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1935 Orval 2024

Orval Bridges

February 6, 1935 — June 30, 2024

Orval Dean Bridges was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on February 6, 1935, he departed this Earth for his Heavenly home on June 30, 2024, in Haslet, Texas in the presence of his beloved wife Veralyn and his oldest son Kenny; he was 89 years young.


Service: 11:00 A.M. Saturday, July 6, 2024 at First Assembly of God Church, 114 Porter Drive, Azle, TX 76020.

Burial will be in Tahlequah City Cemetery, on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 at 10:00 AM with military honors.


In lieu of flowers Memorials may be made to Tahlequah Public School, High School Scholarship Fund. Send to: Tahlequah Public Schools, PO Box 517, Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465, Attention: Tanya Jones.


He leaves behind his wife, Veralyn; three sons: Kenny 65 and wife, Cheryl (Tahlequah), Brent 64 and wife, Heather (Pryor), and Scott 60 (Tahlequah); and one daughter, Angie Kelley 45 and husband, Matt, (Haslet Texas); 12 Grandchildren, and 23 Great Grandchildren---their PaPa Dean was cherished by them all.


Dean grew up in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the second son of Jesse Gee Smith and Bess Burl Bridges, in a two-room shack on Ward Street that his parents rented for $5 a month. They were poor, but that shaped his life in such a way that he worked tirelessly to make a life for himself, his family, and many others along the way, always lifting up those who were underserved and in need. His heart was as big as Texas.


As a young child he mowed lawns with an old non-motorized push mower that was nearly as tall as he was. He hand-set pins at the Tahlequah bowling alley, threw newspapers, worked in a print shop, a chair factory, and a grocery store, helping his mother make ends meet. He attended compulsory school in Tahlequah until he was 17 when he traveled to Yuma, Arizona to work in the scorching sun running a jackhammer on a construction crew for one summer. He came back and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to live with his older brother of nine years, O. Fred Bridges. He graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1953. He later earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Northeastern State College (now NSU), in Tahlequah. He was also a private pilot and loved his little Cessna 140 tail-dragger.


Dean Served his country as a member of The Big Red 1 Infantry division of the US Army, spending nearly two years in Germany. Returning to Tahlequah, he bought Munden Photography Studio, located on Main Street in Tahlequah, from his Stepfather and was later elected mayor, at 28, as the youngest mayor in the state of Oklahoma, serving three terms, from 1963 - 1969. His success in politics was largely attributed to his close ties with citizens of the Cherokee Nation. He was an adopted member of the Cherokee Nation as well as the Choctaw Nation and was close friends with no less than five Chiefs from those two Tribes, and was named Honorary Chief of the Chickasaw Nation by his friend, Chief Overton James.


His networking talents and forward-thinking innovative ideas as mayor resulted in numerous joint projects between the City of Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation, and the College including the NSU stadium, The Bertha Parker Bypass, expansion of Downing Street into a four lane, and many others. One Cherokee Chief said of Dean, "he was way ahead of his time."


Later Dean worked as the Director of the Community Action Program in Pawnee, Oklahoma, Dean of Community Services at Claremore Jr. College, Program Director for the Government Services Administration in Dallas, Texas, Business Specialist for the US Small Business Administration in Ft. Worth, Texas (where he won Region 7 Pride Employee of the Year 1991 for his pilot program, The Women and Minority Owned Business Breakfast, that resulted in Hundreds of business relationships and millions of dollars in government contracts. He was promoted to the Small Business Administration office in Oklahoma City where he worked in the Murrah Building until just weeks before the terrorist attack. Upon retirement he was recruited to run the Dallas Inter-tribal Center (a clinic for Native American citizens in the Metroplex) for three years.


Upon full retirement, he devoted his time to his Church, his family, his friends, and his little dog Heidi (always in his lap). Dean Bridges was a very special human being. It would take most people three lifetimes to accomplish what he did in his 89 years. He will be greatly missed by literally hundreds of people. He filled a big space in this world, and it was a better place with him in it. Now you have your wings Dad, fly on!

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