ENID, Okla. — Ernie Currier’s philosophy of civic involvement is simple.
“My thought process has always just been, be willing to help wherever you’re needed,” said Currier, senior vice president of commercial lending at Security National Bank. “My parents ingrained it in me, if you can be of help, be willing to do it. That’s kind of always been the way I approach everything.”
That willingness to help has led Currier to positions with the Enid Board of Education, Enid City Commission, Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, Autry Technology Center Foundation, Vance Development Authority, Oklahoma Baptist University board of trustees, the Northwestern Oklahoma State University /Northern Oklahoma College advisory board and a stint as Enid’s mayor.
It also has landed him a spot as one of four finalists for the 2014 Pillar of the Plains award. The other three are Frank Baker, Richard “Dick” McKnight and Paul Allen. The winner will be announced at a reception 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at Convention Hall.
Currier, who was born in Buffalo, moved to Enid in 1971 after graduating from high school. The family moved here because Currier’s father, who was disabled, required medical care. The family was poor. Until Ernie was in the third grade, their home had no indoor plumbing.
“My family still took a bath in a galvanized tub in the kitchen,” said Currier.
He attended Oklahoma Baptist University but never graduated. He jokes that he “came closer to getting kicked out than I did graduating, because I was kind of ornery.”
Currier said he finds it ironic that he was later asked to serve on OBU’s board of trustees, where he was part of the academic committee.
“I thought, boy, God’s got a sense of humor,” he said.
God comes up often in Currier’s conversations. He says, “If it weren’t for God, I wouldn’t have anything. Everything I have in my life is because God gave it to me as a gift.”
That includes, he says, his wife, Debbie, son Chris, and the rest of the couple’s “35 kids, maybe 40.” He quickly clarifies that’s what he calls the members of the young adult Sunday school class he and Debbie teach at Enid’s First Baptist Church.
Many of the young people in the class are from out of town, some here serving at Vance Air Force Base.
“So we have become the local mom and pop,” said Currier. “As an old codger, I get to spend a lot of time with young folks, and they keep me young.” Class members, in fact, refer to the Curriers as “Ma and Pa.”
“Ernie and Debbie are both strong leaders in our church,” said Andy Teague, minister of education and outreach at First Baptist. “They feel particularly led to work with young adults. They are looked upon among our people as some of the most important leaders.”
Capt. David Albertson, an Air Force Reserve instructor pilot stationed at Columbus, Miss., AFB, and his wife were two of Currier’s “kids” when he was an IP with the 5th Flying Training Squadron at Vance.
“He has taken in so many folks, it is like his mission,” said Albertson. “With all the military folks at Vance, he takes all of them in and creates a family atmosphere for people who don’t have families there. He became a father figure.”
The Curriers often invite members of their class to their farm for holidays, barbecues or to ride four-wheelers.
“I can’t say enough good things about Ernie,” said Albertson. “He is a good man. He would give you the shirt off his back. He is a man dedicated to service.”
Besides the shirt off his back, Currier also will always give you his opinion.
“Ernie is not a yes man,” said Teague. “He is very quick to express his opinion. He has an outgoing personality that people respond to.”
“He always speaks his mind,” said former Enid City Commissioner Don Rose, who served on the commission with Currier. “He will tell you the way he thinks. He is not one of those guys who sit in the corner and don’t say anything.”
Currier was never in the service, but is a strong supporter of the military. He was mayor during the last Base Realignment and Closure round in 2005, when Vance actually gained personnel. While he was mayor, Enid became a partner in the Department of Defense’s America Supports You movement. In the spring of 2005, Enid became the first community in the nation to hold an America Supports You rally honoring U.S. troops. Also during his tenure as mayor, Currier recommended making the 71st Flying Training Wing commander an honorary member of the city commission. Upon leaving office as mayor, Currier was named a Vance Partner in the Sky, an honor reserved for those deemed to have gone above and beyond in their support of the base, and he later served as an honorary commander.
During his time as mayor, Currier got a ride in a T-38, a session that started out better than it ended.
“I threw up a great deal,” he said. “They tell me that 90 percent of the people get sick, but it is amazing to me I’m the only one I’ve ever heard admit it.”
Currier’s road to banking was a unique one. He was living in Waco, Texas, when his first wife asked for a divorce. Currier wanted only one thing, custody of their son, Chris. She agreed. As a new single father, Currier moved back to Enid to be closer to family.
He got a job selling cars at Danny’s Datsun, a profession he wasn’t suited for.
“When it came to selling cars, I pretty much stunk,” he said.
But despite his struggles, the dealership’s owner Dan Mugg, and Currier’s boss, Dan Smith, men he calls “spiritual heroes,” kept him on and encouraged him.
“I truly believe it was because they saw someone that needed ministered to,” said Currier.
Another colleague at Danny’s, Olin Unruh, told Currier about a job with First National Bank of Enid. He applied and was hired as a collector. He worked there until 1986, moving up through the ranks. Just days before the bank failed in 1986, he took a job with the people who owned First National Bank in Hennessey and People’s National Bank in Kingfisher.
“I turned in my notice the following Monday, and that Thursday the bank (First National of Enid) closed,” said Currier.
He has been with SNB since 1996.
“I had no desire to be a banker,” Currier said. “You go where God leads you and you do your best with where you are put.”
He says serving on the city commission, and as mayor, “were never aspirations.”
He was approached by Bert Mackie, then one of his colleagues at Security National Bank, and was encouraged to run for city commission.
“I told him I wasn’t really interested, and he said, ‘You’re going to get a lot of calls because there’s a group that thinks you’d be good at it,’” said Currier.
While serving on the commission, he was chosen to fill the term of Irv Honigsberg, who was sitting mayor when he died in 2004.
Currier’s term on the city commission and as mayor came during what he calls “an eventful time” in Enid’s history — a new city manager (Eric Benson) was hired, and city employees unionized.
“I had a very eventful tenure,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff going on at that point.”
“I always relied on him on the financial side of things,” said Rose. “He was a great guy to work with. He always represented the community in a positive manner.”
In his spare time, Currier likes to ride motorcycles. He leads a group of motorcycle enthusiasts at First Baptist who refer to themselves as “Church of the Wind.”
“I’ve always enjoyed doing things that had a little risk to them,” he said. That included a brief stint as a bull rider during his college days.
But he never dreamed his ride through life would bring him to where he is today.
“To come from that background, and to be able to pick up the phone and call the Pentagon, and my calls got taken, I’m not trying to make anything of myself, but you’ve got to admit that’s just a trip I never expected to take,” Currier said. “It just amazes me where God can take someone in their life journey.”