Friends gathered on Sunday to honor the life of longtime Chickasha leader Curtis Brooks, center, who helped to establish the USAO Foundation in 1977. From left are Dr. Michael Nealeigh, USAO vice president for advancement and executive director of the USAO Foundation; Donna Settlemires, manager of the USAO Showband; Brooks; and Joe Settlemires, Grammy-nominated composer, guitarist and director of the USAO Showband. The event was a surprise party for Brooks’ 88th birthday on Jan. 9.




If the USAO Foundation had a founder, by most accounts it would be Curtis Brooks, veteran banker and community leader who signed the charter documents – with others – in 1977 that created the growing university-related foundation in Chickasha. A surprise 88th birthday party on Sunday afternoon drew 150 friends to the USAO Student Center Ballroom, a gathering sponsored by the Foundation, along with USAO Showband Director Joe Settlemires and his wife, Donna.

“When the Settlemires suggested a birthday reception for Curtis Brooks, I felt it was a great idea,” said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement. “Not only has Curtis and his family been consistent supporters of the University but Curtis was one of the three local businessmen who signed the charter establishing the USAO Foundation in 1977. Of course he later chaired the Foundation Board of Trustees several times, and his support has spanned our entire 31 years.”

Guests came from all over the county and beyond to honor Brooks, retired chairman and CEO of the First National Bank in Chickasha. Live entertainment was provided by the Joe Settlemires Quartet and the USAO Showband, which Brooks has supported with private gifts and encouraged others to do the same.

“Of all the men I admire most, Curtis Brooks is certainly in the top three,” said Joe Settlemires. His support of the university, its music department, and the Showband, is profoundly appreciated. He’s been a kind friend and mentor. His service to the university deserves special commendation.”

Along with Curtis Brooks’ signature, the Foundation’s articles of incorporation were signed by two other dedicated local leaders, the late Charles Allen Sr., who owned the Ford dealership, and Lindel Pettigrew, president of Chickasha Bank and Trust.

“Curtis Brooks is an anchor to this institution in more ways than people know,” said USAO President John Feaver. “When we faced instability in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was Curtis Brooks who led the local charge to strengthen and build – rather than redefine – the university. Curtis is a fierce defender of everything that is good for our community and region.”

With barely $25,000 in gifts that first year, the USAO Foundation grew slowly through the 1970s and ‘80s, while providing limited support for scholarships and capital projects. The Foundation reached its first million dollars in endowments in 1996, and reached $9 million last year. Together with the USAO Alumni Association, the combined, invested assets supporting USAO now exceed $11 million. Since 2000, scholarship support – direct aid to students – from the USAO Foundation has jumped from $35,000 annually to more than $450,000.

“We’ve come a long way,” Nealeigh said. “Local leaders with vision have helped to make that possible.”

Curtis A. Brooks was born in 1921 in Paoli, Okla. He grew up in Pauls Valley, served in the military in World War II, and eventually settled in banking, first in Enid, then Norman, and finally in Chickasha in 1950. He earned his degree from Oklahoma A&M College (now OSU).

His wife of 65 years, the late Gwen DeVere Brooks, also supported local institutions, the arts, and early childhood education causes. She died in July 2007. Together they raised four children, including son Pat Brooks, Chickasha banker and chairman of the board for First National Bank; daughter Nancy Smith of Chickasha; daughter Joyce Brooks Murray of Gig Harbor, Wash.; and son (the late) Mike Brooks.

During his more than 50 years in local banking, Brooks served on a dozen local boards, including the Boy Scouts, Chamber, Rotary, YMCA, United Way, Girl Scouts, OSU Alumni chapter, League of Women Voters, Downtown Merchants Association, Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, local parent teacher association, and more.

More than 20 members of Brooks’ family came from as far away as Pittsburgh, Penn., and Wauna, Wash., to join the surprise event.

“This is a marvelous honor and a wonderful surprise,” Brooks told the crowd. Among the many guests was Brooks’ great-granddaughter, Amelia Gwen Schultz of Pittsburgh.