Angelina Merenda “Ann” O’Bar has devoted her career to working with young children and their families as a child and parenting specialist.
Since her appointed in July 1965 -- by then-Gov. Henry Bellmon -- to serve as a parent on the Governor’s Committee on Children and Youth, O’Bar has served continuously at the local, state, national, and international levels for the last 40 years as an advocate for programs serving young children, their families, and communities.
She was born March 1, 1935, during one of the worst snow storms to hit Brooklyn, N.Y., and in the middle of the worst depression to hit the U.S. Her father went out in the middle of the night, driving in five feet snow drifts to find a doctor. He ended up after many hours settling for a midwife. “They both arrived about an hour after I was delivered by my grandmother,” for whom she was named.
Ann was the middle child of Antonio and Mary (DiPietro) Merenda. Her father was born in Italy on the island of Sicily and came to America, by himself, as a 17 year old. Her mother was born in New York City and moved to Brooklyn, as a teenager, where she soon met Ann’s father and married him in 1927.
Her family moved to Oceanside, Long Island in 1949 and she attended Oceanside High School, graduating in 1952. She then attended New York Community College in Brooklyn, graduating in June 1954. “That was the same month that I met my husband Jesse. We were married in October 1956 and are celebrating our 49th anniversary.”
The couple moved to Brooklyn and both worked for banks and then an insurance company while he attended New York University Graduate School. Their son, Jesse III “Jay”, was born in 1961. In 1964, Jess, an only son, decided it was time to return to Chickasha to start his own insurance business. They arrived in Chickasha on November 19 and have made their home here for the last 41 years.
“I decided in August of 1965 to return to college at OCW/OCLA and work towards a degree in education. I received my BS in 1967. I took my first teaching position that fall with Chickasha Public Schools, working with kindergarten age Head Start children.”
Their only child, Jay, was killed by a teenage driver in June 1968.
“These incidents have impacted my life in many ways and influenced what direction my life would take. I continued with my education wherever I could take classes in child development and early childhood education, receiving my master’s in December 1972. I am truly a life long student and continue to take classes in a variety of subjects.”
She served as project director/associate director at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Child and Family Development, 1987-96. O’Bar was appointed director emeritus for the center in February 1998. Previously to those positions, she worked with Head Start in Chickasha serving as head start director, 1982-87; educational and training coordinator, 1970-82; and teacher for Head Start funded kindergarten, 1967-69. She has served as CDA representative for the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, Washington, D.C., from July 1975 until the present.
O’Bar continues to serve as a consultant. She has done this since 1975 for head start, state and federal government, universities, corporations, public/private schools, and child care programs. She was an adjunct instructor at USAO from 1975 until 1978.
An active community member, she worked on Chickasha’s “All America City” committee in 1972. Recognition of the need for and establishment of day care centers for children of working mothers was one of the three main points in Chickasha’s winning entry in the All-America City contest.
Her numerous awards include Oklahoma “OKIE” Award, Outstanding Italian American Award presented by J.C. Penny’s of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Association on Children Under Six Distinguished Service Award. She was named a delegate to White House Conference on Children.
“Our lives have been blessed with 13 God-children, many nieces and nephews, and their children. Add to them former students and young people, who are an important part of our lives, and our great family and friends,” O’Bar said. “Life has been good.”