http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Gene Conley shown with the Boston Red Sox. Conley won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves and three NBA Finals titles with the Boston Celtics. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cherokee Nation citizen Gene Conley shown with the Boston Red Sox. Conley won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves and three NBA Finals titles with the Boston Celtics. ASSOCIATED PRESS

2-sport star Gene Conley dies at age 86

The cover to Kathryn R. Conley’s book “One of a Kind: The Gene Conley Story” shows the Cherokee Nation citizen in his Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics gear. COURTESY
The cover to Kathryn R. Conley’s book “One of a Kind: The Gene Conley Story” shows the Cherokee Nation citizen in his Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics gear. COURTESY
07/11/2017 08:30 AM
FOXBORO, Mass. – There aren’t many who could say they were teammates with Hank Aaron and Bill Russell on a professional level. And there was probably only one man who could say he was a teammate of both. That man was also the only one who won a World Series and NBA Finals. That man was Cherokee Nation citizen Gene Conley, who died from at age 86 on July 4 in his Foxboro home.

Donald Eugene Conley was born Nov. 10, 1930, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Raymond Leslie Conley and Eva Beatrice Brewer.

The family moved to Richland, Washington, when Gene was 11. He lettered in baseball, basketball and track at Columbia High School before going to Washington State University in 1949 on a baseball scholarship. There he played baseball and basketball.

He played in the College World Series that year as WSU finished 29-6. Gene hit .417 average and won five games, two being shutouts. However, being 6 feet 8 inches tall, he played basketball for a season. In that season he was named an All-American and helped WSU win the Pacific Coast Northern Division.

But it was his pitching that brought big league scouts to WSU, and in 1950 he signed as an amateur free agent with the Boston Braves. He began pitching in the minor leagues in 1951, which was also the same year he married Kathryn Dizney, who survives him.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1952, the same year the Boston Celtics drafted him. According to The New York Times, the MLB in the 1950s was far less lucrative than today, and Conley needed an off-season job.

The Times reports that while playing with the Braves’ Triple A team, Gene pitched against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team on which Bill Sharman, a Boston Celtics guard, played third base.

The article states Gene’s basketball talent impressed Sharman after Sharman saw Gene play for WSU against UCLA in the Pacific Coast finals when Gene was a sophomore. After the game Sharman offered to approach Celtics coach Red Auerbach to see if Gene could try out for the team, the article states.

“He called Red Auerbach and said, ‘I saw this skinny guy from Washington — you should give him a call,’ ” Gene told the Times in 2012. “I had no idea who Red Auerbach or the Celtics were.”

The article states Gene made the Celtics as a reserve center and earned $4,500 for the 1952-53 season, appearing in 39 games. It states his baseball manager was displeased, and the next season the Braves paid him $5,000 not to play basketball. Gene didn’t play hoops again until 1958, when the Braves cut his salary after he lost six straight games.

He became an All-Star with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 and 1955. In 1957, he pitched the winning game of the World Series.

According to the Times, for his MLB career, he played 11 seasons – six with the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, three with the Boston Red Sox and two with the Philadelphia Phillies. He struck out Ted Williams and played against Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Gene won nine games in his championship season with the Braves, pitching alongside fellow Oklahoman Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette on a team that included sluggers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Wes Covington, the Times article states.

He posted a 91-96 record and a 3.82 ERA. Not bad for a guy who had just a fastball and curveball.

His wingspan was so great that his fastball appeared “to come out of third base,” Al Hirshberg wrote in a 1955 profile in The Saturday Evening Post.

“I could sling the ball good,” Gene told the New York Times. “I pitched nearly my whole career with just two pitches, and if you do that you usually don’t last too long.”

In 1958, he played both sports. In 1959, he won the first of three NBA titles with the Celtics. The other two came in 1960 and 1961. In his six seasons in the NBA, four with the Celtics and two with the New York Knicks, he averaged 5.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.

According to the Times, Gene played alongside Celtics legends Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, K. C. Jones and Bill Russell.

The Times states that in the years the Celtics made the playoffs, Gene showed up late for baseball’s spring training and out of shape despite playing basketball.

“I’d just go down there for two weeks and tell them I was ready to go, but I really wasn’t,” he told the Times. “The muscles are so different that when you get on dirt and put cleats on, it’s like running on clay, so all these different muscles get really sore.”

Playing two sports allowed little time to heal injuries, which often impaired his pitching. He struggled with back pain throughout his career and shoulder problems starting in 1955.

The Times states that toward the end of his career with the Red Sox, he received regular cortisone shots in his shoulder but did not tell the team, fearing his career would be over if it was known he had a sore arm. Though he won a career-high 15 games in 1962, his arm never recovered.

Gene played his final baseball game on Sept. 21, 1963, and was released by the Red Sox on April 25, 1964.
According to the Times, Gene played 18 professional seasons in 12 years. In six consecutive years during which his baseball and basketball careers overlapped, he played 12 professional seasons without taking a break.

After his playing days, he and his wife ran their Foxboro Paper Company for 35 years before retiring to Florida. The were married for 54 years and later returned to Foxboro. The couple had two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren. Kathryn wrote a book about his life called “One of a Kind.”

For more about Gene Conley, go to


News Writer – @cp_bbennett
09/20/2017 08:00 AM
OSAKA, Japan – Cherokee Nation citizen Martha Hardbarger is putting together her inherent love for Japan with her newfound love for education so she can teach English for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. “I am going to be paired with a Japanese teacher of English, so hopefully we will be able to cover each other’s weaknesses,” Hardbarger said of the yearlong program that began in August. “Ideally what will happen is we will team teach, the Japanese teacher giving explanations in Japanese when necessary, and me speaking only English to give them exposure to what native English speakers sound like and to get them to use the language in class more.” The Sequoyah High School and Stanford University graduate first entertained the idea of living abroad after two visits to Japan, during one in which a host mother mentioned the JET Program. After seeking her advice and that of a friend who had applied, Hardbarger completed the program’s three-phase application process. The first phase requires the applicant to write a personal statement detailing what he or she would bring to the program and two recommendation letters. The second phase encompasses personal interviews that must be conducted at Japanese embassies or consulates around the United States. The final phase is acceptance and placement before orientation in Tokyo. Hardbarger said that while the process takes nearly 10 months, it “makes sense” because of the program’s reputation and the responsibilities of being a participant. “The JET Program is pretty competitive as they offer some of the greatest benefits for teaching abroad and are often employed by local governments,” she said. “Not only are JET participants expected to teach English, but they need to also expose students to different cultures and countries. I have had to do a few introduction PowerPoints and usually talk about my family camp at Stokes (ceremonial ground in Sequoyah County in Oklahoma), show pictures of me and my family at powwows, my graduation photos where I have beaded caps and a feather, traditional foods, our flag, what the Cherokee written language looks like and how it is on street and store signs around Tahlequah (Oklahoma) and pictures from Diligwa at the (Cherokee) Heritage Center.” Though Japan and the CN are more than 6,000 miles apart, Hardbarger said her third visit abroad is revealing surprising similarities between the two cultures. “Both lifestyles are more interdependent-oriented compared to independent,” she said. “Relationships and working together are highly valued. Both cultures also have a high respect and honoring of nature. Another thing is the respect and value of elders. Something else that I’ve recently noticed is that during spring and summer, we have a lot of powwows and gatherings, and Japanese people have festivals and Cherry Blossom viewings, all of which are very social gatherings and celebrations.” Hardbarger encourages anyone interested in teaching abroad to apply for the program and reach out to past participants for application help. “Teaching abroad is one of the most rewarding, challenging experiences you can go through,” she said. “You will grow so much as a person, but you will also more than likely have some really difficult rough patches. The short times I had been to Japan before have been so memorable and life-changing that I am excited to see what happens when I have a whole year to spend here. Also, get as much help as you can with your application if you want to apply to a competitive program like the JET Program.” Hardbarger earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2016, but hopes that the JET experience will help determine if a teaching career is in her future instead. “If I really enjoy teaching and am able to develop and grow that skill set while here, then I would consider doing a master’s program to get certified to teach in the U.S.,” she said. “If I do decide to become a teacher, then this experience will be great to share with students and show them that they can do more and explore the world if they work towards that goal.”
09/19/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Candice Byrd recently attended the 2017 Next Generation Program hosted by the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People in South Africa. The association advocates for a safe collaboration space for different cultures and indigenous peoples from more than 100 countries. Out of 200 applicants, Byrd was the only Cherokee Nation citizen attendee and storyteller to attend, she said. “The purpose was to throw strangers together from all different nationalities. There were about 10 people from South Africa, 10 people from the African continent,” Byrd said, “There were about eight of us all from different countries, I was the only indigenous North American there.” Byrd attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in film, drama and television. She later earned a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Her master’s thesis focused on Native American storytelling. “I noticed in my very fancy art school none of these stories were about Native Americans, ever. I had grown up around that and I found that strange, I wanted my thesis to shed a light on that,” she said. She also dedicated her thesis to Oklahoman storytellers. A section was dedicated to Ardeena Moore, her Quapaw and Osage grandmother, and Cherokee storytellers Choogie Kingfisher and Robert Lewis, she said. “My thesis was a one-woman show. I was using the acting techniques that I learned in graduate school and put it into Native American storytelling. It forms my style along with all the other influences,” she said. Byrd applied to go to South Africa when her former undergraduate professor, Courtney Sanders, sent her an email to apply. While in South Africa, Byrd attended shows with her fellow classmates to compose a report for the upcoming next generation class. She also focused on workshops and team-building activities. “It (Next Generation Program) is also for the pure hope to spark international collaborations. A lot of the shows that we saw were international collaborations. I saw a piece that was a collaboration between Senegal and the Mariana Islands,” she said. “This international festival forges international and intercultural dialogue.” The trip allowed her to mingle with other indigenous cultures while learning about her culture and heritage through the arts. Byrd said she especially enjoyed being able to represent the CN while abroad in South Africa. “As a Cherokee person visiting other indigenous people it was heartening to see these places for Native voices to be heard again, to promote our culture, heritage and stories of survival,” she said. Being involved with the CN runs in her family. Joe Byrd, her father, is the Tribal Council’s Dist. 2 representative. He said he believes his daughter’s storytelling opportunities with the CN and the trip to Africa have led to many exciting things. “That trip led to her being around so many indigenous people in the area of performing arts. She has met so many people and learned about the rights of indigenous people, which fits right in with the Cherokee Nation people,” he said. He said his daughter storytelling abilities would allow the stories of the CN to be told in a truthful way. “I think now we’re able to tell our own stories through the performing arts. She was able to travel and learn about other indigenous people, and now she is able to tell our story correctly.”
09/15/2017 08:15 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – Dwight W. Birdwell, a former chief justice of the Cherokee Nation’s Judicial Appeals Tribunal, will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at the Embassy Suites. Birdwell, a Specialist 5 while in Vietnam, was awarded two Silver Stars for gallantry and two Purple Hearts for wounds received during battles. Now a practicing attorney in Oklahoma City, Birdwell will be inducted with 10 other honorees. Birdwell was born Jan. 19, 1948, in Amarillo, Texas, but grew up in Bell in Adair County. After graduating Stilwell High School in 1966, he entered the Army. In Vietnam, he was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, and 25th Infantry Division. Birdwell received the Silver Star for heroism on Jan. 31, 1968, when his unit rushed to defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which came under attack during the Tet Offensive. Cavalry Troop C was the first American ground unit from outside the airbase to respond to the attack. Unknown at the time, the attack by Troop C split the North Vietnamese regiment into two elements of about 300 enemy troops on one side of the American force and about 700 enemy troops on the other side. Heavy anti-tank fire from both enemy elements caused significant casualties among the American force. The C Troop tank commander and many of its other leaders were killed or wounded. Birdwell took command and placed intense fire on the enemy causing heavy Viet Cong losses and forcing them to seek protection. His Silver Star citation states Birdwell placed heavy fire on the enemy until his machine gun ran out of ammunition. He then retrieved an M-60 machine gun and continued to place fire on the enemy until his weapon was damaged by enemy fire, which wounded him, according to the Silver Star citation. “With complete disregard for his own safety, he then ran through the hail of enemy fire to get ammunition from other damaged vehicles and distributed it to his comrades,” the citation states. Birdwell then aided in the evacuation of wounded men, the citation states. He would earn a second Silver Star on July 4, 1968, when he risked his life to rescue more Americans, some of them who were wounded and stranded in a battle zone. Seeing a damaged American vehicle, Birdwell, with complete disregard for his safety, exposed himself to a heavy fire to maneuver his vehicle to the stricken vehicle. He loaded all the wounded aboard and evacuated them to safety, according to his Silver Star citation. Learning a second vehicle was damaged and stranded in the killing zone, Birdwell again exposed himself to hostile fire to evacuate the crew of a besieged vehicle, his second Silver Star citation states. After returning from Army service, Birdwell attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, graduating with distinction in 1972. Birdwell then attended the University of Oklahoma School of Law and graduated with honors in 1976. He has practiced law in Oklahoma City since 1976. Birdwell was a member of the tribe’s JAT, which is now called the Supreme Court, from 1987-99, serving as chief justice from 1995-96. To obtain a reservation for the banquet, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or email <a href="mailto:"></a> or call 405-424-5313. The deadline for reservations is Oct. 11.
09/13/2017 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Raymond Vann, a Cherokee Nation Veterans Center employee and longtime advocate of the less fortunate, died on Sept. 9 in Tulsa at age 74. Vann was born on Aug. 15, 1943, in Watts to Pete and Nanny (Gibson) Vann. He joined a family of three brothers and seven sisters. He attended school at Oaks Mission and Collinsville High School. On Oct. 13, 1966, he enlisted into the U.S. Army, serving in B Battery as a Pershing Missile Crewman. He was honorably discharged in September 1968 at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Upon leaving the military, he attended University at Mountain View College in Texas, attaining his associate’s degree. He then worked at General Motors and retired after 30 years of service. Vann served as chairman for the nonprofit group Warpony for 19 years, helping the less fortunate in the CN jurisdiction. For the past five years he served as an outreach coordinator at the CN Veterans Center, and was still employed at the time of his death. He had previously serve as a CN Election Commissioner for four years, ran for principal chief, deputy chief and Tribal Councilor. Vann also co-owned and co-operated Vann Gallery and Gifts for several years. He was honored as the AARP Elder of the Year in 2010 and was awarded the CN Medal of Leadership in Washington, D.C., in 2013, Grounds Up from the Cherokee Heritage Center and served as curator for “Deferring To The Elders” art show. His talents were varied and many, including clay sculpting, stone sculpting, co-authoring a Native American book and watercolor. He loved long drives in the Cherokee communities and time spent with the people. He leaves a son, Daniel Ray Vann, of Fort Worth, Texas. His son, Larry McIntyre, preceded him in death. He also leaves three grandsons and other grandchildren, many nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives. He leaves Pamela Dodd-Ramires, constant companion, caretaker, “partner in crime” and faithful friend. He also leaves his ex-wife, Sioux Smith-Vann. Funeral services for Vann will be held at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Souls Harbor Church in Chewey with Rev. D.J. McCarter officiating. Visitation will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 at Reed-Culver Chapel in Tahlequah. Online condolences for his family may be left at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Pallbearers are Jackson Hummingbird, Albert Ketcher, Sidney Wilder and Jerry Gallop.
09/06/2017 12:00 PM
CUSHING, Okla. – Organizers of the third annual Native American Heritage Festival on Sept. 9 will honor the late Cherokee author and Cherokee Nation citizen Robert J. Conley as its grand marshal. Conley – who was born on Dec. 29, 1940, in Cushing – died in 2014 at age 73. However, in the 1970s he served as assistant programs manager for the CN. He also served as director of Indian Studies at Eastern Montana, Bacone and Morningside colleges. He taught English at Morningside, Southwest Missouri State University and Northern Illinois University. He also held teaching and administrative appointments at the University of New Mexico and Lenoir-Rhyne College and served as elder-in-residence at the University of North Carolina. In 2008, he joined Western Carolina University and served as the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies and founding director of its Tsalagi Institute. His poems and short stories have been published in periodicals and anthologies during the years, including some in Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. His poems have been published in English, Cherokee, German, French and Macedonian versions. He said his first novel, “Back to Malachi,” was published in 1986 “out of anger” rooted in misrepresentations of Ned Christie, “a Cherokee who was falsely accused of murder and hounded for 4-1/2 years before he was killed by a huge posse.” At the time, publishers did not believe they could publish a Western with an Indian protagonist, but his work broke the threshold as he went on to assist in the early development of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers. Since that time he had more than 80 books published, a collection of short stories and several books on tape. He also wrote the novelization of the screenplay, “Geronimo: An American Legend.” He was a Western Writers of America member and won two of its Golden Spur awards for his novels “Nickajack” and “The Dark Island” and another Spur award for his short story “Yellow Bird: An Imaginary Autobiography,” published in “The Witch of Goingsnake.” In 1997, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame and a recipient of a lifetime achievement award in 2009 from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. He was also named the 2014 recipient of the WWA’s Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature. Evelyn Conley, his wife of 38 years and a United Keetoowah Band citizen, will accept the grand marshal honor for her late husband at a Sept. 8 luncheon in Cushing. Past grand marshals have been the late Dr. Bill Rice, a Native American law professor at the University of Tulsa who was also a UKB citizen, and actor Saginaw Grant, a Sac and Fox citizen. The festival begins at noon on Sept. 9 and features a juried art show, vendors and a competitive powwow. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
09/05/2017 08:15 AM
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. – Former “Forged in Fire” contestants are set to compete in the inaugural “Iron Mountain Metal Craft Grudge Match” forging competition Sept. 22-24 at the 14th Annual Old Mill Heritage Day. Around 18 former “FIF” contestants, including Cherokee Nation citizen and master bladesmith Ray Kirk, will demonstrate their bladesmith skills in the “Grudge Match.” The audience will choose the winner. “What we want to do is just share our time and meet the people that are ‘Forged in Fire’ fans, and sell some of our stuff,” Kirk said. “The thing that is exciting is that there’s that many of us from all over the country that will be there to play in the fire.” During the three-day event, the bladesmiths will set up booths to sell their products, have forging demonstrations and take photos with fans. After the competition, the contestants plan to give away their knives through a free drawing for festival attendees. “Forged in Fire” is an original competition series aired on the History Channel where world-class bladesmiths compete to create historic weaponry and put their skills on the line to be called a “Forged in Fire Champion.” Kirk appeared on Season 1 of the show and again in Season 4 as a fan favorite. For more information, visit the Iron Mountain Metal Craft Facebook page.