Toby Keith will mark his 20th anniversary as a recording artist next year, but the country music superstar is more proud of the milestone he celebrated this year: completing his 10th United Service Organization tour.
The Oklahoma native's association with the USO has taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq and a dozen other countries to perform more than 190 shows for military personnel.
“It's just more important. I mean, (it's) the reason I get to go do this 20 years, you know, I couldn't do this ... in Libya. I wouldn't have the freedoms to conquer and accomplish my goals in Afghanistan. And the reason that I get to live in Disneyland and do what I do — the absolute only thing — it isn't government, it isn't my right to bear arms, it isn't any of that, it isn't my constitution. Every bit of that is protected by those people who are willing to do that job every day. The rest of it's just paper,” Keith said.
“I went one time for my dad, and it was like a drug. It was like, there's such a void here. There's such a need,” added Keith, whose late father was a military veteran.
On Thursday, the Norman resident will be honored for his support of the U.S. Armed Forces and his efforts to help pediatric cancer patients. Keith, along with former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh and his wife, Donna Nigh, have been chosen for the 2012 JFK Community Service Awards.
About the awards
The Oklahoma City Knights of Columbus Council 1038 established the awards through its Uniting Our Community project in 2007 to recognize Oklahomans who have served the greater community in lasting and meaningful ways.
Donna Nigh is being recognized for her longtime advocacy for children and adults with special needs. In her role as the state's first lady and through the Donna Nigh Foundation, established in 1985, she has worked to ensure that people with special needs are safe, cared for and treated with dignity.
Her support of group homes for the developmentally disabled “dramatically improved living environments and subsequently created higher standards of specialized care,” according to a news release.
“Mrs. Nigh's work on behalf of the developmentally disabled — and especially her recent work with the Center of Family Love in Okarche — speaks to her decades-long advocacy for quality of life improvements in the care available to the mentally and physically disabled in our state, citizens who often cannot speak for themselves,” said former Gov. David Walters, chairman of Uniting Our Community.
George Nigh served four terms each as state representative, lieutenant governor and governor. He has been president of the University of Central Oklahoma, an IBC bank executive and interim director of the state Tourism and Recreation Department.
Nigh is the lifetime president of the Donna Nigh Foundation and is, like his wife, a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He advocates for many charities, including City Rescue Mission, which serves the homeless in Oklahoma City.
“After decades of service in public office, Gov. Nigh went on to provide important service to education, tourism and to those in need,” Walters said. “His work at the City Rescue Mission and his annual (fundraising) event called ‘It's a Guy Thing' are wonderful examples of how he continues to give back to our community.”
Walters and his wife, Rhonda Walters, will host the awards dinner Thursday on the 50th floor of the Devon Tower, 280 W Sheridan Ave. Former Oklahoma first lady Kim Henry, 2008 recipient Barry Switzer and Renzi Stone will present the awards.
Proceeds benefit the Knights of Columbus' Santa Fe Family Life Center, which operates community outreach programs.
Instead of attending the CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn., where he is nominated for video of the year for “Red Solo Cup,” Keith, an outspoken objector of the Country Music Association's awards process, will attend the Oklahoma City ceremony.
Despite his busy career, the Clinton native found time in the spring to attend the groundbreaking for his foundation's biggest project: the OK Kids Korral, which will provide housing for pediatric cancer patients and their families seeking care at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center and other nearby facilities. It is set to open in the fall of 2013.
Read more of Brandy McDonnell's new interview with Toby Keith in the Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.