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A Whirlwind beginning
Oakerhater Center dedication set for Sept. 8 in Watonga

By Carla Hinton Published: September 1, 2007
WATONGA — St. David Pendleton Oakerhater's beloved Whirlwind Church and Mission will soon get a new, permanent home.

Despite some wind damage from recent storms, Oklahoma Episcopal leaders are moving forward with the planned dedication of the Oakerhater Episcopal Center in Watonga.

The center, named after the revered Cheyenne Indian Episcopal clergyman, is to be dedicated at 2 p.m. Sept. 8.

The Rev. Jim Kee-Rees said activities will include a dinner and the Whirlwind Church's annual honor dance in recognition of Oakerhater. In 1895, Oakerhater (1847-1931) became the first American Indian to be recognized in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church.

Kee-Rees said the cost of the new center bearing the clergyman's name is estimated at $670,000, which includes the building and work on the grounds surrounding it. He said the center wasn't damaged in the windstorm and flooding that struck the Watonga area in August, other than some roof shingles that were blown off.

However, a brush arbor used to shelter powwow audiences was blown over along with a nearby sweat lodge. Kee-Rees said he and others hoped to fix the brush arbor in time for the upcoming dedication. Several trees on the grounds were toppled by heavy wind and will be missed, he said.

Kee-Rees said he considered postponing the dedication because of the storm damage, but the activities had been planned for many months. Proceeding with the scheduled event will allow people who come for the annual honor dance to see the progress being made on the center, he said. They can look forward to the building's completion in time for next year's event.

"A number of people have a lot of hopes and dreams for this space,” Kee-Rees said as he looked around the building taking shape.

"We've got lots of prayers here.”

Oakerhater and Whirlwind live on
Kee-Rees, a Choctaw Indian, is the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma's new Native American missioner, hired in January. Kee-Rees, 40, of Norman serves as pastor of the Whirlwind Church of the Holy Family, which derived from the Whirlwind Church founded by Oakerhater near Watonga in 1907. Oakerhater also had a Whirlwind School, where he taught 25 students.

Kee-Rees said the church meets in a small building in Watonga but will hold services in the new center once it is completed. He said the building will serve as a gathering place not only for the 50-plus predominately American-Indian congregants of Whirlwind, but also other groups.

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Oakerhater Episcopal Center dedication, honor dance

Where: southeast Watonga, near Laing and Russworm/State Highway 33.

When: honor dance, 2 p.m. Sept. 8; dinner at 5:30 p.m.

Information: the Rev. Jim Kee-Rees, 232-4820.

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