New ODOT Memorial Foundation helps families of fallen transportation workers

May 20, 2020 - The deaths of James Dawkins in 1931 and Rickie Nichols Jr. in 2018 connect a group of 61 people who gave their lives in service to the state while keeping highways and interstates safe and open to the public. 

These transportation workers lost their lives to a distracted driver while flagging traffic through a work zone or keeping highway rights-of-way clean and clear. Some lost their lives while in their vehicles well away from the highway like Tim Vandiver in 2012. Others were struck while surveying for future highway projects like Donald Killian in 1970 or checking bridge integrity during a flood like John E. Botts in 1973.

That unfortunate reality has affected 61 highway workers’ families, including four workers killed in the line of duty in the past five years. This number lost is the highest of any Oklahoma state agency other than active duty military. In addition, there are even more deaths among contractors and turnpike workers.

With the creation of the nonprofit ODOT Fallen Workers Memorial Foundation there are now more ways to help these grieving families. The foundation was born of a desire by several agency employees to find ways to further assist families of those lost in the line of duty. Former Oklahoma Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Patterson was an early supporter of the foundation concept and now serves as its first board chairman. “The most horrific days were those when we lost an employee,” Patterson said of his time at ODOT.

The foundation board will use the Oklahoma 529 College Saving Plan as the main financial vehicle to help with post-secondary education-related expenses.

“I’m excited to partner with the ODOT Memorial Foundation to help them provide educational opportunities for the children of fallen workers,” said State Treasurer Randy McDaniel. “Through this program, more financial opportunities will be made available for the higher education of these students as they prepare for the future.” McDaniel serves as chairman of the Oklahoma College Savings Plan Board of Trustees.

After two years of organization and initial fundraising, the 501(c)3 organization is poised to begin offering education benefits to the families of fallen workers this summer. It formed as a board-governed foundation so there will be no memberships or dues. Other board members include retired former ODOT Director of Operations Paul Green, ODOT Chief Engineer Brian Taylor and ODOT Maintenance Division employees Alex Calvillo and Stephanie Richardson. The foundation has partnered with numerous heavy highway contracting and consulting companies in support of this new program.

            “We at ODOT have always been a family oriented organization,” Patterson said. “Once you’re a part of ODOT, you’re always a part of the family. This foundation will help us further take care of our own and ensure a fallen worker’s legacy continues by helping their children pursue an education.”

This announcement falls within the observation of “Work Zone Safety Awareness Week” in Oklahoma from May 15-22 with the theme of “Safe Work Zones for All. We Can Do it Together!”

Upcoming events to support the foundation’s mission include:

  • A clay shoot tentatively scheduled for June 13 at Silver Leaf Shotgun Sports in Guthrie, and 

  • The third annual golf tournament Oct. 6 at the Cedar Valley and Cimarron National golf courses in Guthrie.

To learn more about the ODOT Fallen Workers Memorial Foundation and keep up with upcoming events, see its Facebook page @ODOTMemorialFoundation or email the foundation at odotmemorialfoundation@gmail.com or call 405-456-9501.

Learn more about ODOT’s fallen highway workers by visiting www.odot.org and looking under the About ODOT tab for Fallen Highway Workers.

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