In the 2005 biography, “Old Man River: The Life of Ray Ackerman,” author Bob Burke wrote that Ackerman had a long love affair with rivers dating from childhood in Pittsburgh when he swam in the Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
His advocacy of developing the riverfront did not end with the successful completion of the MAPS project.
Mike Knopp, executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, said Ackerman's role in the creation of the Boathouse District cannot be overstated, adding “the story is not over with respect for his role in riverfront redevelopment.”
Knopp credited Ackerman and Pat Downes, development director of the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, with giving a fledgling rowing program the boost it needed to morph into a series of architecturally stunning boathouses that now attract regatta participants from across the country.
“Ray was like the enthusiastic coach or coxswain to our small team in the early days over development when the river was still being mowed,” Knopp said. “When the challenges of developing the river seemed so great, Ray, along with Pat Downes, really provided the enthusiasm and guidance that helped drive the dramatic river transformation forward that ultimately inspired others to join the team.”
Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry credited Ackerman with convincing the school to be the first to establish a rowing program on the river.
“As a trustee, he encouraged OCU to adopt rowing as a club sport in 2000,” Henry said. “It was declared a varsity sport four years later when OCU hosted the first annual Head of the Oklahoma Regatta.”
After successful efforts to promote the development of the Boathouse District and the renaming of the river, Ackerman continued to promote the city in his 80s with efforts to nickname the city “The Big Friendly.”
Longtime friend and civic leader Lee Allan Smith noted that just earlier this month, though unable to walk anymore, Ackerman was preparing to lobby civic leaders to support campaigns to fund improvements at the Softball Hall of Fame and completion of the American Indian Cultural Center.
“He was outstanding and never stopped thinking about what he could do for Oklahoma City and the state,” Smith said.
A heroic-sized statue of Ackerman was unveiled in April with more than 100 civic leaders in attendance. It was a moment that prompted a rare outing by the ailing promoter who used a wheelchair.
“Ray always dreamed of substantial civic contributions, whether it was running for office or it was his work at the chamber,” McQueen said.
“Ray was one of those guys who got up in the morning to go to work for no paycheck to make the city a better place.”
Services are set
A wake for Ray Ackerman is set for 7 p.m. Sunday and services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, both at St. Eugene Catholic Church.
Survivors include his wife, Lucille “Lou” Frances Flanagan Ackerman, daughter Patricia Ann Mehring and her husband Mike Mehring; daughter Ann Carol Adams and her husband Ron Adams; son the Rev. Ray K. Ackerman of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; daughter Susan Marie Fuller and her husband Douglas Fuller; and son Mark Ackerman and his wife, Deanna Ackerman.