A person can drive through all of LeFlore County and not find one person who will say a negative thing about the late Dr. John Montgomery.
That claim comes from Wesley Hooks, president of the LeFlore County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Hooks and the other members of his organization will host their sixth annual Dr. John Montgomery Scholarship Banquet at 6 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center, 105 Reynolds Ave. in Poteau.
The all-ages event honors the late Montgomery, who helped organize the LeFlore County NAACP and was one of the area's "most important" individuals, Hooks said.
"His influence is still felt throughout Poteau and LeFlore County," Hooks said of Montgomery, who passed away at age 97 in 2014. "Dr. Montgomery served people regardless of who they were. Dr. Montgomery's voice was about bringing people together and bridging the gap so that there aren't racial or color barriers."
The upcoming banquet also will feature guest speaker Sue Ann Arnall, a Poteau High School graduate and energy industry veteran who "achieved many milestones" for Continental Resources Inc., and will award seven scholarships to area high school graduates, he said.
"We are expecting 150 to 200 people to attend the banquet, because we've been averaging 125 to 130 people each time," Hooks said. "We've had great partnerships with Poteau, Fort Smith and the surrounding communities. The word on this is strong, and we're glad."
Those attending will be able to relate to Arnall, who launched a lawsuit to protect the assets of Continental Resources and won a $30 million judgement, he said. That judgement, at that time, was the largest punitive damage award in Oklahoma, Hooks said.
One who now lives in Oklahoma City and travels frequently, Arnall also ran a successful commodity trading desk, earning a profit of more than $5 million annually, and she pioneered what industry insiders call the first successful large-scale rail transportation of oil from the wellhead to the refinery, according to Arnall's bio sheet.
Arnall also founded the Arnall Family Foundation, which focuses on prison reform, foster children and animal welfare. Since the summer of 2016, she has donated more than $30 million to her causes, and she remains focused on lowering the incarceration rate for African-American men, Arnall's bio sheet states.
"Miss Arnall is a product of Poteau, and she's good friends with Mildred Randolph, Dr. Montgomery's daughter," Hooks said. "Miss Arnall will be with us to help promote our young people and give them an opportunity for higher learning."
Randolph agreed. She has known Arnall since they both were 5 years old and calls her her best friend.
"We both graduated from Poteau High School in 1974, and Sue is all about justice and equality," Randolph said. "Her foundation is all about helping people who didn't get a fair shot, and I admire what she's done for foster kids.
"When foster children turn 18, they fall through the cracks because the state cuts them off," she added. "Sue Ann partners with DHS to help give foster kids a safety net."
Arnall also has done "a lot of work" for causes that champion autism awareness and the need for clean water, Randolph said.
"Sue Ann Arnall knew my parents well," she said. "She knows the things my dad stood for, and it's reflected in some of her philanthropic work."
The banquet also will serve as the opportunity for organizers to award seven scholarships, Hooks said.
"We're not sure exactly how much the scholarships will be at this very moment — we are still figuring that out, and we'll know soon," he said.
This year's winners will be from Poteau, Fort Smith, North Little Rock and Gans, among other areas, Hooks said. Scholarship applications are available each year at oklahomawelcome.com.
"For the scholarships, we look at the students regarding the qualifications, like GPA, ACT score, community service and references," Hooks said. "Students also have to write a 700-word essay about what serving mankind means to them and how it's important.
"Serving mankind also was very important to Dr. Montgomery," he added.
A Henderson, Texas, native who lived in Poteau, Montgomery helped end segregation and bridge racial gaps in the area, Hooks said. Montgomery's efforts helped open many doors for minorities living in Oklahoma and Arkansas, he said.
Montgomery also was credited with helping revolutionize preventative care in the veterinarian-medicine field, an area where he worked from 1952 until his retirement in 1988, Hooks said.
"He worked for many years in Poteau and was an important part of this community," he said.
Montgomery graduated from Prairie View A&M University and later joined the U.S. Army, serving as a sergeant first class in World War II. He obtained his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tuskegee University before working a year in Mexico.
In 1951, Montgomery and his wife, Doris, moved to Poteau, where Montgomery would practice veterinary medicine and act as a mentor to numerous young veterinarians. He introduced preventative medicine to several area farmers, including herd certification, artificial insemination and preventative treatment for a tick-borne bacteria known as anaplasmosis, according to Montgomery's obituary that ran in the Times Record in 2014.
"Dr. Montgomery wanted to make it where everyone has the same opportunity to live, learn and work," Hooks said. "That is the kind of great man Dr. Montgomery was here in LeFlore County."