Local resident is thankful to Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services for lifelong career
ALTUS, Okla. — Larry Duffy from Altus has been employed as an educator and administrator at Western Oklahoma State College for 45 years, his entire working career in higher education.
Duffy began his journey at the college as a student with the help of Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and currently serves as executive secretary for the Western Oklahoma State College Foundation, Inc.
DRS’ Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired provided financial assistance through an employment program for jobseekers with disabilities, enabling Duffy to receive his associates in arts degree from WOSC.
Duffy qualified for vocational rehabilitation assistance because he was born blind due to congenital cataracts, which causes the lens of the eye to be cloudy instead of clear at birth. He had surgery as an infant, received his first pair of glasses at six-months-old and continued with an extreme visual impairment.
He transferred to Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford to earn his bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s degree in music.
Duffy’s friend and quartet singing member Jerry Gunkle, now deceased, was an employee for the state agency known now as DRS. He recommended that Duffy go to the office in Altus to take an aptitude test. After being tested, Gunkle encouraged Duffy to go back to school and pursue his college degree.
“He (Gunkle) said, ‘Larry we’ve got to get you into school. You’ve got too much to offer to be working on an hourly wage basis,’” Duffy said.
“They (DRS) were supportive all the way through my master’s program,” Duffy said.
After completing his master’s degree Duffy saw an opening at WOSC and received the job as a music instructor for vocal and instrumental activities.
Duffy has taught vocal music, choir, voice and started a pep band for the basketball games. In 1995 he became the Director of Development and Alumni Affairs. Then three years later was appointed to Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations.
His passion for music has remained through the years. He began a program at the college called the Friends of WOC Performing Arts, which provides money for performing arts on campus.
Duffy was inducted into the Western Oklahoma State College Alumni Association Hall of Fame in April 2022 and Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in November 2022.
“I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful career,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to help a lot of students and be a part of their lives, but really, I look back at it and it was that helping hand (from DRS) that provided funding for me to go back to school.”
Duffy recommends DRS to others because of the potential Gunkle saw in him and the financial services the agency was able to provide. He tells students with disabilities on campus about the agency.
SBVI Administrator Tracy Brigham said, “It is always incredible when one of our clients succeeds and thrives, but it’s even more extraordinary when they can make their job a lifelong career. That’s what SBVI aims for and wants for our clients.”
“When most people think of Western Oklahoma State College, they think of Larry Duffy,” WOSC President Dr. Chad Wiginton said. “Larry has been a valuable employee at Western since 1978 and his influence on this campus simply cannot be put into words.
“Because of his efforts, the citizens of southwest Oklahoma have a clear vision for supporting WOSC and have generously given of their time and finances to enhance student scholarships, academic and athletic programs, and student and staff development. He has spent his entire career serving others and I am honored to call him my colleague, mentor and friend.”
“You got to reach out to people,” Duffy said. “You can go through life and you can help yourself. But if you don’t help others, you’ve got a problem. If I can encourage a young person to reach out and explore opportunities for scholarship or support from Vocational Rehab, that’s what I want to do.”
Duffy was born in Walters, Oklahoma before moving to Altus with his parents in 1949 and then to Fredrick in 1953. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children and three grandchildren.
In 2022, DRS’ SBVI staff provided career counseling, employment, assistive technology, training and job placement services for 1,635 Oklahomans and helped 317 jobseekers find employment. Those who became employed earned average annual wages of $29,873 and paid $4,481 in annual taxes.
For information about programs offered by SBVI, phone 800-487-4042 to reach the nearest office or visit https://oklahoma.gov/okdrs/job-seekers/sbvi.html.
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Rachel McLemore, Communications Officer