Marlow’s ambassador of goodwill

Posted in: Society
By Kaye Collier
Dec 13, 2012 - 9:06:08 AM

For the past 35 years or so, the man with the ready smile, raspy voice and homespun humor has listened to his heart.
As a result, his community and the area’s young people have reaped countless rewards from all that listening.
Orvel Robinson has been a boon to Marlow ever since he returned to his roots in 1977. He has either initiated or assisted with a number of promotional measures designed to promote his community and draw tourists to the area.
In many instances, he has been not only “the man with the plan,” but also the man who has seen that the plan sprouted feet.
Furthermore, through Orvel’s encouragement, talents and expertise as a coach, whether on a softball diamond or behind the footlights, a number of members of the area’s younger generations have been able to realize their potential.
The man recognizes genuine talent, and he knows how to nurture it.
Country boy
Born in 1941 in Foster to Colin and Lillie Robinson, Orvel was the fifth of their 10 children. He attended school at Pernell to sixth grade, when the family moved to an acreage east of Bray. Transferring to Bray schools, he graduated from BHS in 1961.
His older brother was working in road construction in New Mexico, so after finishing high school, Orvel joined him on the construction crew. Then in 1963, he met a pretty Marlow High School senior named Judy Adkins, and the two were soon married.
Orvel spent two years in the U.S. Army’s 525th military intelligence corps, advancing to the rank of sergeant E5 and serving in Vietnam, where he was eventually placed in charge of all vehicles at the intelligence corps’ headquarters in Saigon.
After leaving the military in 1968, Orvel returned to Marlow and purchased the Fina station, and later the Conoco Service Center on South Broadway.
Brown Construction in Mexico asked him to return to his old job, making him an offer he couldn’t refuse—his pension would be retroactive to the time he had first worked for them.
“It was too good a deal to turn down,” he recalled, so the Robinsons moved to New Mexico. While there, he helped build bridges on I-40 and I-10 that are still in great shape, he noted.
But he and Judy wanted their girls, Shawnda and Sheri, to receive “a quality education,” he said, so in 1977, they returned to Marlow.
This time, Orvel opened Robinson Classic Auto on Railroad Street, a shop providing auto repair, paint-and-body work, and the rebuilding of old cars, he said. He also farmed about 800 acres of hay until diesel climbed to $3.50 a gallon.
“I decided I’d had about all the farming I could stand,” he said with a laugh.
Field of dreams, proud community
By 1979, softball had become a popular sport in Marlow, so a number of parents, including Orvel, formed the Marlow Softball Association.
“The only place to play was on two little fields in Redbud Park where the Hideout now sits,” he said.
Cotton Cowley donated a plot of land at the southwest edge of town to the association.
“We fought city hall three months, trying to get them to let the softball association build the fields that are there now,” Orvel remembered. “Ed Bailey was mayor, and he got it done.”
He went on to say that the parents in the association built the fields themselves. They provided the labor; but the fencing, lights, light poles and wiring were all secured through donations.
It was truly a labor of love.
“It took about six months for dozens of volunteers working weekends and every day they could to get it done,” he said.
Marlow supplied 14 of the teams that filled the ballpark, but the league play also attracted a number of teams from surrounding communities.
Orvel himself became head of the association and coached during the first few years. During the 1983 season, he began coaching a group of girls called the Lady Bandits—“a killer team” was how he characterized them—that placed second in the state tournament the following year. Then in ’85, they placed fourth at state, “and that was the worst we did,” he said.
“We had some outstanding softball teams back then, and that tradition has carried on.”
Orvel’s memories from those softball years are treasured ones—his animated delivery and vivid recollection of details during this part of the interview said as much.
Community service
In 1988, Marlow had only five full-time police officers. Orvel and four other men attended C.L.E.E.T. school to become certified as auxiliary policemen. He continued as part of this body for a number of years.
In 1990, he ran for city council and spent six years on that panel. Then in 1997, he became Marlow’s mayor and served the city another three years in that position.
During his tenure as mayor, the local Presbyterian church built a new facility and were on the verge of tearing the former one down when Orvel stepped in and recommended the proud old structure—a quintessential reminder of Marlow’s past—instead be moved to Redbud Park. Since its relocation, the chapel has been used for many weddings and other events.
When it comes to community matters, Orvel considers carefully how things should be done and never shrinks from speaking his mind.
“I was born and raised [to believe] if you ever want something done, don’t give up. Just keep hammering at it,” he explained.
At one time or another, he has headed the Chamber of Commerce and the athletic booster club; and in 1997, he was honored by the chamber as Man of the Year.
Western heritage and tourism
There was a time when Marlow would pay up to $500 to non-local gunfight re-enactment groups to stage shootouts here during promotional events, Orvel observed.
So in 1988, he and the other volunteer police officers suggested to the city council that Marlow create its own band of unpaid actors and save the city some money. From this recommendation, the Marlow Gunfighters Association was born, with Orvel as manager.
From a small group of volunteers, the organization has grown to around 20 members and has been delighting audiences all over the state for the past 24 years. In fact, the Snake River Gang and their nemesis, the good guys, have been invited to re-enact the legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tucson, Arizona, site of the original shootout, next summer.
Although the gunfighters use blanks, each new member undergoes safety training because even blanks can cause serious injuries at close range, Orvel stressed.
Around 2000, he established Snake River Productions, a promotional agency that stages country music shows in the area. In the past, Orvel produced the Greatest Show in the Southwest several times and monthly presentations of the Marlow Opry, and he still organizes and presents benefit shows for various organizations.
“And I love doing that,” he noted.
Several years ago, the Robinson families cleared the grounds at the “old homestead” on the Snake River to use it as a campground. Later, Orvel built a pavilion on the property and has since created a replica of a pioneer townsite, Snake River Junction, by moving an old saloon onto the land and a adding a number of other attractions.
Orvel closed his shop almost 10 years ago, and now “I just do what I want to, when I want to, and if I want to,” he quipped.
One of the main things he “wants to” is fostering aspiring young entertainers. Most Monday nights, he holds training sessions for these stars-of-tomorrow, offering encouragement and coaching them in such things as delivery, self-confidence and stage presence.
This, he said, is “one of the most rewarding things” he does.
Two of his many former protégés are singer/songwriter/actress Katrina Elam and Orvel’s own granddaughter, Erica Robinson, who is currently a student at OBU and an award-winning young country entertainer in her own right.
Orvel also enjoys buying and restoring classic cars. He currently has three of them, including his favorite, a turquoise 1961 Impala, he noted.
He is a member of the Duncan Antique Car Club, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and First Baptist Church in Marlow.
Other than allergies, Orvel said he is in reasonably good health.
“I stay active all the time, and I think that may be one of the reasons,” he observed.
Anyone who knows Orvel will attest to the fact that he may someday wear out, but he’ll never rust out. Rust isn’t fast enough to catch him.
Orvel closed the interview with an observation that is so characteristic of him: “About the time you think you’ve seen it all, something comes along that just knocks you off your feet.”
He’s done a lot and seen a lot, so he ought to know.