Charles Van Rysselberge is not a commonly recognized name in Oklahoma City, and it's likely that even some of the prominent players reshaping the city today don't know the role Van Rysselberge played in the downtown renaissance story.
Van Rysselberge was hired as president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in July 1993 and served in that position until 2001, when he left to take a job in Charleston, S.C.
A dozen years later, he's back in town for the first time as a guest of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, which is honoring him with a lifetime membership. About 1,000 people are in town for the conference, which runs through Friday.
The theme is momentum. I spent two hours Sunday providing Van Rysselberge a tour of what momentum in Oklahoma City means in 2013. The tour was the least I could do for him, considering he was the first voice to stand up and insist an arena be built as part of the original MAPS when political headwinds were pushing for it to be scrapped.
Van Rysselberge was stunned by what he saw. One forgets that Deep Deuce didn't exist when Van Rysselberge left town. Devon Energy Center didn't exist. MidTown was a mess. Film Row was skid row.
We started at the Oklahoma River, which was unfinished a dozen years ago. There were no boathouses, no recreational attractions, no trails, no boats.
It was the river's Regatta Park that Van Rysselberge took a good look at the statue of the late Ray Ackerman, the veteran advertising man who helped convince Van Rysselberge to take the Oklahoma City job.
That sales job wasn't without challenges. Van Rysselberge was second in command at the Atlanta chamber, which had just won the bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. But when Van Rysselberge saw the plans for the river makeover and Bricktown Canal, he was enchanted with the idea of being in at the beginning of a magical transformation.