Pauls Valley Democrat
Family and friends of the late Steve Stokes gathered Friday to honor not only his memory but a portion of a passing highway in his native Pauls Valley.
Stokes did call PV home. He was also instrumental and right at the start of efforts to help people with disabilities have better access to buildings and facilities of all kinds.
Confined to a wheelchair himself, Stokes worked for several years as the director of the Oklahoma Office of Disability Concerns.
During Friday’s casual ceremony the two-mile stretch of Interstate 35 covering both of Pauls Valley’s main entrance and exit ramps was renamed to honor Stokes, who passed away earlier this year.
Carrying a sign with him declaring it the Steven Stokes Memorial Highway, it was state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, and his wife who helped bring together many of Stokes’ family for the small but special gathering.
“The work of Steve over the years is very important,” Wesselhoft said.
“It helped thousands and thousands of people come to terms with their disabilities,” he said.
“I think Steve is a very important native of Pauls Valley and that’s why we want to honor him.”
Wesselhoft and Stokes worked together over the years with many of the bills and legislation related to those with physical disabilities and improving their access to various things.
Stokes’ work in this area came after he became a paraplegic during a diving accident in 1967. He was a student at Pauls Valley High School at the time.
Later Stokes was attending East Central University when he and other disabled students began working to make sure they had easier access to places like campus buildings. All of this work came before today’s Americans with Disabilities Act.
Wesselhoft’s wife Judy, whose maiden name is Albright, grew up with Stokes right here in Pauls Valley.
She was among a group of folks at Friday’s event who have nothing but respect and admiration for Stokes.
“Steve was just a special person,” Judy Wesselhoft said. “Now I know he’s picking up dust on heaven’s highway.
“I also know he appreciated the people of Pauls Valley so much. They helped him get his first handicap accessible van,” she added.
A couple of Stokes’ family members were all smiles as they offered praise for both Stokes and what the highway honor represents.
“It’s been an awesome time since Steve started receiving all these awards,” said Stokes’ aunt, Joy Leestang of Norman. “Steve was a tremendous man.”
Leestang says the best part is awards and honors like this one show “how many people loved him.”
Cousin Laurie Sloan of Paoli agreed.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Sloan said about the honor for Stokes. “It couldn’t be any more well deserved.
“He was an incredible man who never let his handicap get him down.”