Mike Thralls Retirement Reception
Current and former staff, friends, partners, and national dignitaries gathered on September 4, 2014 to honor the career and celebrate the retirement of executive director Mike Thralls. Thralls served as executive director for 17 years—longer than any other director. His leadership and vision have left an indelible mark on conservation both in Oklahoma and nationally, and were summed as “legendary” by former assistant director Ben Pollard.
Prior to formal presentations, guests met in the atrium of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF) for photos and to share memories of Mike’s time with the Commission over cake and punch. Formal presentations were delivered next door in the more intimate ODAFF laboratory atrium.
The proceedings were emceed by assistant director Robert W. Toole. Following opening prayer with Oklahoma Conservation Commissioner (OCC) Scotty Herriman, Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb presented a Governor’s Commendation from the office of Governor Mary Fallin. Lieutenant Governor Lamb moved the audience with touching memories of his personal relationship with the Thralls family.
Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese presented a gift card on behalf of ODAFF. He emphasized that the money was not to be used for farm equipment or tools, but for Mike and his family to spend time together.
Other presentations included a Congressional Commendation from the office of Representative Frank Lucas, a commendation from State Senator Ron Justice, a Conservation Commission Commendation presented by Commission Chairman Karl Jett, and a trophy presented by Thomas G. Coon, Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (OSU DASNR) Vice President.
Unable to attend in person, Ben Pollard addressed the audience via pre-recorded video, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Gary O’Neill presented Mike with framed historical photos of the Oklahoma land run. These were especially meaningful because the Thralls family still owns land originally claimed during that time. To roars of laughter, National Association of State Conservation Agencies (NASCA) executive director Mike Brown presented Mike with a Yoda figure from the Star Wars films. The unconventional presentation was part of an inside joke the two had established during their years of work together.
Speeches and memories were also delivered by John Larson, executive director of National Association of Conservation Districts, Rich Duesterhaus, executive director of National Conservation District Employees Association, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts President Kim Farber, and Representative Tom Cole.
Christina Richard, President of Oklahoma Association of Conservation District Employees, presented Mike with a commemorative plaque, and Greg Kloxin, OCC Water Quality Division assistant director, delivered a book of letters and a gift card collected from Commission staff, partners, and friends.
At the close of the ceremony, 12 of the 19 Conservation Commissioners Mike had served under gathered before the audience to present him with a plaque engraved with the name of each commissioner he had served under.
Earlier that morning, at the September meeting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Commissioners named Lisa Knauf Owen, operations chief, as interim executive director while a national search and interviews are conducted for a permanent executive director.
Download PDF of reception program.