Where Are They Now? - Q&A's With Notable Jenks Grads
Phil Lakin - CEO of Tulsa Community Foundation, Tulsa City Councilor
Where is Phil Lakin now? The Jenks grad (Class of 1985) is right here in Tulsa making a difference for the city he loves and the community he calls home. Lakin is the CEO of the Tulsa Community Foundation – the second largest community foundation in the world – and serves as a Tulsa City Councilor representing District 8. When he isn’t climbing mountains, meeting the needs of people and witnessing the overwhelming generosity of Tulsans is what drives Lakin every day. With one son graduated from Jenks and two sons still attending JPS, Lakin readily admits his bias on the greatness of being a Trojan, and is also heavily invested in the success of Jenks’ schools.
What are your fondest memories of attending Jenks High School?
Lakin: Oh, there are so many. I really, really loved high school. I chose to be very involved and was lucky enough to have exceptional friends, many of whom helped to solidify for me a foundation, from which I could grow myself and my life. For real, I think I was happy every day I was in high school. The only thing that I would change is that I wish I would have taken the time to get know more people, more deeply and fully. Facebook has been a life-saver in this regard, because it allows me to go back in time with many of my high school friends and pick up where I left off. It’s given me the chance to see my friends grow up, but also to participate in their successes and struggles. I love that I still get to be part of their lives, because the part of my life that I had while at Jenks is one that I never wanted to end.
Was there one particular teacher or principal who inspired you or made a lasting impact in your life?
Lakin: No, there were three. I love science, and I was lucky enough to have three teachers who stood above most others while I was at Jenks. Dr. Diana Spencer was my toughest teacher by far. But she was also the one who most wanted me to learn. There are very few basic biology questions that I can’t answer, even today, because of her curriculum and earnest teaching style. Dr. Susan Steele was my chemistry teacher. While a remarkable teacher, she simply had the most positive attitude of all, and was always energetic and very engaging. Most importantly, she was a role model for me, in and out of the classroom and was engaged in many of our extracurricular duties, especially Young Life, which will have eternal value to me. And, finally, Frank Duncan. He came in to the classroom everyday ready to engage us every in hands-on, physics-oriented experiments, making learning fun and, again, giving me knowledge that has, so far, lasted a lifetime.
How did you decide to enter the field of civic and community service?
Lakin: I really don’t think it was a conscious decision, but a trait that I was given at birth. Serving others is part of who I am and the importance of putting others before me was nurtured and reinforced by my parents. As you can see from my activities above, I’ve always wanted to have opportunities to assist others, with whatever it is that is needed. My energy comes from doing good for others – it really doesn’t matter how big the task (as a Councilor, I celebrate when I get someone’s trash issues resolved; at TCF, we celebrate when we finish construction of an early childhood center that will provide the very best in education to Tulsa’s youngest and most vulnerable kids).
At Baylor, I learned valuable lessons of humility during my pledge period and membership in a service organization called the Baylor Chamber of Commerce. We worked only at night, under the cover of darkness, organizing various school-wide events, cleaning, painting, and generally make the campus a more beautiful and active place. We didn’t tell people what we did – we just performed the tasks and let the outcome of the tasks be our source of pride. Those lessons for me – during the ages of 19 and 21 – were life-changing and -forming, and the principle of humility, especially in service, is one I work to perfect every single day.
What is the most challenging part of your job as a City Councilor? What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Lakin: Challenges come in the form of meeting so many citizens’ needs, which we can’t always fund. We’ve really strived to build a more efficient government and have done very well in saving dollars to apply more efficiently to other uses. But, even with the savings, we can’t meet the ongoing and increasing needs of our citizens. We can’t provide enough of anything – from police, to street workers, to customer service reps. That’s tough for me, because I want every Tulsan to be satisfied and have their reasonable needs met, and it’s nearly impossible to do so with our limited resources.
As I stated above, I really celebrate the small things. Sure, I love when the voters support the Council’s efforts and pass a major streets or public safety funding package, but I really like helping individuals with their individual needs. When someone’s trash is missed, I can make that person happy by cutting some red tape and having that trash issue go away the same day. When someone encounters a zoning issue, I work very hard to reconcile various interests so that we reach a resolution that is beneficial to both parties.
There is a public perception that government is gridlock and nothing significant changes at the federal, state, or municipal level. What do you think of that perception and how do you ensure the needs of the people are being met?
Lakin: I think gridlock happens at the national and state level because politicians adhere to party platforms, rather than adhering to what they know, in their heart and head, to be right. Politicians need to be public servants and simply vote and act on principles and values. Truth and honor would take much of the gridlock away.
The City isn’t exposed to the same level of partisan politics, and we, as representatives, get to assist people on services that are completely apolitical: trash, property zoning, streets, etc. We do have some efficiency issues, which we try to resolve daily, but limitations of funding and staffing do keep the government from becoming as efficient as the private sector though, believe me, we are trying!
What is the primary purpose of the Tulsa Community Foundation?
Lakin: TCF helps people help people. TCF is a charitable foundation, made up thousands of charitable funds that are created by individuals and corporations. Philanthropists create these charitable funds at TCF, rather than creating their own private foundations. TCF then works with individuals and corporations in making grants to charities that they select. In the interim, we invest the monies, hopefully making it possible for donors to grant even more money to charities that they support. TCF also has a wide variety of other programs it directly provides to the community itself, or through our affiliates, like the George Kaiser Family Foundation – from technology services for nonprofits to constructing the Gathering Place.
As a City Councilor or CEO of the T.C.F., what achievements or initiatives are you most proud of?
Lakin: In this combined role, I’m most proud of the greatly improved relations that have been created between the governmental, corporate, and philanthropic sectors. Before I was elected to serve on the City Council, there was a great deal of mistrust, or hazy understandings and communications, among the three sectors. Tulsa can’t afford for these three sectors to work independently – we must work cooperatively. I think I’ve been able to help to build trust and greatly increase communications. The Council now knows what (and why) the charitable sector is doing to benefit the City, and vice versa. And, the opportunities for co-investment, and co-envisioning, if you will, are countless. Tulsa is on the cusp of being one of America’s greatest cities again, and it’s due to all of us working together toward a common mission and vision. I hope that I’ve been a small contributor to some of what Tulsa has – and will – become.
Why should education become more of a priority for elected officials?
Lakin: Without education, we really have nothing. Our corporations and small businesses have to fill job vacancies with competent and skilled workers. Our citizens need funds to support themselves and their families. The pipeline through which all of these workers come – and all of these wages earned -- is education. If we don’t do education well in Tulsa, then Tulsa will not thrive, and Tulsans will struggle and want for decades to come.
Lakin, a proud Baylor alum, pictured with his family in Waco. (left to right: Alex (sophomore at JHS, Lakin, Brooks (freshman at Baylor), Cooper (6th grader in Jenks), wife Adriane.
What do you feel sets Jenks apart from other public school districts?
Lakin: I’m way, way too biased. Jenks will always be the best, because it’s all I will ever know. Aside from this obvious conflict in providing an unbiased answer, I think Jenks is positioned apart from other districts because we are able to hire exceptional teachers, and those teachers (and principals) demand exceptional teaching from each other. I also think we pull from a base of kids that, in large part, has exceptional family dynamics, which are so important for kids’ well-being and studies. Most of our Jenks kids have two-parent households where parents are engaged in studies and extra-curricular activities. I have participated in countless school activities, from Dynamic Dads to sports, and I’m always blown away by the number of parents who make it a priority to be present in the lives of their kids. My wish is that every kid, everywhere in this City, has the same kind of support structure and encouragement. We’re mighty lucky and blessed to have what we do at Jenks.
How did you become such a big fan of Indy Car Racing and the Indy 500?
Lakin: My Dad grew up in California, which was also the home of many of the Indycar drivers in the 50’s. He and his Mom would listen to the race on the radio and root for their hometown heroes. In 1982 (when I was 13), Dad walked into the living room and told me this story and said he really wanted me to see the race in person. I was all in. We hoped in the van and drove to Indy, with no tickets in hand. He bought tickets from a scalper outside of the track and we watched one of the most memorable races in all of Indy’s history – Rick Mears pursued Gordon Johncock for countless laps, only to catch him and to nearly beat him in the end. At that time, it was the closest finish in Indy history. We haven’t missed a race since 1982, and we’ve taken JHS friends of mine, my grandfather, my uncle, my cousins, and now my three sons (making it a four generation deal). We took my Mom and sister once as well. Once.
Three generations of Lakin men attending the Indianapolis 500.
According to your City Council profile, you are an avid hiker and mountaineer. If you could hike anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Lakin: I’ve been lucky enough to climb all 54 of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado, and am about half way through the ones in California as well. If I climb 9 more 14ers, I’ll have climbed them all in the continental US. I’ve also been lucky enough to trek to Everest Base Camp, as well as climb Cotopaxi in Ecuador and the Matterhorn in Switzerland. The Matterhorn, which I climbed this July, was at the very top of my bucket list. To date, it is the hardest mountain I’ve summited, mainly because of the element of time – there are strict turnaround times (if we weren’t on top by a certain time, we would have had to turn around, without summiting). I really don’t know where I want to go next. A little piece of my heart stayed in Nepal though, during my Everest trek. I found the people there to be among the most humble, gentle, and peaceful I have ever met. My experience there was surreal, and I may have never been more focused and more at peace than when I was walking through the valleys, surrounded by God’s creation, in a place where, for me, all of the world’s mountains were “born.” There are lots of mountains to climb in Nepal. Hopefully, I’ll get to go back soon!
Lakin's passion for mountain climbing has taken him all over the world and to the top of some of the highest peaks in the U.S.
What is next for you personally and professionally?
Lakin: I absolutely love what I get to do every single day. I pray that nothing changes, actually. For almost two decades, I haven’t ever woken up in the morning where I’ve ever thought I was going to “work.” I simply get to go to an office, into our community, and do what I love to do. And I get paid for it too, which is pretty important, in the grand scheme of things…