By Conrad Dudderar
A Yukon state legislator wanted to address a group of local military members and first responder as, in her words, a “grateful citizen.”
“I’m taking my title and putting it away, because that is not important,” State Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) said. “What is important is honoring you.
“I represent many constituents who value the service that you have done. I get to be the lucky one who speaks for all of them.”
Baker, who represents Yukon in House District 60, was the featured speaker for a “Hometown Heroes” reception on Oct. 8 at the Yukon Veterans Museum, 1012 W Main.
The ceremony coincided with the official kick-off for Yukon 66 Main Street’s annual “Yukon Salutes” banner project.
“Thank you for what you do,” Rep. Baker told active and retired military and emergency responders. “We are very blessed for the sacrifices you have made.”
Among special honorees at the reception was State Rep. Jay Steagall, a retired U.S. Air Force major who represents Yukon in District 43.
Rep. Baker thanked all first responders and military personnel who are “truly on the front lines, making sure our country is the greatest in the nation.”
Elected this summer to a fourth term, Baker expressed how much the Oklahoma Legislature and its 22-member Veterans Caucus support the military.
Just this past year, lawmakers passed legislation that will eliminate state income taxes on retirement pay for Oklahoma veterans.
The Legislature also voted to allocate federal stimulus funds to an Oklahoma National Guard hospital to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“We believe strongly in giving back to those who have sacrificed so much so that we can live and breathe,” Baker said.
Echoing her fellow legislators and constituents, Baker shared several two-word messages – “thank you, “in gratitude” and “with appreciation.”
“However I say it, please know it is with genuine, heartfelt emotion,” she added.
The guest speaker closed her remarks by sharing a quote from President Abraham Lincoln:
“Honor to the solder and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as best he can, the same cause.”
Yukon Salutes’ event coordinator Kay Casper, vice president of the Yukon Main Street board, introduced Rep. Baker as the guest speaker for the opening reception. Casper and Baker taught school together in Yukon.
Yukon Veterans Museum chaplain Jerry Stafford gave the invocation and Yukon High School 10th grader Ronin Kinet led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Rick Cacini, founder and curator of the Yukon Veterans Museum, said it is a privilege to salute all Yukon military members and veterans every day – and especially during “Veterans Appreciation Month.”
Cacini acknowledged the dedicated service of four Yukon veterans:
- Jay Steagall: A senior pilot of a KC-135 tanker, Maj. (ret.) Steagall deployed in service to the U.S. nine times during a 22-year military career. He served with the Oklahoma Air National Guard through May 2016 and the U.S. Air Force Reserves at Tinker Air Force Base until retiring in 2019. A member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Steagall was elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2022 to represent District 43.
- Jack Hinton: A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Hinton served from 1945 to 1952 in the U.S. Navy and Air Force Merchant Marines. That was followed by a lifetime of service with the American Red Cross and other first responder organizations.
- Mike Geers: Capt. Geers served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967-71 as a combat engineer. A Vietnam War veteran, he was an ambassador to the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Geers died June 8, 2022.
- Tom Thomas: A past Yukon “Veteran of the Year,” Thomas served in the U.S. Air Force from 1970-76, retiring after a civilian career at Tinker AFB. He was an active member of the Yukon Veterans Museum. Thomas died June 13, 2022.