Pottawatomie County is not as poor as some places in Oklahoma, but it fares worse than the state as a whole in most key economic indicators. Eighteen percent of the population falls below the poverty level.
Fallin grew up in Tecumseh, a community of 6,443 just south of the county seat, Shawnee. Both her father and mother were mayors of Tecumseh, and Fallin attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee before graduating from Oklahoma State University.
In a 2011 interview with the Tecumseh Countywide newspaper, Fallin said her original career goal was to be a social worker.
She said she was inspired by her mother, who worked as a district supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
‘I need a job’
Marking time about half-way down the hallway are Jason and Linda Popielarski of Tecumseh. They are here to see a doctor about Linda’s sinus infection and to get her blood pressure prescription refilled.
Jason, a 37-year-old machinist, says he recently lost his job at Aero Components in Oklahoma City. Linda, 58, lost her job at a Braum’s restaurant. The couple lives on Jason’s unemployment benefits, which add up to about $18,000 annually but will run out before long.
“We’re barely surviving,” Popielarski says. “I need a job. All I have is my motorcycle to get around. I’m working on weekends in trade for a place to live.”
Popielarski says he hasn’t had health insurance in five years. Most machine shops nowadays don’t provide it, he says. “Or if they offer it, you can’t afford it.”
The free clinic opens its doors at 5 p.m. every Thursday, when the Pottawatomie County Health Department’s paid staff goes home and Copeland’s volunteers take over. It’s supposed to shut down at 7 p.m., but that rarely happens.