Chuck Hutchinson

Chuck Hutchinson

An area resident who is recalled by many as one of the driving forces who helped stop an impending sale of water from Sardis Lake and the Kiamichi River Basin to North Texas will be remembered this weekend.

Charles “Chuck” Hutchinson, of Yanush, will be remembered during a memorial service set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 19, at the Cupco Freewill Baptist Church at 766 Southeast 250th Road, Tuskahoma.

Hutchinson, who was 87, died at home on April 15, 2018.

He served as a longtime board member for the group, Oklahomans for a Responsible Water Policy — but he had an impact on the water policy in southeastern Oklahoma long before becoming a member of that organization.

In 1992 and 1993, Hutchinson helped spearhead a grassroots effort to stop what many considered an impending deal to sell water from the Kiamichi River Basin and Sardis Lake to the North Texas Water District. Hutchinson, along with other local residents, cited their concerns that once the deal was made, water levels on the lake and river would be in danger, especially during times of drought, if millions of gallons of downstream water was sold to Texas.

“Chuck was the driving force in defeating the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s attempt to sell 93 percent of the water in Sardis Lake,” said Andrew Husky, a teacher at Clayton Public Schools who also helped fight the effort with other local citizens. The News-Capital highlighted the situation in a series of articles.

“We got together and got the truth out,” Husky said of Hutchinson and others who helped with the effort.

The local concerns were not always shared at the time by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board — and local residents, including Hutchinson, made numerous trips to Oklahoma City to make sure their concerns were addressed.

When the situation arose again in 2001 and 2002, Hutchinson was once more among those leading an effort to protect Sardis Lake and the lake storage rights from outside interests — and once more the local group proved successful.

The efforts to access the water continued and following a long court battle, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in 2016 granted 70 percent of the right to the water in Sardis Lake to Oklahoma City — a decision that Hutchinson still hoped to see reversed one day.

Hutchinson, who was a 1949 Clayton High School graduate, is recalled by his family friends as someone who never forgot his roots.

Following graduation, he worked as an accounting clerk of General Motors in Oklahoma City. He went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Following his time in the military, he returned to work to General Motors and also earned a bachelors degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma.

He later worked 12 years for Union Carbide. He also built homes in Oklahoma City for several years. He eventually returned to Yanush to care for his parents.

After his return to the area, Hutchinson served as commander and vice commander of American Legion Post 68 in Clayton.

During his years in the construction business, Hutchinson worked as project manager for the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Sill, which family members said he completed on time and under budget. He later used his expertise in the area by serving as site manager during the remodeling and addition of classrooms to public schools in Buffalo Valley and Caney.

Pastor Gary Fuller will officiate at the Saturday memorial service.

Husky is among those who think Hutchinson will leave a lasting legacy in the Sardis Lake area and Southeastern Oklahoma. He said he thinks Hutchinson’s legacy will be “his love for the Kiamichi River Basin, its water and soil, because he demonstrated that love everyday and everywhere he went.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

Contact James Beaty by email at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

James Beaty is senior editor at the McAlester News-Capital