So far my week in Oklahoma has exposed me to a few things that I was not prepared for. I watched the Bedlam Game between Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University. I learned that I like the Sooners because if I don’t I could get shot. I heard actual use of the phrases “y’all,” “cussin’ and raisin’ heck,” and “hellcat mad.” I watched a turkey get fried, learned that you soak cowboy boots in the bathtub and wear them wet in order to break them in, and became acutely aware that Baptists do not dance – ever. I ate cranberry salad that had marshmallows in it, and tried Indian food for the first time. It has been exciting and strange, but above all it’s been educational.
For a state founded on a history of hard work, dust, sweat, and tears, Oklahoma has work ethic. Coming from Portland, where a small, but still way too large, population of young adults wastes their time doing nothing, buying retro clothes, snorting lines, growing ironic facial hair and looking apathetic, this red-blooded ‘Merican-ness is refreshing. If it’s between cowboys or hipsters, I’ll choose cowboys anytime. Same goes for frat boys. (Go Sooners.)
In order to try to understand where things go wrong between this red state and the blue that flows through the streets of Puddletown, I decided to start with those who make up the work force of this area of the south-central US.
Anonymous employee and staff opinion surveys are some of the assessment tools that the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce and OKCBusiness Magazine use to gauge the list of “Best Places to Work in Oklahoma.” Tate Publishing made it on among the elite, ranking an impressive number two on the list. As a writer, the publishing world fascinates me, and a Christian publisher based out of a town called Mustang seems like an ideal resource for the hard working professionals that keep the intellectual oil of Oklahoma pumping. Tate Publishing has a staff of only one hundred people, but operates as a main-line publisher of book products, audio books, and music. Every year they select only 5% of the thousands of manuscripts that are submitted for publishing. Moreover, Tate gives back to the state by generating interest, revenue, and professional prestige, not to mention the jobs that they create that often attract the best and the brightest graduates of local schools. Keeping with the traditions that they hold dear, the company regularly contributes to the community by sponsoring non-profit groups and assorted philanthropy projects year round.
Rita Tate thought that she would become a lawyer when she was in high-school. After graduating college with a degree in Speech and Communications she became a speaker and a writer, eventually publishing a book with her husband, Richard Tate. That experience pedaling their pages sparked the Tate’s interest in the publishing industry, and from that tiny flicker a company was born. Seven years later, Rita Tate can regard the company that she helped to create with quiet pride. “As I face retirement I look back and discover that every job, every challenge, every relationship impacted the choices I made to help establish this company. I am doing exactly what to do, and the best part is, I’m doing it with my family at my side,” she says.
There is a quote in The Grapes of Wrath: “The migrant people, scuttling for work, scrabbling to live, looked always for pleasure, dug for pleasure, manufactured pleasure, and they were hungry for amusement.” These words, and the plot of the book as a whole, deal with the way that Oklahomans, and Americans in general, have struggled and will continue to struggle to varying degrees throughout the course of history. Yet, no matter how tough times are, we always need diversion. A company like Tate Publishing exemplifies the union between a toiling mentality with the enjoyment of books. But that’s not to say that the universality of what they produced can’t be traced back to the trials and tribulations of their great state.
“The state shaped my outlook on work because Oklahomans are made of tough stock, [with] a deep, strong work ethic. We possess something intangible, yet so evident: true grit,” says Rita Tate, who is also a native of Oklahoma. “Maybe it is the natural disasters, the tornadoes, the Dust Bowl, the Murrah bombing, those experiences that made headlines across the country when “the Oklahoma standard” became a measuring stick for the rest of the nation on how to handle life’s greatest challenges.”
Although I’ve only been here for a little under a week I can say that Oklahoma’s main export isn’t cowboy boots, or styrofoam, or even rabid football fans, it’s thick-skinned, assiduous stock who might lack some of the glossy ambition of city folk, but more than make up for it with their ability to buckle down and persevere.
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