Remembering Nancy Apgar


Tulsa lost a treasure last week. Nancy Apgar, longtime leader in the Brookside Neighborhood Association, passed away Friday. There will be a memorial service today at 11 at 1st Presbyterian Church, downtown, 7th & Boston.

Nancy came from Philadelphia to Tulsa with Cities Service in the '70s, and after her retirement in 1984, she began a sort of second career as a community leader and neighborhood activist. She was one of the founding board members of the Brookside Neighborhood Association, which was formed in the midst of a zoning battle in 1991. Over the years she served the association as Vice President for Zoning and as President, and I believe she served continuously on the board of the association from its founding. Since Brookside joined the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations in 1999, Nancy served as Brookside's representative on the Coalition. The Mayor's Office for Neighborhoods recognized her service with a "Picket Fence" award, and in 2002 she was recognized as a Community Hero by the City of Tulsa.

Nancy was one of the most effective neighborhood advocates I've ever seen. She did her homework on an issue, and when she spoke, she presented the case simply and effectively. She kept her cool under fire. She was persistent and direct, but never impolite.

Some self-interested parties like to characterize neighborhood advocates as knee-jerk naysayers and anti-business NIMBYs. Nancy Apgar didn't resemble that caricature a bit. Nancy built good working relationships between the Brookside Business Association and the Brookside Neighborhood Association. She understood that the neighborhood consists of the businesses and the residents together and that the presence of each enhanced the other. The residential area forms a big part of the customer base for the business district, and the pedestrian-friendly shopping district is a big part of the appeal of the neighborhood as a place to live.

Nancy also understood the importance of boundaries and balance between the two aspects of the neighborhood. She picked her battles carefully, and when she got involved in a battle, it was because she saw a threat to that balance. That's why she worked against commercial encroachment into the residential area, worked against turning Brookside into a concentrated nightclub district, and worked for enforcement of the noise ordinance. For the benefit of the neighborhood, she also worked against widening Riverside Drive and for a traffic light at 41st Street and Riverside, allowing neighborhood residents safe access to River Parks.

Nancy kept her ear to the ground, and if she got wind of plans for a new development, she'd do some digging and get in touch with the developer. Wise developers would seek her out long before seeking city approval for a zoning change. She would prefer to work with the developer to accommodate neighborhood concerns while allowing the project to meet its objectives, rather than have to oppose the whole project. If you comb through the minutes of the TMAPC and the Board of Adjustment, you'll often find Nancy expressing her support for a zoning change and praising the applicant for addressing the neighborhood's concerns.

In 1999, when then-Mayor Savage announced funding for infill development plans for three neighborhoods, Nancy successfully pushed to have Brookside included in the process, and then participated in the planning process over the next few years, along with business leaders and city planners. The Brookside plan has been adopted, and implementation is just beginning. The plan was all about how to accommodate new growth and development while protecting the aspects of the neighborhood's character that make it a desirable place to live and have a business.

It was my privilege to know Nancy and work with her. We first worked together on the Albertson's zoning battle and as members of the initial Brookside Neighborhood Association board. We lost touch for a few years after I bought a house and moved out of the neighborhood, but connected again through the Midtown Coalition. Nancy's reports on events in Brookside were a feature of nearly every Coalition meeting. She was an encouragement to me in many ways and was kind enough to endorse me and to contribute to my 2002 City Council campaign. At the same time, she wasn't shy about letting me know if she thought I was off base -- always plain-spoken, but never impolite.

The headline on the business section of Sunday's Whirled read "Booming Brookside". Nancy Apgar has had a major part in laying the groundwork for that boom.

There's talk of placing a statue in memory of Nancy in Brookside, perhaps something like one of the NatureWorks animal bronzes in River Parks. If this is done, the plaque should include the Latin motto, "Lector, si requiris monumentum, circumspice" -- reader, if you seek her monument, look around you.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 29, 2004 10:25 AM.

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