OKLAHOMA CITY — When Clara Luper walked into a downtown Oklahoma City drug store with a group of black students and sat down at a lunch counter where only whites were served, she didn't realize then how historically significant her act of defiance that day in 1958 would be.
The store's refusal to serve them launched the sit-in movement, a nonviolent form of protest that helped end desegregation in public accommodations and propelled the 35-year-old high school history teacher to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.
Luper died June 8 after a lengthy illness. She was 88.
Oklahomans also said goodbye in 2011 to Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna; former longtime Langston University president Ernest Holloway; former Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy; former University of Oklahoma and Tampa Bay Buccaneers standout Lee Roy Selmon; veteran sportscaster Bob Barry Sr., and University of Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box.
Years after Luper helped convince Katz Drug Stores to desegregate its lunch counters in Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, recognition of her efforts accelerated.
A multimillion dollar two-mile streetscape project connecting the Oklahoma State Capitol complex with historically black northeast Oklahoma City was named the Clara Luper Corridor. Oklahoma City University established a scholarship in her name; the National Education Association gave her the Rosa Parks Memorial Award and she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Anthony Douglas, the president of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, knew both Luper and Holloway, and called them both "champions of the 21st century."
"They fought long and hard to change America — Clara Luper with the sit-in movement and Dr. Holloway in educating those kids," Douglas said.
The world of sports was hit particularly hard in 2011 with the deaths of Budke, Serna, Selmon and Box.
Budke and Serna were killed when the single-engine plane they were riding in during a recruiting trip crashed Nov. 17 in central Arkansas. The pilot, former state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his wife, Paula, also died.
Selmon along with brothers Dewey and Lucious helped propel the Sooners' defense to national prominence in 1973. Lee Roy and Dewey were members of Oklahoma's 1974 and 1975 national championship teams.
In 1976, Lee Roy became the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-ever draft pick and helped the nascent franchise rebound from losing its first 26 games to come within one victory of the Super Bowl.
Macy, frequently clad in a black string tie and Cowboy hat, looked as if he stepped off a make-believe western movie set, but his style of prosecuting criminals was very real.
Bob Ravitz, the Oklahoma County Public Defender, said Macy was a tough prosecutor who worked very hard but "too often" sought the death penalty as a punishment in murder cases.
Still, "if a person had a story to tell or if someone was a drug addict and deserved a break, if it wasn't a violent crime they got it from Bob Macy," Ravitz said.
Macy was quite passionate about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and filed state charges against McVeigh and Nichols, even though he never prosecuted them, Ravitz said. Macy also was moved by the 1985 killings of three employees during a robbery at an Edmond grocery store, Ravitz said.
Ernest Holloway steered Oklahoma's only historically black university for 25 years, overseeing expansions and improvements to the school's athletic facilities and buildings for agricultural research and health education. He also pushed to upgrade Oklahoma Highway 33, a two-lane road that led into the town of Langston from Interstate 35 on which numerous accidents occurred over the years.
Other passings of note were character actor G.D. Spradlin, who played memorable roles in "The Godfather: Part II and "Apocalypse Now"; country music singer Mel McDaniel of "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" fame; state Rep. Rusty Farley, R-Haworth; state Sen. David Meyers, R-Ponca City; and musician and writer Roy Burris.
Burris, who died in April, co-wrote "Okie from Muskogee," a song critical of 1960s social upheaval, with singer Merle Haggard.
Burris' wife, Susie, said he was asleep on a tour bus when highway signs indicating the distance to Muskogee inspired Haggard to begin writing. Haggard woke Burris up and they finished the song in 10 minutes, she said.