Benjamin J. Curtis
October 31, 1936 – February 13, 2023
Few people are privileged to know an individual whose life’s work experience spans from plowing with mules, traveling around the world to finance private jets, to celebrating 50 years of practicing law in OK. A man of rugged independence and grit Ben lived the American Dream. A man with a lifetime of unique experiences which were directed and guided by moral character and values. A man of his word, he lived in the shadow of Truth which was the principle and foundation for the leader he became. Ben was a man who believed in hard work and perseverance and always in doing the right thing.
As Ben always said, “When I was born, Mama set me on go and I’ve been there ever since.” He set goals and had a vision for his life; never looking back, always forward.
Jack and Lola (Boling) Curtis gave birth to twins on October 31, 1936 in Summerfield Oklahoma; Ila Curtis Knabe (8 3/4lbs) and her little brother Benjamin Jackson (9 1/4lbs). Growing up in Summerfield Ben picked cotton and green beans, hauled hay and water, chased cows on horseback through open range and finally earned enough money for a pair of Levis. After finishing LeFlore High School, Ben continued his education at Eastern Oklahoma State College, Oklahoma State University, as well as earning a Masters in Business Management at Wichita State University.
While living in Wichita he met his wife Judith Kay Lading on a blind date on a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota and the love story began. After a long distance courtship, and Judy learning to decipher his signature, they married on June 25, 1966 in Judy’s hometown, Pine Island, MN.
In 1967 Ben began attending full-time, night-school at Oklahoma City University Law School, graduating in three years while working full time at Commercial Credit, then CMI and eventually Rockwell International. In addition, the family doubled in size with the birth of two daughters.
In 1974, Ben moved his family to Poteau, OK where he was not hindered by others’ limitations or corporate politics and dared to dream. He risked everything to hang a shingle and establish a law practice across from the Poteau Post Office.
Often the courageous advocate, and sometimes the unpopular voice of reason, Ben was driven by doing what is right: for the most vulnerable, for the community and for the country.
Through the years Ben owned and invested in several businesses in LeFlore County, eventually employing over 100 people. Ben believed in helping others succeed through economic freedom and opportunities to excel.
A well respected attorney in LeFlore County, Ben was appointed by Gov. Frank Keating to the board of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System which provided legal counsel to those in need. He also founded the LeFlore County Bar Association in 1980 which provides an open exchange of ideas and continuing education for attorneys.
As a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Ben chaired the Bi-Centennial Celebration in 1976, and advocated that the remaining funds be used as seed money for the Good Times Community Theater. He chaired the Poteau Rodeo and Parade which became the premier festival for LeFlore County for many years, driving business and economy to the county. Ben also, during one of his years as president of the chamber, advocated and helped obtain funding to pave the road to the top of Cavanal enabling everyone to enjoy the “World’s Highest Hill.”
Ben was a dedicated Shriner as well as active in the Kiwanis Club, serving on numerous committees and as president. He served on the Community State Bank Board of Directors for the past 19 years.
Ben believed in supporting the youth of LeFlore County, knowing they are the future leaders. He served and supported the Boys and Girls Clubs in both Talihina and Poteau. As an active member since 1974 of the First United Methodist Church, he served in many leadership capacities. as well as the development and building of the new Family Life Center. In addition he helped form in 1974 with then FUMC Minister Larry Becker, the LeFlore County Youth Services, as a private youth shelter which has now evolved into an integral support system for area youth.
Ben was at heart a rancher and outdoorsman. Working cattle on the weekends on his trusted horse Blaze or dressed in camouflage hunting deer, turkey, duck or dove, this is where Ben thrived, finding respite and God. Ben served on the committee which established and created the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreational Area, seeing the need to preserve the natural resource for future generations. He also founded the LeFlore County Ducks Unlimited Chapter in 1978 raising several hundred thousand dollars to preserve and protect wetlands and uplands, vital ecosystems. He helped forge the unprecedented venture between DU and the Oklahoma Wildlife Association in creating the Fouche Maline Waterfowl Restoration Project. He also served on the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy and Wister Lake Association, all organizations that work to protect our natural resources for future generations.
Ben was the first person in the history of Oklahoma to run as a Republican for State Senate District Four. He believed it to be his civic duty to actively educate people about our election process, especially bringing the two-party system to the general election. By running, Ben paved the way for future citizens to take an active role in their government, especially in leadership.
In the midst of all this, Ben was always home on Sundays to attend church and family dinner. He was steadfast in his loyalty and unconditional in his love. Ben’s family will miss him dearly, especially his storytelling, quick wit and sense of humor. His family includes his wife of 56 years, Judy Lading Curtis, daughters and sons-in-law, Rachel and Scott Tjaden and AnnaBeth and Troy Saidleman; grandchildren Lauren, Ben & Jack Tjaden and Gabriella & Annika Saidleman; sister Ila Curtis Knabe; niece Kim Knabe Warner; nephew Greg Knabe (Paula) and Austin and Taylor Knabe; sister-in-law, Karen Lading Tang.
Services will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Poteau, OK, Friday February 17th at 2pm. Visitation will follow in the Family Life Center.
Notice: Ben Curtis will not be voting Democrat in any future elections.