Joe Pierce’s 1975 Dream Comes Alive
In 1975, Joe Pierce had a dream. He began approaching different organizations seeking support to build a home for the mentally disabled. At that time, the majority of people with developmental delays were placed in nursing homes or state-run facilities. Joe saw the state of those currently being served in those facilities and it laid heavily on his heart. He knew he needed to do something to help this group. He began dreaming of a place that was specifically suited to meet the needs of the developmentally disabled. He approached several different groups and civic organizations seeking support of his idea, but was turned away by each group. It was then he got the idea of approaching the Knights of Columbus.
As a long-time member of the Knights, Joe knew the giving heart of the group and felt this was something they would enjoy being involved in on a state-wide basis. Joe spoke to the newly elected State Deputy, Ernie Chastain about his idea. In 1975, a proposal was presented to the Boston Convention of the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus and a committee was formed to investigate his proposal. Joe Pierce and Malleck Coury were appointed to review the possibility of building a home for this group and in 1976 at the knights annual convention, the proposal was unanimously adopted by the Knights of Columbus of Oklahoma.
At that convention, the Knights raised $30,000 as the lead gift for the capital campaign. It was at this convention in 1976 that a quiet farmer from Okarche approached Joe Pierce and volunteered his services. His name? Harold Wittrock.
Joe, Harold and the state Knights began talking about the project to anyone who would listen. Joe still remembers the first donation he received. While at the home of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a young girl about 16 years old approached him. She handed him $100 and said, “That’s for your building.” This simple but giving gesture renewed him and drove him even harder to ensure this vision would become a reality.
Soon it became obvious that clerical and bookkeeping help was needed and Bea Schwartz Toegert of Okarche began keeping track of donations from her home. Marion Grellner began assisting her with this part of the project.
The next five years were a blur, as much time was spent soliciting the $1.5 million necessary to build the facility. The money came in all forms and all amounts. From 50 cents of babysitting money to $150,000 from the Mabee Foundation, all gifts were sacrificial and thoughtful.
As with any new non-profit, the next step was the formation of a Board of Directors. On June 28, 1981, the first Board meeting was held and Dr. Ted Fortmann was elected Board Chairman with Ernie Chastain selected as Board Secretary.
It was decided at this first meeting that while all funds previous to this time were raised under the name of the Knights of Columbus Foundation, it was time to create a free standing non-profit organization with its own name and identity. A contest was held to the name the facility and the “Center of Family Love” submitted by Mrs. Sally Fortmann, was selected as the name.
Ground breaking was held in 1980 and by September, 1981, the facility was ready for the first 48 residents. The new campus consisted of an administration building, two dorms and in December of 1981, the workshop opened. Because of a gracious grant from the Mabee Foundation, a gymnasium and classrooms were added.
Mr. and Mrs. Feuerborn of Piedmont were instrumental during this time in the Center’s fundraising efforts and in August of 1984, the “Woods”, a workshop for the developmentally disabled was established in an old church in Kingfisher. Shortly after, grants were received to expand capacity with two new group homes at the Center, a 6-bed facility in Yukon and two group homes in El Reno.
In 1985, CFL was approved as an Intermediate Care/Mentally Retarded Facility and 6 additional beds were added. It was during this time that employment programs were started at CFL and shortly after its start, six residents were placed in jobs within the community.
The Board of Directors, recognizing that all people enjoy and thrive in enjoyable working enviroments, opened the Christy Wittrock Memorial Greenhouse in March of 1986. It was financed from donations from memorials of Kristy Wittrock, Harold’s daughter.
Other grants and improvements over the years include:A grant from the Holiday Foundation for commercial laundry equipment (1988/$100,000)
The opening of “Just Us” sandwich shop in Oklahoma City and moved to Kingfisher. (1988)
A grant from the Sarkeys, Noble and Mabee Foundations for an expansion of the exisiting administration building. (1990/$240,000)
The opening of the CFL Thrift Store in Kingfisher. (1995)
The opening of “Too Delicious” Candy Store in El Reno and Yukon. (1995)
The opening of the new Kingfisher Workshop funded by the Knights of Columbus. (1994)
One of our most celebrated additions has been the opening of the 16-bed geriatric center in 2000. The Loosen Center is one of the few geriatric nursing centers for the developmentally disabled in the State of Oklahoma.
Now celebrating our 25th year of service, CFL continues to be one of the most influential organizations of its type in Oklahoma. With over 130 residents involved in a variety of programs, CFL faces a future bright with possibility, filled with love and ready to serve those who need us most – the developmentally disabled of Oklahoma.