Be Like Oak
Written by Angela Rheingans, Executive Director, DeWitt Chamber & Development Company
Merle Anthony Ocken, known as “Oak” to those that met him, unexpectedly passed away on August 15. He left a legacy of leading by example, giving back, and making a positive impact on people and communities you care about.
Oak wasn’t a DeWitt native. Following retirement, he moved here with his wife, Nancy, and quickly got to work putting down roots in his new hometown. He volunteered his time with multiple community organizations, including the former DeWitt Development Corporation and the DeWitt Chamber & Development Company (DCDC), serving on our Board and various committees for 11 years. His outgoing personality, ability to analyze the details of a project, and his infectious smile made him a valued collaborator and beloved board member. I appreciated his input and thoroughly enjoyed our discussions on DCDC initiatives and ways to make our community better.
Oak was a member of the LincolnWay Community Foundation board of directors for 10 years. His passion for supporting community projects guided the Foundation’s commitment to providing multi-year grants, such as a $25,000, five-year commitment to renovations at the Frances Banta Waggoner Library. His attention to detail and true friendship will be greatly missed by board members and Executive Director Patricia Henricksen.
Oak was truly a model for making choices on how to give back and make a difference. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in DeWitt or if you choose to move here and make DeWitt your home, be like Oak and find the organizations that speak to your passions and priorities. They will welcome your thoughts, ideas, and time. Make these community nonprofits better for your efforts.
I believe our entire community is better for Oak’s involvement. He strengthened our community in ways that we will not realize the true impact of for decades to come. He understood that we all have the ability to make a difference, we just have to be willing to selflessly give of our time and talents. That's all it takes to be like Oak.
Thank you to all that already are like Oak.