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March 7, 2014

Steve and Barbara Owens turn tragedy into life-long passion for community

NORMAN — A married couple’s kindness, generosity and persistent love for a place where their son found peace and acceptance was honored Thursday night in a tear-filled room full of family and friends.

Steve and Barbara Owens were the ninth recipients of the Sam Matthews Social Justice Award from The Xenia Institute of Norman. They were nominated for their years of support for the Thunderbird Clubhouse.

Thunderbird Clubhouse was founded in l991 to help in the recovery process of adults living with mental illness. Participants are called members because the focus is on the person’s strengths, not their illness.

In accepting the award, Steve and Barbara Owens passed the credit for building the clubhouse throughout the second floor at the First Christian Church.

“Their work opened doors where there were only walls before,” The Xenia Institute’s director Bob Thomas said of the couple, whose late son, Blake, was a member at the clubhouse. “The world is a better place because of the two of you.”

Thomas told of the couple’s courtship, beginning in junior high school in Miami, Okla. They were married in 1967 when Steve was playing football at the University of Oklahoma. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1969 and played professionally for the Detroit Lions before being injured and moving back to Norman to raise sons Blake and Mike and begin a business career.

“The best blocker Steve has ever had has been Barbara. Barbara has been the indispensable teammate for Steve,” Thomas said. “They never met a stranger and they don’t treat anyone differently ... They are just two kids from Miami, Okla.”

A business associate and fellow OU football player, Ed Foster, told of watching Steve play through pain and injuries. He said that same persistence carries through to their commitment to causes.

“Social justice has to begin at home. That comes from being kind to each other and loving each other and being persistent,” Foster said.

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