History of the Tri-City Cruisers by Beverly Reece
Gabe Burris was a fullblood Chickasaw Indian, who was proud of his heritage, he was also proud of his 55 Chevrolet, he had lovingly restored. It was that car that caused him to be in the local coffee shop talking about cars with friends, Jim Wells and Gary Brown that Feb morning in 1997. The conversation that morning was about starting a car club for the Tri-City area. Gabe left the coffee shop, went home and wrote up an ad for the three area newspapers and then delivered it to each of the papers. The ad requested anyone in the tri-city area interested in starting a car-club to please attend a meeting set for a Sunday afternoon later in the month.
The day came with much anticipation, how many people would show up and could we make this thing work. Much to the friend’s surprise the room quickly became full of men and women that day, all interested in one thing classic cars. They elected officers that day, Gabe Burris as President and Joe Keef as Vice President, and the Tri-City Cruisers were up and running. They spent much of the rest of 1997 getting organized.
In December of that year at the now annual Christmas Party, new elections were held, the new President was Joe Keef and new Vice President Mike Isbell.
Joe Keef was a local business owner and had been a car enthusiast his entire life. Joe planned and held the first car show during his year. The first show had 96 cars participating. The first set of by-laws were written during Joe’s term. His pride and joy was the 1950 Ford Pickup he had built from the ground up but it wasn’t his only classic. He also owned a 1950 Chevrolet Deluxe and a 1964 Studebaker Grand Turismo.
In 1999 and 2000 the President was Delane Keef, brother of Joe, he held three car shows in 1999 and two in 2000. All of his car show proceeds were donated to charities. He started the monthly dinners, that are still held on the third Thursday of each month. He wanted the April show to be the first of the season, he established the first weekend in April to be the Tri-City Cruisers car show. He secured the First National Bank in Newcastle as the meeting place for the Cruisers. Delane is a Studebaker lover and has a Lark convertible and a Pickup.
Tommy Mitchell stepped up to the plate in 2001. He held his Christmas partys in his brother, Kenny’s pool house. He held two car shows, one in April and one in September. The September shows were donated to Make-a-Wish. He is a Ford man and has owned many different 1950 to 1970 Fords
In 2002 the president elected was Don Schroeder, he oversaw his Car Show on the first Saturday in April, even thou it rained, then resigned due to health issues. After Don’s resignation George Fitzhugh was elected President and he served the remainder of 2002 and all of 2003. George stopped the two car shows and decided to only hold one each year in April. George held a picnic at his home for the membership. He owned a 1960 Ford Thunderbird convertible.
In 2004 and 2005 the President was Johnny Purcell. He held the annual car show in April, but also held two cruise-ins at the Wal-Mart parking lot. He also did the first picnic in the park; we reserved Lisa Cornet Park in Newcastle and cooked Hamburgers and Hot Dogs for everyone. He moved his first Christmas party to the home of Jean Keef, and in 2005 to the Santa Fe Steak House in OKC. He arranged for the club to have name plates to wear at club functions. He owned a 1967 Mustang and a 1984 anniversary addition Mustang.
Mike Reece is the son-in-law of Joe Keef and was elected to President in 2006 and 2007, he held his car shows on the first weekend of April, but continued to have poor weather each year. Mike was the first to hold the Christmas parties at the Ridgecrest Baptist Church. We had a new member, Bob Hagan, who had come from a car club in California. Bob wanted to do a newsletter for the members and this was started during Mike’s term. Also the plaques we still give out today were an idea from Mike’s wife Beverly and they were started during his term. At the end of 2007 member Gerlinde Williams designed our club logo and her husband Bob printed new business cards for us. Mike is a Ford man and owns a 1964 Ford Galaxie. But he also owns a 82 Corvette and of course Joe’s 1950 Ford Pickup is in his garage.
Bob Hagan was the President in 2008 and 2009, he started the Web-Site with new member Harold Everett as the Webmaster. Bob started the club making their own Top Ten Trophies. Bob held our first ever tech session. Member Wallace Mellinger introduced the club to a local business the Right Stuff, they had our logo digitized and started making us t-shirts or jackets as each member wanted. In May of 2008 we started having monthly Cruise-ins at the Sonic in Newcastle but moved them to the Sonic in Tri-City in 2009, where they are still being held today. We took our first ever group photo on Sept 20 of 2008. In 2009 we won 4 club participation awards in 2009 at different car shows. Bob continues to write the newsletter and enjoys his 1970 El-Camino, Chevrolet’s version of the car/pickup.
In 2010, 2011, and 2012 the president was Wallace Mellinger, he formed a membership committee that we still have. He also made our cruise ins at the Sonic themed. In May of 2010 Bob Hagan suggested that we join the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce. We are still members today. In August of 2010 we were busting at the seams in our meeting place at the Bank, so we moved to the new Community Center in Newcastle. We took a new group picture on Nov 6, 2010. Wallace offical moved the annual April car shows to the last Saturday in April. He also moved the Christmas party to the Community Center in 2011. There were several members that attended the Biloxi Mississippi Cruising the Coast during his term. Wallace has a 1950 Ford Pickup, a 1963 Corvette, and a 67 Beatle Volkswagen that he cruises around town in.
In 2013 the president was Bob Hagan, again, this year he increased the trophies from 10 to 30 different ideas and increased the local business sponsorship of trophies. The club had a new member in David and Paula Gayanich, David is a trophy maker, he has made the home made trophies since 2013. Bob had our first catered Christmas dinner all the ladies a day off.
In 2014 the president was Jerry Lowe, he and his helper Wilbur Cameron approached the Leake Classic Auto Auction about working for them. Now each year in February we help with their auction and pay the club per hour for each worker. Jerry’s classic car is a 69 C10 chevy pickup.
In 2015 we elected the first woman president when Sharon Mellinger agreed to take the office. She held the largest car show to date. We had 226 participants. Also the largest 50/50 pot when member Paula Gayanich suggested we add prizes. We were named the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Month in May. Beverly Reece arranged scholarships thru the Mid-America Vo-Tech and we awarded two scholarships and set aside funds to award them for the next two years. We currently have 64 families as members. Sharon loves to drive her 1956 Ford Thunderbird and her 1974 model Bronco.
We are a non-profit organization and have donated funds to many worthy causes during our years. We have one member that has been with us since the beginning of the club in Dean Atkinson, but our two main starters watch us each April from their cloud in the sky .I’m sure they are delighted in seeing how much we have grown and are proud of what they started.