In Memory: Raymond B. Ackerman
October 23, 2012
Oklahoma City civic leader and visionary Ray Ackerman, 90, died October 17, 2012. Ackerman’s inspiration was fundamental to the Boathouse District development initiative and helped lead the effort to revitalize Oklahoma City’s downtown and nearby Bricktown, which are now a vibrant hotel, restaurant and sports and entertainment center.
The development has seen the construction of two boathouses, the Chesapeake Boathouse and the Devon Boathouse, and the state-of-the-art Chesapeake Finish Line Tower. Oklahoma City is home to OCU rowing and canoe/kayak programs, OKC Riversport, the OKC National High Performance Center and the USRowing Training Center – Oklahoma City.
“Admiral Ray was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me and to the development of the Oklahoma River, among many other OKC initiatives,” said Oklahoma City Riversport Executive Director Mike Knopp. “His impact is appreciated every day by the hundreds of kids and families who enjoy the river and he will always be a part of the further dynamic development of OKC as a true ‘River City.’
“’Old Man River’ will be greatly missed, but I get to enjoy Ray greeting us at the river each day with his wonderful bronze statue, while he is surely smiling from above as he sees a vibrant river alive with activity.”
Ackerman was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on August 7, 1922, and moved to Oklahoma City in 1947 after five years in the U.S. Navy with last duty as a fighter pilot. Following five years as an advertising salesman with the Daily Oklahoman while earning a degree at night at Oklahoma City University (OCU), he joined a staff of four at the George W. Knox Advertising Agency, now Ackerman McQueen.
Ackerman married Lucille Frances Flanagan of OKC in 1948 and they have six living children, 11 grandchildren, and one great grandson.
In 1954 he bought the agency from Mr. Knox and over the next 16 years, built it from $250,000 to $6 million in billings. In the early 1970s, he was joined by the father-and-son team of Marvin and Angus McQueen and under their combined leadership the agency grew from handling only local accounts to serving major accounts such as the National Rifle Association, Daisy Air Rifles, Nocona Boots, Resistol Hats, Food and Wines of France, Droste Chocolates (Holland), Pizza Hut (regional), Sheraton Hotels (10 markets).
When Ackerman retired from active leadership and became Chairman Emeritus of the agency in 1992, it was billing $92 million and is now over $200 million, the largest agency headquartered in Oklahoma and ranked in the top 2 percent of all U.S. agencies. Other offices besides the headquarters in OKC are in Tulsa, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Colorado Springs.
Ackerman was President of the OKC Ad Club in 1954, received its Distinguished Service Award in 1964, and was honored with the AAF Silver Medal Award in 1982. He served as President of the Southwest Council of 4A's, as a member of the 4A's Board of Directors and its Committee on Government Relations. In 1982 he was selected by the 4A's to be the small agency member of a People-to-People delegation to lecture on advertising in five cities in China. In 1974-75 he served as International President of Worldwide Partners, an affiliation of ad agencies in the U.S. and 60 international cities. On November 11, 2008, he was one of the inaugural class of eight elected to the American Advertising Federations Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame.
After five years of active duty in the Navy, he spent 30 more years in the Naval Reserve, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. He commanded both a Jet Fighter Squadron and the Air Wing Staff at Dallas Naval Air Station. He served as State President and National Director of the Navy League and as National President for two years, 1969-71, of the Naval Reserve Association. In 2007, he was awarded the George Washington Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge and was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
Ackerman has a long history of public service in OKC, having served as general chairman of the National Finals Rodeo for 20 years and as chairman or president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, Allied Arts, Kirkpatrick Museum Center, St. Anthony Hospital Foundation, Better Business Bureau, Salvation Army, Science Museum of Oklahoma and Rotary Club 29. He also served on the boards of these organizations for many years, plus Red Earth, the Volunteer Center, the Oklahoma Heritage Association, the Oklahoma City Public School Foundation, Junior Achievement, Redlands Council of Girl Scouts, Urban League, Mercy Hospital, Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts, and Quail Creek Golf and Country Club. He led the annual fundraising drives for the Chamber, Allied Arts and the United Way, being active on the latter's drive for 59 consecutive years.
For 20 plus years, Ackerman served on the Board of Trustees of OCU, was honored with the University's School of Business Outstanding Award in 1964, as a Distinguished Alumnus in 1991, and with an honorary PhD in Commercial Science in 1996. Ackerman is listed in "Who's Who in America."
Ackerman was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1993 and into the Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Honor in 1998. He has been honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the United Way, Oklahoma City Beautiful, Leadership Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University's Hall of Honor and the National Association of Fundraising Executives. Other awards include the Pathmaker from Oklahoma City/County Historical Society, Humanitarian of the Year from Oklahoma County Arthritis Foundation, Dean A. McGee Award from Downtown OKC, and the Archbishop Beltran Community Service Award. In 2000, he was elected to the International Academy of Achievement of Sales and Marketing Executives and in 2003 was selected as a "Father of the Year" by the Oklahoma City Chapter of the American Diabetes Association. In 2004, he and his wife Lou were selected by the OK Health Center Foundation as Oklahoma "Living Treasures for Tomorrow."
Ackerman served on the Board of Directors of LSB, Inc. from 1992-2011. In 1993, the Greater OKC Chamber established the Ray Ackerman Award to be given annually to the person voted as the leading volunteer in service to the Chamber. In 2004, the United Way of Central Oklahoma established the Ray Ackerman Leadership Award to be given annually for outstanding leadership.
The Governor’s Art Award was presented to him in 2000, primarily as the co-visionary of the world’s longest sculpture of the Run of 1889 with 45 heroic-sized figures. Originally planned for a World's Fair in 1989, which was canceled, the idea was resurrected in 1999 for the Centennial of Statehood in 2007. The sculptures now reside along the Bricktown Canal.
Ackerman’s enthusiasm for his adopted state resulted in his authoring "Tomorrow Belongs to Oklahoma", a review of the State's exciting past and promising future. In 2003, the Oklahoma Heritage Association published his biography, "Old Man River", by Bob Burke with Joan Gilmore. The title, an honorary one that was given him by the OKC Chamber, came from the fact he was the person who got the development of the North Canadian River and a canal from it to the Myriad Gardens, through Bricktown, the most popular tourism area in the city. They are part of the nine venues in the Chamber's "Vision of a New Frontier", a plan to improve the quality of life in OKC. The mayor renamed the plan, MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) and in December 1993, the voters passed a five-year 1-cent sales tax to fund it.
After an 11 year effort led by Ackerman, the Legislature renamed seven miles of the river through OKC as the Oklahoma River, signed into law by the Governor on May 21, 2004.
Ackerman was a member of St. Eugene Catholic Church, the Fortune Club, Rotary Club 29 and Quail Creek Golf & Country Club. In 2009, he received the Visionary Leadership Award from Keep Oklahoma Beautiful. On April 20, 2012 a statue of Ray in Regatta Park was dedicated to him as “Old Man River” and the visionary of the Oklahoma River and the Bricktown Canal.
He is preceded in death by: his father, Charles Raymond Ackerman and his mother, Teresa Jane Grasinger Ackerman of Oklahoma City; his brother, David Karl Ackerman of Bethesda, MD; a sister, Catherine "Kit" Winkler and her husband William F. of Oklahoma City; and a daughter, Beth Ackerman.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Lucille "Lou" Frances Flanagan Ackerman of the home; daughter and husband Patricia Ann and Mike Mehring of Redmond, WA and grandson Jason Conley and wife Jennifer and great grandson Trent Conley of Bradenton, FL; daughter and husband Ann Carol and Ron Adams and granddaughter Elizabeth Veronica "Evie" Adams of Dallas, TX; son Rev. Ray K. Ackerman of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; daughter and husband Susan Marie and Douglas Fuller and grandchildren Alexander Douglas and Alyssa Marie "Lissy" Fuller of Oklahoma City; son and wife Mark and Deanna Ackerman and grandchildren Raymond Bryan and Samantha Riley Ackerman of Oklahoma City; daughter Amy Lou Ackerman Shaver and grandchildren Sophie Elizabeth, Lucy Bernadette, Henry Maximilian, Annie Clare and Lily Therese Shaver of Oklahoma City; sister, Mary Frances Veeck, Chicago; sister-in-law Marjorie Ackerman, Bethesda, MD; and numerous nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested for the new Church at St. Eugene or the United Way of Metro Oklahoma.
USRowing is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. USRowing’s official suppliers include Boathouse Sports, Vespoli, WinTech, Filippi, Croker Oars, Rudy Project, Concept2, Nielsen Kellerman, PowerHTV and Ludus Tours. USRowing also receives generous support from the National Rowing Foundation and its corporate sponsors and partners ANXeBusiness Corp, Voxer, EZ Dock, EMCVenues, Whole Foods and One Equity Partners. For more information, visit www.usrowing.org. The USRowing National Team program relies on strong partnerships to enable continued success. New opportunities exist to support the teams through the next quadrennial, culminating with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. America Rows, which supports diversity in rowing and the USRowing adaptive programs also benefit from corporate support. For more information, please contact Beth Kohl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allison Frederick, photos courtesy of NewsOK.com