Securing an Evergreen Memory

Paris Lawson

For 168 families, there has been an empty seat at the table during the holidays for the past two and a half decades. In the midst of a season typically filled with warmth and excitement, those affected by the OKC bombing in 1995 experience the amplified hurt of loss in a time of year that values family and loved ones above all.

“The holidays aren’t happy times for everybody,” said executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Kari Watkins. “Even 25 years later. Even while people have moved on with their lives or have new families or reengaged in some way it doesn’t take away the pain of the hurt.”

For the past 10 years, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum has adorned the chairs representing all 168 victims during the holidays with evergreen wreaths to commemorate an everlasting memory and ongoing life of those lost. Typically, volunteers, community groups and various donors execute the event. This holiday season however, members of the Thunder coaching staff and front office ornamented the field of empty chairs on Monday.

The chairs stand in nine rows representing a floor of the Federal Building where each person was located. Inscribed on each chair is the name of someone killed on that floor including the 19 smaller chairs peppered throughout the field bearing the name of each child lost in the bombing. The Thunder staffers delicately arranged the wreaths with intention and respect until the entire collection of chairs were uniformly garmented with green and red holiday accents.

“Every chance we have to partner with the memorial and partake in something like setting the wreaths out is the least we can do to contribute to remembering what happened here especially around the holiday time and to do that with a group of people that you work with on a daily basis is really meaningful and hopefully something we continue to do in the future,” said Sam Presti, general manager of the Thunder.

Presti not only serves on the executive committee of the memorial, but also ensures that each of his players understands and recognizes the significance of the event that is so engrained into Oklahoma City. For that reason, the Thunder staff and front office also grasp the full weight that the bombing carries in the city. Hence why the group happily sacrificed a few hours on an off day to secure 168 wreaths to 168 chairs.

With the 25th anniversary of the bombing on the horizon, the Thunder partnered with the memorial and Nike to create its 2020 City Edition Jerseys commemorating those changed forever on that fateful day in 1995. In November, the Thunder presented each of the 168 families who lost a loved one in the bombing with a jersey inscribed with the loved one’s name on the back. On January 9th, 2020, the Thunder will sport the City Edition Jerseys for the first time at home against the Rockets.

“Being a part of the community is a massive, massive responsibility of being a part of the Thunder,” said Presti. “It’s kind of one in the same and the role that the memorial plays in our community is central so it makes sense for us to always put a concentrated effort at the heart of all of our community endeavors being here.”

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