http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Annetta Neal and her husband Don stand in front of a stainless steel tank in their winery in Stroud, Okla. The couple owns and operates StableRidge Vineyards, which is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Annetta Neal and her husband Don stand in front of a stainless steel tank in their winery in Stroud, Okla. The couple owns and operates StableRidge Vineyards, which is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Movie inspires Oklahoma couple to open winery

Don Neal, left, talks to two taste-testing customers as his wife Annetta laughs at the couple’s StableRidge Vineyards in Stroud, Okla. Annette is a Cherokee Nation citizen. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Don Neal, left, talks to two taste-testing customers as his wife Annetta laughs at the couple’s StableRidge Vineyards in Stroud, Okla. Annette is a Cherokee Nation citizen. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
02/20/2014 07:46 AM
STROUD, Okla. (AP) – Every morning when Annetta Neal wakes up, she can peer out the window at her workplace.

While some people may not want to get up and immediately be reminded of how they are about to leave their cozy home and head to work, Neal doesn’t mind.

Her office is surrounded by rolling hills and rows of grapevines. Her desk sits behind an area where a priest once taught lessons of Jesus Christ turning water into wine, or using wine to teach His disciples about his life.

The words of wine have been echoing within the walls of the former Catholic church on Route 66 in Stroud for nearly 10 years as the home of StableRidge Vineyards, founded and owned by Neal and her husband, Don Neal.

The two entered the wine business after spending most of their lives in other careers, Annetta as a teacher and Don in the banking industry.

Annetta came from a family of teachers, with her mother and sister working in classrooms, and her grandmother teaching elocution.

“I was told it was the perfect occupation for a mother because you could be home at summer,” she said. “It was an occupation for women that was wide open.”

She received her teaching degree at East Central University, where she met Don. The two were married in 1970 and have been embarking on adventures together ever since. Annetta’s first teaching assignment was helping students improve their reading skills. Then the couple moved to Louisiana, where Annetta had her own pottery studio.

When they moved back to Oklahoma in 1981, she returned to the classroom. For more than 20 years, she taught first and second grade in Milfay. She loved teaching, but she always thought there was something more out there to life.

That’s when she and Don sat down one night to watch the movie “A Walk in the Clouds.”

“I remember thinking, ‘What a wonderful romantic movie, just walking through the vineyard,’“ she said. “Don saw it and thought growing grapes sounds like fun.”

The idea of starting a winery was born.

If Annetta was going to start on this new journey in life, she was going to do it right. She headed off to classes to learn about the science of making wine. For the next two years, she went to Texas and California for classes while continuing to teach her beloved students.

Then fate intervened in their lives when a 1999 tornado that hit Moore also made its way northeast and did a lot of damage to the property down the hill from them, where a Catholic church sat next to a home.

“We decided this was the opportunity to acquire the property next to us,” she said.

The property wasn’t in the best condition. They had to remove a lot of old steel and tear down chicken coops and other old buildings. Once it was cleaned up, they planted their first crop of grapes in 2000.

“It takes several years to get a good crop,” she said. “You have to pinch them off and throw them away the first few years to get them stronger.”

Despite the challenges, they never turned away from their dream to build a winery.

“It was always move ahead, move ahead,” Don said. “I always tell people, ‘We’re pioneers. Where we are today, no one’s been before. We never thought we made a mistake by doing this.’“

Being in the agriculture business comes with aggravation, he said.

“We get some very good crops,” Don said. “Some years, we don’t. Overall, it’s worth it. Some people did plant their vineyards in the wrong location.”

While Don was learning how to grow the grapes, Annette was perfecting her craft.

In 2004, she retired from the classroom and the next day, the vineyard and winery officially opened. In 2007, after he realized he was spending more time at the vineyard than at his job in the banking industry, Don started working there full time. When he’s not planting grapes, Don can be found in his art studio using different textiles and materials to create three-dimensional hearts and other mixed-media works.

The couple grows some grapes on the property in Stroud. The rest of the grapes are grown around the state, allowing the couple to endure the ranges of Oklahoma weather and have diversity in their product. Grapes are grown in Stillwater, Norman, Newcastle, Jay, Duncan and other more rural areas.

“(The industry) is so diverse,” she said. “You’re in agriculture. You’re in science. There’s sales. Marketing. There’s never a dull moment.”

The winery is a Certified Indian Business since Annetta is a Cherokee Nation citizen. The wine is available in the CN’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa, WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Artesian Hotel in Sulphur and River Spirit Casino in Tulsa.

The wine is sold through a distributor, which helps put the product out across the state.

Because they have a winery in Oklahoma, Don said, they must disprove a perception about their products.

“Not everyone is created equal,” he said. “We are the grown-up winery. We didn’t dumb it down either.”

They could have used grapes from out of state, he said, but they wanted to stick to making an Oklahoma product with Oklahoma produce. Oklahoma-grown grapes are now harder to come by since fewer wineries in the state are using them, he said.

Using Oklahoma grapes has also helped set their product apart and made StableRidge an attraction on Route 66. Oklahoma grapes have helped make their product a recognized name in competitions. The couple took home a gold medal in the 2006 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. They competed against 4,000 different wines from 20 different countries.

Now StableRidge is even an agritourism destination, meaning it’s a place that the state would want to show people from outside the country. There is a state-produced sign pointing visitors in the direction of the vineyards in Stroud.

“They have a huge amount of people that stop and go through to tour the winery,” Tim Schook, city manager for Stroud, said. “They also attract a lot of people from the city both ways. They are bringing people into the community. They have a good volume on their wine sales. Every bit of sales tax revenue is good for any city. They’re good for us in many ways.”

Stroud Chamber of Commerce President Rick Craig said Don points people back to Stroud through his product.

“We need everything we can get to point people to our town,” he said. “They bring a constant line of people into our community to taste their wine and see what Stroud has to offer.”


09/22/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For World War II veteran Jack Shamblin, being on this year’s Cherokee Warrior Flight is more than a trip. It’s another chance to visit the grave of his grandson, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who was killed by ISIS and laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in 2015. He is among eight Cherokee veterans who will leave for the nation’s capital to visit several war memorials and tour the Capitol building as part of the Cherokee Nation’s fourth annual Cherokee Warrior Flight. At 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa a special dinner in the Sky Room will honor the veterans. The three World War II veterans, three Korean War veterans and two Vietnam veterans will be presented with vests and hats with Cherokee Warrior Flight patches from Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. “It’s quite an honor to be recognized by the Cherokee Nation, and I look forward to sharing this trip with Joshua’s brother, Zack,” Shamblin, 90, of Roland, said. “I love this country, and I am thankful to the Cherokee Nation for everything they have done for my family and for so many other veterans.” The flight departs at 6:30 a.m. from Tulsa International Airport for Washington, D.C., on Monday. From Sept. 25-27, the veterans will tour Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Wall and the U.S. Capitol before arriving back in Tulsa at 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday. “This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of our veterans, and one of the most important ways we can show our gratitude for their service,” Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran, said. “This year’s veterans represent a variety of service over many decades and many stories, and I feel honored to share this experience with each of them.” World War II veteran Wayne Kellehan, 92, of Claremore, said he is looking forward to sharing everything about the trip with his daughter, Carolyn, who is going as his chaperone. “I was so surprised to be invited on the Cherokee Warrior Flight,” Kellehan, who was a corporal in the U.S. Army, said. “It sure means a lot to me to go, and I am excited to see all that there is to see.” Also on the flight are two Vietnam veteran brothers, who had planned to attend with their third brother, but he recently died. The Cherokee Warrior Flight’s mission is similar to the national Honor Flight organization’s goal of helping all veterans, willing and able, to see the memorials that were erected in their honor. With more than 4,000 military veterans who are CN citizens, the CN is replicating that experience for its people. The veterans participating on the 2017 Cherokee Warrior Flight consist of: • Jack Shamblin, 90, Army Air Force, of Roland, World War II • Wayne Kellehan, 92, Army, of Claremore, World War II • Johnnie Crittenden, 92, Army, of Burbank, California, World War II • John Swimmer, 84, Army, of Vian, Korean War • Granvill “Buck” Murray, 84, Army, of Claremore, Korean War • Jim Quetone, 86, Army, of Tahlequah, Korean War • Ray Grass, 70, Navy, Air Force, of Locust Grove, Vietnam War • Russell Grass, 73, Navy, of Walnut Creek, California, Vietnam War.
09/21/2017 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – In honor of the U.S. Air Force’s past seven decades of service, Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions recently partnered with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to honor its branch’s contributions to civil engineering. The effort is part of a broader Air Force anniversary campaign to highlight multiple generations of Airmen and their service to our country. “Civil engineers have been positioning the Air Force to fly, fight and win for 70 years,” John Hansen, CNTS operations general manager, said. “We are honored to have the opportunity to help showcase their achievements and heritage through our support of AFCEC’s ‘70 Years of Civil Engineers Leading the Way’ campaign.” CNTS, a company within the consulting sector of Cherokee Nation Businesses, designed commemorative posters, artwork and web pages highlighting significant eras in Air Force civil engineering history. The campaign highlights airfield support for the Korean conflict, establishment of highly mobile, heavy-construction squadrons known as Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer or RED HORSE, construction of the Vandenberg Space Launch Complex and support for the Gulf and Afghanistan wars. The civil engineer posters are available through AFCEC for use by Air Force installations around the world. The U.S. Air Force was officially formed into its own military branch on Sept.18, 1947. The date is commonly referred to as the Air Force’s birthday and is celebrated annually. For more information on CNTS, email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
News Writer
09/21/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council unanimously passed the Cherokee Nation’s $895 million comprehensive budget for fiscal year 2018 at its Sept. 11 meeting. The comprehensive budget is comprised of the operating budget, used for tribal expenses and costs, approved at $648.3 million, plus the capital appropriations budget, which includes land purchases and construction of facilities and roads, approved at $246.7 million. In 2016, the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Committee approved its largest-ever beginning budget at $934.2 million for FY 2017. “The fiscal year 2018 budget has decreased by $39,209,252 primarily in the capital budget due to the ongoing construction of the Cherokee Nation Hastings joint venture project,” CN Treasurer Lacey Horn said. The W.W. Hastings Hospital joint venture project with Indian Health Services broke ground in February. Construction of the 469,000-square-foot addition in Tahlequah is expected to be completed in 2019. Horn said budget reductions in FY 2018 include a $250,000 reduction to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation’s Housing Accessibility program; a $129,500 reduction for the completion of the Ketcher Youth Shelter repair; a $467,548 reduction for the CN Tax Commission; a $273,871 reduction for the Tribal Election Fund for the off-year election budget; and a $199,338 reduction for the secretary of Natural Resources for one-time funding. The new budget increases Health Services’ funds by $1.4 million for a total budget of $279 million, and One Fire Victim Services Office will receive an increase of $47,800 to help more victims of assault and domestic abuse. Other department increases include $147,221 for the Supreme Court for space cost and moving to the W.W. Keeler Complex’s second floor; a $276,187 increase for the CN Gaming Commission for a full year of career ladder changes; funding shifts for Registration at $857,904 and the Marshal Service’s Cherokee Nation Entertainment contract at $1.2 million. Horn said two new programs were recently granted funds through the General Fund with $132,150 going to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and $126,053 to the Kawi Café for a one-year pilot project that was previously funded by federal grants with a continuation stipulation. Also included in the FY 2018 budget was $8 million in tribal and grant funds to be used for the preservation and protection of clean water. “As the chair of the Executive and Finance Committee, it is important to me that each Tribal Councilor fully understands each section of the budget,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said. “We took our time going over every department, and in the end, the budget was passed without opposition. The full support of the council is an indication of this body’s desire to continue to serve the Cherokee people in the spirit of unity. I am proud of our ability to work together for the good of all of our citizens.” For more information on previous budgets and reports, visit <a href=" " target="_blank"></a>.
CNHI News Oklahoma
09/21/2017 10:00 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Questions on whether the Cherokee Nation has been misusing housing funds for college scholarships has led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD is investigating whether the CN misused funds when it used Native American Housing and Self Determination Act money for the tribe’s Cherokee Promise Scholarship recipients since 2010, said Patricia Campbell, a regional public affairs officer for HUD. “SWONAP (Southwest Office of Native American Programs) office in OKC has not determined whether or not the funds were improperly used,” Campbell said in a recent email. “They have put the Nation on their list to audit in FY (fiscal year) 2018 (which starts Oct. 1). They do not have a scheduled date at this time. They tell me the tribal leaders have been very cooperative and are reviewing the situation themselves.” Amanda Clinton, CN Communications director, said CN officials have looked at the situation and believe that the funds used were allowable. “The Cherokee Nation Higher Education Department funds a portion of their scholars program out of the NAHASDA program identified in Section 18.2 of the Indian Housing Plan. The NAHASDA funding is specific to what is outlined in the IHP,” she said in a written statement. The CN did not provide any copies of the Indian Housing Plan to the Muskogee Phoenix. However, a copy of the tribe’s 2014 report to HUD found online at indicates Section 18.2 is titled “Project-based College Housing Assistance.” The program description is: “To provide housing and everything required by the college to attend and live on the campus of Northeastern State University or Rogers State University.” The intended use is: “Payment of all required expenses and fees for living on the college campus including room and tuition.” Clinton said that annual reports of the tribe’s use of NAHASDA funds have not raised any red flags with authorities in the past. The question was raised after 98 freshmen Cherokee Promise Scholarship applicants intending to attend NSU, RSU and Connors State College received letters in early August that said: “Due to a reinterpretation of federal guidelines, a significant portion of the scholarship package is no longer available.” Subsequent media releases from the CN indicated concerns for the amount of NAHASDA funding that would be available in the future, and concerns about the greatly increased number of applicants for the scholarship were the deciding factors in the denials rather than any concern that the tribe was misusing funds from NAHASDA. Campbell said the funding the CN received for NAHASDA slightly increased in 2017, but 2018 funding is unknown. “The president’s proposed IHBG (Indian Housing Block Grant) budget for FY 2018 is $48M less than 2017. However, that is a proposal only, and there is no FY18 budget that has been enacted yet,” she said. Soon after the letters of scholarship denial were sent to the freshmen applications, the CN announced in a media release that the 98 applicants would receive the funding for which they requested for school year 2017-18, but the program for all except current sophomores, juniors and seniors will be subsequently discontinued. – REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
News Writer
09/20/2017 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service on Aug. 29 deployed a 10-member team to Houston for a week to aid in search and rescue efforts following Hurricane Harvey. The team worked with Oklahoma Task Force One to send swift-water trained marshals to help flood victims stuck in their homes. “We were working with several different Oklahoma agencies where we were at. We did evacuations, water rescues, a few short patrols, but mainly it was just calls for service, people trapped in high water,” Capt. Danny Tanner said. The marshals covered 15 square miles where water levels rose and fell because of water being let out of levies. Marshals were staged in a Target parking lot in the Memorial City Mall. With the OTF, marshals helped with approximately 1,000 evacuations, 250 water rescues, 200 animal rescues and other calls. “We train for these disasters to happen, hoping they don’t. But when they do then we’re ready to go. Our guys need to be ready within 24 hours of a disaster,” Tanner said. The team took its own supplies such as water, food, boat gas, generators, sleeping gear, fours ATVs, two UTVs and two boats. “We ran calls for seven days. They thought it was going to take 14 (days). We cleared 4,200 residences doing a door-to-door check on people, if there was anybody there,” Tanner said. CNMS Lt. Mike Roach said while working on rescues and evacuations, they discovered they needed rafts because of waters being too shallow for boats. Roach called the War Eagle Resort on Highway 10 near Tahlequah, asking manager Chance Imhoff if the marshals could rent or buy rafts. Imhoff donated four rafts, and two deputies delivered them to Houston the same night. They were used the next day. “It’s kind of interesting that help comes from local raft communities here in Cherokee County all the way down to Texas,” Roach said. One rescue included helping three Cherokee Nation citizens – Laramie George, her 5-month-old son Jasper, and her sister Terra George. Laramie was without baby supplies for her son and the marshals helped her. “I’m so blessed to have connected with them and be a Cherokee citizen. They bought Jasper diapers, formula and a new jumper. I’m ever so grateful,” Laramie said in a Facebook post. Marshals also teamed with (Muscogee) Creek Lighthorse members to work the same area. They worked together to rescue a 94-year-old Houston resident and his wife trapped in their nursing home apartment complex. Roach said Oklahomans provided a big help during the flood. “There was so much help from Oklahoma that they sent Houston Fire (Department) home to take calls from their fire stations and other parts of the city, and just let Oklahoma handle the flood. We handled all their calls that was in the floodwater while Houston did the things that they do, their other calls. So that was kind of neat for us to just pretty much take over that effort from Houston for that week.” Roach said while on the seven-day mission, Houston residents extended their kindness by providing hot meals to all aid workers. “Only thing I can say about Houston was (they had) probably the nicest people that we’ve ever tried to help. Everybody was real appreciative. They’d bring us food. They wouldn’t let us pay for anything. Nice fresh meals from strangers that didn’t know us from anything,” Roach said.
News Writer – @cp_bbennett
09/20/2017 12:00 PM
HOUSTON – When Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain and affected many people, including Cherokees. Hurricane Harvey’s rains destroyed the home of Cherokee Nation citizen Mary Margaret DeFiore, a resident in the Cinco Ranch Equestrian Village neighborhood of Houston. Her property backs up to an area that serves as a reservoir for Houston, though she said subdivision developers failed to disclose that fact. As a result, her home was in the path of the floodwaters released from two reservoirs as they reached capacity. “We are in the group that was flooded deliberately when they opened the gates and dumped the Addicks Reservoir into the Barker Reservoir so that the people with the county estates would be less affected,” DeFiore said. “We were never expecting to be victims of somebody releasing from another reservoir into ours because ours is like the affordable housing section of the builders who built down here.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered the floodwaters’ release and is now facing a lawsuit by Fulkerson Lotz LLP on behalf of several communities, including DeFiore’s. The firm estimated the release caused approximately $3 billion in damages, according to the Houston Business Journal. “In our suit, we are asking only that the government compensate property owners for their losses caused by the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to use their home as a flood plain,” stated the law firm in a Facebook post. “We understand that the government felt it had to release to avoid a greater problem, but when the Corps made the decision to use vast residential and business areas as a water holding pen, it took those properties just as if it had taken them to make a road.” DeFiore said there was minimal warning to evacuate beforehand, and afterwards she and her husband faced price gouging at a hotel as they sought shelter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has since stepped in to house her husband and other first responders, while DeFiore has been taken in by “the kindness of strangers.” The couple’s home suffered damage and the future is uncertain while Houston begins its recovery. “The house, there’s no carpeting. Everything’s torn up,” DeFiore said. “We had the cabinets removed. I need to have my insulation vacuumed out and then new insulation put back in because of the moisture. My walls in the entire house, the wallboards are cut all the way up to four feet. I don’t know what we’re going to do because we can’t move back in. I’m a nomad. I’m going to max out my credit cards. The insurance does not cover housing or food or anything. I’m going to have to have time to sit down on my computer and start applying for grants so that we can get our lives back.” CN citizen Vicki Henrichs, who lives in a Houston suburb, also suffered damage to her home after the release of floodwaters from two upstream dams. As with DeFiore, Henrichs said her neighborhood was only given warning of the release the day before. “Social media appeared to be the warning system, as residents looked outside to see water gushing from storm drains, then engulfing their yards and houses at frightening speed. Many sent alerts for rescue by social media,” she said. “The northern portion of my subdivision is a disaster area where most could not return to homes for many days to retrieve the majority of possessions due to remaining high water.” Henrichs escaped the brunt of the damage, though home repairs are still ongoing after more than 30 inches of rain created a crack in her ceiling and two feet of floodwaters and mold filled her garage. Harvey is not her first hurricane for Henrichs, who weathered Hurricane Rita in 2005. She credits that experience and her Cherokee roots for when it came time to prepare. “Credit my Cherokee maternal grandmother and my Cherokee mother for advocating for preparedness for many conditions,” she said. “Therefore, I always have ‘hurricane ready’ nonperishable foods and supplies and do supplement them for (a) typical hurricane season. Additionally, I have an emergency kit for my dog and ready-to-go baggage for my own needs.” Wade McAlister, Cherokee Citizens League of Southeast Texas president, said his group held a meeting after Harvey made landfall to begin organizing and collecting gift cards for affected families. “The families that do need stuff can use those over time, and it’s something that we can continue to give out two to three months from now,” he said. “It’s not like a bunch of bottled water and then they don’t need water anymore or we have a bunch of clothes and we don’t need clothes anymore. The needs are always changing.” CCLST Vice President Michele Hayes said many gift cards were for Lowe’s Home Improvement, Target and Wal-Mart so that families can buy essentials and start rebuilding. “The long-term things are going to be the hardest like paying for gas and groceries or just ice because since they don’t have a home, they’ve been forced to keep their food in coolers because they don’t have refrigerators. Just think about camping long term, what you would need, that’s what they need,” she said. As of Sept. 19, the organization had helped more than 20 families, and that number was expected to rise. “We’re still getting requests and we’re still getting donations,” he said. “I think during the storm and during the initial aftermath and even now during the recovery, I think Houston is showing the best side of its citizens. This is the most diverse city in the United States and everybody has been able to come together and take care of each other.” Information on how to donate to the CCLST can be found at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that recovery would take several years and cost $150 billion to $180 billion. According to The Weather Channel, the Category 4 hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph when it made landfall near Rockport.