Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

All signs point toward home

Charlie Gay's creativity is reflected in bold letters throughout the Chickasaw Nation.

His company, CK Sign Services, has produced dozens of signs for Chickasaw Nation businesses - from grand, neon-lit marquees to interior wayfinding and parking signs.

He has accomplished this impressive business feat despite living more than 1,500 miles away from the Chickasaw Nation in St. George, Utah.

Utilizing help from the Chickasaw Nation Small Business Development Center's Preferred Vendor Program, Gay's signs twinkle from various locations.

His company has installed the signage for the Aiitafama' Ishto (Large Gathering Place) in Tishomingo, the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, Sulphur, West Bay Casino, Kingston, several signs at the Artesian Hotel and shops in Sulphur, and many signs and monuments at WinStar World Casino and Resort, Thackerville. His work also includes the designated parking signs for Chickasaw Warrior Society members at the Veteran's Lodge in Ada, among many others.

Gay also helped transform the "Historic Map of the Unconquered and Unconquerable Chickasaw People" at the Chickasaw Cultural Center from an art piece to a large, laser-etched Turkish marble and Chinese granite display, which is his favorite project.

"I appreciate greatly the opportunity to get my foot in the door. I'm happy to just have the privilege. I've been blessed. I've been able to do several projects," Gay said.

"You want to have satisfaction of your work, but it really runs a lot deeper than that for me."

The entrepreneur launched his sign service in 2008, while living in California after working several years in the real estate business.

About 2011, his son, Jared, sent him a Chickasaw Times article detailing the Chickasaw Nation's purchase of Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Gay, who happened to be on a business trip to Houston, saw an opportunity to offer his services and extended his trip by driving to the Chickasaw Nation on a factfinding mission to see if he might provide the signs for the facility.

"I'm pretty good at being like a Sherlock Holmes, hopping online and finding out who's who and who's involved," he said.

During the 2011 trip, Gay was able to connect with tribal project managers, and even though the Lone Star Park project did not come to fruition, he made connections and was able to create a presentation and bid on other projects, including replacing and adding new signs at WinStar.

The first project he completed was for a new addition at WinStar. It included an entryway information kiosk, stone mosaic floor signs, unique illuminated signs for two restaurants, a bakery and the MIST nightclub, large illuminated directional signs and more.

As the Chickasaw Nation's economic footprint expanded, Gay was able to provide signage for some of the new facilities.

Gay said his Chickasaw heritage stems from his mother's family. His maternal grandmother, Ora Nichols, was an original enrollee on the Dawes Rolls. His great-great-grandfather, Charles Kemp Strickland, was the first elected sheriff of the Chickasaw Nation and was killed in the line of duty in 1885.

Even though Gay grew up in northern California, he spent summer months with his grandparents on the Chickasaw family property, 4 miles west of Stratford, Oklahoma, during his youth.

Gay feels his life has come full circle. He is proud to serve his tribe and hopes his late Chickasaw grandmother is proud.

"I'm hoping she knows about it. Even though she passed on before she ever got to see all these wonderful things our nation has done.

"Don't ever be surprised at what happens in your life, because you just never know the twists and turns. I never would have dreamed that I would be doing work on the world's largest casino as a 10-year-old spending a month in Oklahoma," he said.

After finishing high school, Gay earned a bachelor's degree and went on to earn a master's degree in history and international relations, but a drafting class his freshman year taught him the vital lesson of conceptualization, which he uses daily.

"I remember our teacher said we would look at everything that's built differently because of the realization it was drawn before it was built."

He also credits his mother, who was an artist, for his artistic ability and for teaching him how to stretch a canvas and other techniques.

Gay and his wife have five children, three sons and two daughters. Two sons, Jared and Matty, completed internships with the Chickasaw Nation, and most of his children were assisted by the Chickasaw Nation with educational pursuits.

He was honored when his sons made him a video recently to celebrate his 70th birthday, and a message from Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby was included.

"As I began to watch the video seeing friends and relatives sending personal messages, I was absolutely surprised, amazed and touched. When after a few minutes Governor Anoatubby came on, I absolutely thought I was dreaming. What a touching honor and wonderful surprise it was to receive this message from Governor Anoatubby, when I consider all he has done for the Chickasaw people, my family and me."

Gay's life is defined by connections. Besides developing long-lasting relationships with his Chickasaw Nation business associates, he helps coordinate family reunions during Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival.

"I made a promise to my grandmother that I will always do anything I could to help keep our family stay close," he said.

For more information about CK Sign Services, visit cksignservices.com.

About the Chickasaw Nation Small Business Development Center

The Chickasaw Nation Small Business Development Center (CNSBDC) seeks to provide one-to-one business counseling, economic development assistance and training to Chickasaw entrepreneurs.

The preferred vendor program increases business opportunities for qualified Chickasaw citizen-owned business enterprises and those of other qualified minorities. The preferred vendor program works to manage a process that supports the growth, development, expansion and increased utilization of business enterprises owned by Chickasaw citizens, First American tribal citizens and other federally recognized minorities.

To participate in the preferred vendor program, a business must be at least 51% owned, controlled and operated by a Chickasaw citizen, First American (non-Chickasaw), African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, woman or disabled veteran. For more information, visit Chickasaw.net.

 

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