TAHLEQUAH - If you're downtown early enough, you might see her taking a morning walk down the Tahlequah's Main Street, stopping to pick up debris along the way. Those who recognize Pam Williams know this reflects her desire to keep Tahlequah an attractive, dynamic place to live and work.
But what they may not know is this mother and grandmother - known to many as Northeastern State University's First Lady - also has a soft spot in her heart for the city's youth and has extended her concern for quality of life to help make downtown more user-friendly for skateboarders looking for a place to enjoy their sport.
When she first became aware that business owners downtown were unhappy with youth skateboarding in front of their stores and on downtown sidewalks, Williams stood up for the young people and started searching for solutions.
"Through her affiliation with Boys and Girls Club, Pam opened her ears to the youth of the community and this is what she has heard: skate park," said Brad Williams, her son.
"She has become a lobbyist for the youth to the community. In fact, Williams researched and traveled over several states to inspect and evaluate skate parks, and has written and applied for several grants," he said. "The youth of Tahlequah are ecstatic that the skate park has finally become a reality."
Williams "stuck her neck out" for a cause she was passionate about, which earned her the Oklahoma Community Institute\'d5s Award for Excellence for Community Leadership this spring. One of two individuals chosen from a field of statewide nominees, she received a recognition plaque, along with a check for $1,000 for the non-profit organization of her choice, sponsored by Reynolds Ford and the Oklahoma Community Institute.
Not surprisingly, Williams chose to donate her award to the city of Tahlequah for construction of the new Tahlequah Skate Park, located adjacent to Town Branch Creek. At a recent Tahlequah City Council meeting, Williams was formally recognized for her presentation of a $1,000 check to Mayor Ken Purdy.
"I was thrilled and surprised first of all to win this award, and I am so happy to have the chance to help the kids in our community," Williams said. "Without a skate park, they were literally out on the streets, and all they really want is somewhere to go and do what they enjoy. What I've done is just a small part, but I hope it helps."
Since she moved here in 1997, Williams has set the standard for community volunteerism. Soon after she arrived in Tahlequah, Northeastern State University's First Lady began talking with community members about her ideas for a downtown beautification plan. Her vision included a Trail of Tears Walkway, a unique and fitting tribute to the town\'d5s history and culture. Today, the Trail is under construction, thanks to Williams' commitment to securing private donations of land and at least $100,000 to start the project.
"It was Pam Williams whose passion for history and respect for the Cherokee culture was a catalyst to acquire this community-changing grant," said former Tahlequah Mayor Jerry Cook. "In the near future, the walk will provide a cultural link between the past and the future for Tahlequah, NSU, and the Cherokee Nation."
Williams' devotion to community development, spanning two decades, includes in-state economic development work with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and owning her own small business, KOBS Consulting. Before moving to Tahlequah, she was Director of the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce and Office of Economic Development. Throughout her career, she has been honored for outstanding service through both appointments and awards. In 1988, Williams was named to the U.S. Small Business Administration Region VI Council. She was named the 1991 U.S. Small Business Administration "Women in Business Advocate of the Year." In 1998, she was appointed by Governor Frank Keating to the Capital Formation Board for the State of Oklahoma. And in 2001, Speaker Larry Adair appointed Williams to the State of Oklahoma Council of Bond Oversight, a five-member board responsible for the review and approval of all borrowings by state agencies, authorities, and trusts.
Her association with Main Street began back in Durant, and she immediately took an active role in Tahlequah's Main Street program. Through her leadership, the city of Tahlequah and other community agencies have worked together to revive and renovate the town\'d5s historic district.
"Tahlequah's Main Street district has always been beautiful, but to walk the streets today, you can feel the sense of pride in the air, from the community and the business owners," Williams said.
Her positive attitude and high energy are credited with giving Tahlequah's downtown renewed vitality.
"Her efforts can be seen, felt, and tasted in the new shops and restaurants that have opened, and when you stroll along our street and have a place to sit down on our beautiful park benches," said Barbara Abercrombie, who has held the positions of Main Street director and executive director of the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce.
In terms of economic development, Williams' deep commitment has made the strongest impact through the Tahlequah Industrial Trust Authority, through which she has worked successfully with other community leaders to bring almost 1,000 new jobs to the area.
"Through her tireless efforts, Pam Williams has brought new prosperity to countless individuals and our community," said Roy Cartwright, chair of the Tahlequah Industrial Authority.
Her other affiliations in her adopted hometown of Tahlequah include Oklahoma Center for Rural Development, NSU Sequoyah Institute, American Association of University Women, and NSU Students in Free Enterprise. Most recently, Williams has taken an active role in spearheading Tahlequah's first-ever Red Fern Festival, an official Oklahoma Centennial Celebration, scheduled for late April 2007.
"I'm excited that so many members of the community are joining together to make this event happen," she said. "The opportunity to hold a Red Fern Festival is uniquely Tahlequah's. I think it will be a fun way to create a new tradition for the town that will create a sense of pride in what we are and what we have to offer."
When she isn't involved in community activities or fulfilling her official duties as NSU's First Lady, Williams enjoys gardening, boating, jogging, and spending time with her husband, Dr. Larry Williams, and their five children and four grandchildren.