Cover story: OCU fundraiser will showcase wit of Mike Turpen

(Cover: Christopher Street / Photography: Mark Hancock)

(Cover: Christopher Street / Photography: Mark Hancock)

It took less than two minutes. William Smith stopped halfway from the exit at VZD’s Restaurant & Club after a Saturday brunch to say hello to longtime friend Mike Turpen. Turpen riffled through catch-up subjects, grown children and business ventures. He made direct eye contact. With every question, he pointed or touched Smith’s arm.

The cantor of his voice blended with his gestures, blurring the line between engaging and hypnotic.

“While I got you here, let me tell you about this event we’re doing at OCU,” Turpen said. And that was it.

On Aug. 15, Oklahoma City University (OCU) and Oklahoma Historical Society are hosting an evening with Turpen, showcasing Turpen’s new book, Turpen Time: The Wit and Wisdom of Mike Turpen, while raising funds for the university’s Clara Luper Scholarship Program at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zudhi Drive.

With the donation from Smith of W.M. Smith Energy, LLC, the campaign has raised more than $150,000.

“Have your money raised on the front end,” Turpen said. “Sales, fundraising, it’s the transference of belief. Often, people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They’re just waiting to be asked.”

This falls in line with his mantra, “The more you give, the more you have,” an aphorism that also serves as a preface to one of the chapters in his new book.

Left, Mike Turpen with OCU President Robert Henry.  OCU will host an evening with Mike Turpen, a roast/toast Mike Turpen Time book review to benefit the OCU Clara Luper Scholarship Fund.  (Mark Hancock)h

Left, Mike Turpen with OCU President Robert Henry. OCU will host an evening with Mike Turpen, a roast/toast Mike Turpen Time book review to benefit the OCU Clara Luper Scholarship Fund. (Mark Hancock)h

Each chapter begins with a one-liner or terse saying that has struck a cord with Turpen. He said his love of rhetoric and giving spirit stem from his mother. “Her screen door sprung open on welcome hinges. She didn’t just take care of her family; she took care of the whole neighborhood,” he said.

Turpen writes of a childhood of figure skating — not just ice-skating, not hockey, he stressed — up through managing the fundraising campaign for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election. The journey’s reward, whether resulting in epiphany or reframing humor, anchors the work.

A former district attorney for the state of Oklahoma and a democratic candidate for governor in the 1986 election, he now spends his time as a private practice lawyer, a political commentator on Flashpoint and a fund-raiser.

Due to his myriad commitments, he spent close to four years writing the book.

“Sleep is overrated,” he said. “You know what successful people say? They say, ‘T.G.I.M.,’ thank God it’s Monday.”

Sitting across from Turpen during the lunch interview, nodding in agreement, was Robert Henry.

Henry now serves as OCU’s president and CEO. He has been close friends with Turpen since 1986, when he was campaigning to be Turpen’s successor as district attorney.

Henry said he was moved by Turpen’s character the first time he met him.

“He was coming off a losing run for the Democratic candidate for governor. His campaign was $100,000 in debt, and there he was, at my fundraiser, writing me a check for $500,” Henry said. “All he asked was that I take care of his staff.”

When Henry and Turpen are together, they come across as living, breathing literary foils to one another. Turpen is tall and boisterous, and Henry is of average height and soft-spoken.

“He’s my straight man,” Turpen jokes. “We’re ironing out our material for the 15th.”

When Turpen’s book was published, Henry wanted to do something for his friend.

“Mike being Mike,” Henry said, “it wasn’t enough to host an event just about the book. He wanted it to be a fundraiser for our scholarship fund.”

Clara Luper, the eponym of the fund, was a longtime Oklahoma educator and activist best known for her role in the 1958 sit-in campaign at the Katz drug store in downtown Oklahoma City. She and members of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, sat down at the counter and ordered sodas. They not only were refused service but were also spat upon by white patrons.

“She won by being dignified,” Henry said. “She was our Rosa Parks.” The scholarship fund benefits outstanding students who would otherwise not be able to attend the university because of socioeconomic status.

The fundraising event features a dinner, musical performances from OCU students, toasting, roasting and Turpen reading excerpts from his book.

Tickets are $50. To make reservations, visit okcu.edu/TurpenTime or call 208-5402.

 


An evening with Mike Turpen

6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday Aug. 15

Oklahoma History Center
800 Nazih Zudhi Drive.
okcu.edu/TurpenTime
208-5402
$50


Print Headline: Legal ease, Mike Turpen’s new book will be showcased at OCU to raise scholarship funds.

Josh Hutton

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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