A lifetime of dedication to LeFlore County

For nearly four decades, a Poteau man has dedicated his life to making a positive impact on youth in need, but that era came to an end after Rick Couri’s retirement in December. Couri, 65, has spent the past 39 years of his life working for LeFlore County Youth Services. During his time with the organization, he has had an effect not only on the children he has helped and their families, but also on a community and his co-workers.“His dedication to the Youth Services over the last 39 years has been outstanding. It has been his life,” said Terri Krebs, current director of LCYS. “He has been there from the ground up till now and he is everything LCYS stands for.”Couri graduated from Poteau High School and attended Carl Albert State College on a baseball scholarship. Couri was grateful for the scholarship because at the time of his graduation, his parents were unable to afford college tuition. When he completed his associate degree, he transferred to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, where he found two true callings – his wife, who also was a Poteau graduate, and his love for helping children.“It all started when me and my wife [Pat] began working as counselors with the Upward Bound program in Durant,” Couri said. “When I graduated, the college offered me a stipend to return [Upward Bound] while I completed my bachelor’s degree and at that time I decided that was the path for me.” In 1971 Couri and his wife returned to Poteau when he accepted a job as a counselor at Pansy Kidd Middle School. During Couri’s three years with the middle school, he was a member of a steering committee to form an emergency youth shelter. Couri said goodbye to the middle school in 1974 after accepting the position as director of the shelter. “The committee asked me to be the director and since it was the same children I was already working with, I took the job,” Couri said. “I took a pay cut, but it has been worth it.”With Couri’s acceptance of the job, the first shelter, located on the corner of Walter and Sage streets in Poteau, known then as “The Shelter,” housed four children in its first month. Since those beginning days, the organization has continued to grow and has helped more than 5,000 youth. According to co-workers, he has been the foundation of the organization and has been there every time he was needed.“If you call him, he always comes, day or night, no matter the reason,” said Jenni Maggard, administrative assistant at LCYS. “Holidays weren’t excluded, no matter who needed him, the children or the staff.” “He [Couri] started this agency on his kitchen table,” Krebs said. “He has helped a lot of individuals in the county.”In Couri’s last day’s at LCYS as director, he saw a dream come to life. The LCYS just opened its new home, housing the emergency youth shelter and the administrative offices in one state-of-the-art facility. “None of this would have been possible without the community and the great staff at LCYS,” Couri said. “They have made LCYS what it is, The new facility has been a dream for 25 years. We wrote a grant to the Maybe Foundation and, along with other funds and patron donations saved over the years, it was made possible. The great support from the county, organizations and churches make it all worthwhile.” According to several, Couri has affected the lives of many people in the community and has made a difference in the county. “Rick [Couri] is a great asset to this area,” Poteau Chief of Police Stephen Fruen said. “From his many years of dedication to the Poteau Fire Department to his devotion and founding of the LeFlore County Youth Serivices, he has dedicated his life to bettering our great community.” Couri retired from the Poteau Fire Department last year, after serving more than 28 years, and now has found himself with time to pursue his favorite hobby – photography. Anyone who ever has witnessed a house fire in the area likely has seen Couri on the sidelines, snapping shots for his fire family.Since his retirement, Couri has found different ways to assist youth services. He is currently helping the staff prepare for a visit from Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. The national accreditation is required for Medicaid billing. He also has performed maintenance tasks at the facility such as keeping the grounds and helping with structural upkeeps and modifications. On May 24, Couri will be at the youth services golf tournament at the Choctaw Country Club, just as he has for the many years the event has occurred. When Couri isn’t at youth services or participating with the Poteau Lions Club, which he has done for the past 41 years, he spends time fishing, hanging out with his great neice and nephew and teaching firefighters the basic training they need for safety and survival. Couri has taught the fire fighter training course for more than 15 year. He began teaching with the Oklahoma State University Fire Training Program but when funds were reduced, the training course was taken over by Kiamichi Technology Center, where Couri now teaches. For decades Couri has not only been a leader in the community, but has also taken a leadership role in his church. He is a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Poteau and acts as the assistant treasurer as well as the chairman for the personnel committee. Couri is truly a person who many look up to and who has made an impact upon many lives. His contribution to the community and to the youth of LeFlore County has been marked in stone as a commemorative plaque for his service hangs on the wall at the youth services. He has been named the Poteau Man of the Year and has received several civic improvement awards over the years.