifically for children and families experiencing homelessness. Agel, 66, joined the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit in 2009.
“Positive Tomorrows has been a great fit for me and where I am in my life,” she says. “Everybody has something they are meant to do, something they are really good at. If you can find that and are able to do it, that’s success.”
Every day brings fulfillment, Agel says, whether she is interacting with students, talking to donors or giving a speech about the importance of the nonprofit.
“This is the most gratifying position I’ve ever held, and I’ve worked in nonprofits all my life,” she says. “The kids are bright and resilient. We see that we are making a difference in their lives.”
Particularly with the children experiencing chronic homelessness, so many things are getting in the way of school success, says Agel. But case managers work with the families to regain stability, and Agel is able to witness the inspiring results.
“It’s hard for me to imagine not doing this,” she says.
When she does retire, Agel says, she will volunteer at her church, and spend more time with her family. And she says she will do a lot of reading – lately she’s been interested in dinosaurs. With Agel, every day brings new adventures.
3. Glenn Orr
Owner – Orr Family Farm
Glenn Orr awakens at 6:30 every morning, and by 7:30, he’s out doing something around the Orr Family Farm.
“Usually it’s taking out the trash or some important thing like that,” he says with a chuckle.
Orr laughs a lot. He had careers as a veterinarian, a horse and cattle insurance agent and a racehorse breeder before he and his late wife, Shari, founded the Oklahoma City attraction, which employs several of their offspring. The Orr Family Farm offers hay rides, a fall maze, a barnyard, a barrel train, a carousel, camping and glamping and gemstone mining. Every year, there’s something new.
“When we established this in 2003, the slogan was ‘Always something new at Orr Family Farms,’” he says. “So we get a lot of repeat customers who have made it a tradition.”
Orr calls his business a labor of love.
“People are so doggone appreciative of what we are doing, that it’s very rewarding,” he says. “That keeps me going and enjoying life.”
Orr is 88, or as he puts it, “only 12 years away from 100. I have that as a goal, to reach at least 100.”
If you love what you are doing, Orr says, “it renews you. It keeps the old cells from getting stagnant. You might have aches and pains, but your perspective is a lot healthier than somebody who just sits around and watches TV all the time.”
2. Frances Jordan-Rakestraw
Executive Director – Greenwood Cultural Center
Frances Jordan-Rakestraw says she has grown during her years as executive director of the Greenwood Cultural Center.
“I’ve changed in many ways,” says the Tulsa native who has been at the helm since 2000. “Learning patience is high on the list. I’ve learned to give back. There are many wonderful women in my life who mentored me. GCC has put me in a position to do the same – I’ve learned to listen to the young and the old.”
Jordan-Rakestraw says the young people who attend GCC programming “are my greatest joy.”
Children who visit GCC learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, she says, but the center also offers cultural programming.
“The children who have attended our various programs have been taught ballet, tap, martial arts, hip-hop and visual arts. Our summer arts program builds on the legacy of black entrepreneurs in the historic Black Wall Street district.”
GCC’s purpose will remain the same once the Greenwood Rising history center is built, a new project funded by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Its mission includes encouraging intercultural exchange and building in young people a sense of pride and self-confidence.
“We are now in the preliminary plans to renovate GCC,” she says. “I’d like to be here when that comes to fruition.”
1. Dana Weber
President/CEO – Webco Industries
Webco Industries manufactures stainless steel tubing for the agricultural, automotive, beverage and energy industries. But CEO Dana Weber says that she’s really in the people business.
Weber feels proudest of “knowing that you get to make a difference in the lives of a lot of people. If you do what you do well, you can have an impact on your employees, your customers, your suppliers and your business partners.”
Always looking to the future for those under her employ, Weber leads with a focus on “how we can develop our people, find ways to make their lives better, to give people opportunity.”
Weber’s father, Bill, founded the company in Sand Springs in 1969, and she started working there when she was 13 with “very important jobs like answering the phones, filing papers, running errands and adding columns of figures.
“I wanted to be around my dad because that’s where he was all the time, running the business,” she says. “It pretty quickly got in my blood.”
When she’s not tending to business at the 1,100-employee company, she is engaged in another important role.
“I have three grandchildren with a fourth one on the way,” she says. “That consumes time, and I love the way it consumes my time. I feel very blessed. I wish everyone could have the great life that I do.”
Career Changes are Possible
Older people should feel confident about making a career change, says the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and employers should welcome them to a new field.
“People are living and working longer, and experienced workers bring expertise, maturity and perspective,” says Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma state director. “We also know from studies [that] older workers tend to have steadier, more reliable work output with higher productivity. Employer teams with older workers tend to have better team performance and lower turnover.”
When contemplating an industry change, Voskuhl says: “Job seekers really need to look at their unique skills sets and experience to see what might be a good fit. For example, right now, a number of companies are hiring for customer service positions, given the [COVID-19 pandemic] and interest in people working from home.”
The Work and Jobs page at aarp.org/work covers topics like age discrimination, job searches, changing careers and how to start your own business.
“Through our AARP job board at jobs.aarp.org, we help match years of valuable experience with employers that are committed to an age-diverse workforce,” says Voskuhl.
“Job seekers may also want to check out AARP’s employer pledge program,” he continues. “These employers affirm the value of older workers and a multigenerational workforce and hire based on ability regardless of age.”
AARP’s resume advisor tool, free to members and registered users, offers objective feedback and personalized recommendations.
If your skills need updating, Learn @50 Plus, another AARP tool, can teach you how to use a smart phone, how to use Zoom and even how to start a business.
Ways to Revamp
Those nearing or past middle age who think they might need a reset aren’t alone, says Alex Bishop, associate professor in human development and family science at Oklahoma State University.
“It’s developmentally appropriate to introspectively start thinking about your life and the meaning of it, and where you are headed,” he says. “You are entering a phase of life where you are mentally fatigued, and economically you are trying to figure out what you need to do.”
It’s a great time to do some life review, Bishop says. He recommends journaling.
Friendships are also as important as ever, but changes might be in order.
“Your friends are starting to adapt into new roles,” says Bishop – roles that include that of grandparent.
It might be a time to make new friends, or rekindle childhood friendships.
“Friendships are what we call anticipated support,” says Bishop. “And so are sons and daughters. These are the people we can really rely on in times of need. We may not interact with them as much, but it puts people at ease as they age and reduces their anxiety.”
People facing mid-life stagnation might consider volunteer work, or mentoring a younger colleague.
Retirees often benefit from a different version of the 9-to-5 experience.
“Work is so vital. It allows us to express our creativity,” says Bishop. “When you take up a hobby, it’s kind of like work, but something that you enjoy doing. These new pursuits give us meaning, and that meaning brings happiness.”