ADA – Two members from East Central University’s Class of 1970 have been recognized as Distinguished Alumni for 2020.
Ruben Elizarde and Dr. Ed Huckeby received the prestigious honor this month. The award presentations traditionally take place during Homecoming weekend festivities each fall. Because the pandemic preempted this year’s Homecoming event, ECU representatives hand-delivered the news – along with the distinctive tiger trophies – to the recipients at their homes.
The Distinguished Alumni award recognizes alumni, defined as graduates or former ECU students, who have excelled in at least one of the following areas: 1) Achievement of distinctive success in his or her chosen field or profession; 2) Performance of outstanding service to his or her community; and/or 3) Provision of service and contributions to the University.
“We are pleased to recognize Ruben Elizarde and Dr. Ed Huckeby as East Central University 2020 Distinguished Alumni,” said Dr. Katricia Pierson, ECU president. “Both men have achieved above and beyond in their chosen fields, elevating not only their own careers but also the value of the ECU experience. We are honored to add their names to an esteemed list of alumni who have built exemplary lives after graduation.”
Following are biographical sketches of both award recipients, including their reactions to being named ECU 2020 Distinguished Alumni.
“You gotta believe in yourself. And sometimes that’s not easy to do, especially when there’s so many negative things that can happen and maybe pitfalls that come your way. They’re going to be there. Don’t be afraid of them. Prepare for them. The harder you work, the easier it will be for you. If it doesn’t come easy, then keep trying and keep trying. I’ve lived my life that way. If you aim for the stars, even if you fall short, at least you’ll be up there with them.”
Although Ruben Elizarde is referring to his own experiences, he may as well be talking to the next generation of Tigers. It is fitting wisdom from a career teacher and coach who is now a member of ECU’s most prestigious circle. He promptly dedicated the honor to his parents.
“You look back and you think of the reasons why you did the things that you did,” Elizarde said. “I can’t help but think about my mom and dad. Our parents are our first teachers.”
As ECU’s first-ever Hispanic student-athlete in 1966, Elizarde is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. It started long before he arrived in Ada, Oklahoma. Growing up in Harlingen, Texas – about as far south in the state as you can go – Elizarde started elementary school without knowing how to speak English. Overcome with nerves, he asked to stay home.
“Solo di por favor y gracias,” his mother told him on that first day. “Just say please and thank you.” Her gentle reassurance would spark a lifetime of achievement.
“If you have a hunger in your heart and you want to feed it, go out and do the things to accomplish that,” Elizarde said. “Everyone wants to be successful, but along the way it’s not going to be easy. Because if it was easy, everybody would be successful. It’s the people that get knocked down and get up and keep trudging ahead, they learn that they’ve got to make sacrifices.”
ECU Football turned out to be Elizarde’s early vehicle for success. Not the largest player on the team, his determination and hard work led to a successful playing career with the Tigers and in his life beyond. Before he graduated in 1970, Elizarde was twice named All-Conference middle linebacker on teams led by legendary coach Elvan George, who he cites as a mentor along with coach Pat O’Neal. Not bad for a young man whose arrival at ECU also marked his first trip north of the Red River.
“There was an East Central University family back then, just as there is now,” Elizarde said. “Coaches, professors, people in administration – it was a close-knit family. When the opportunity arose to become a coach and teacher after graduation, I was ready and I found all the tools I needed at ECU, which gave me the means to provide for my family and be successful in my career.”
Elizarde indeed enjoyed great success throughout his life. After graduating from ECU, he started a coaching career that spanned more than five decades – including collegiate work at Baylor University, Colorado State University-Pueblo and Midwestern State University. Elizarde also coached at four large Texas high schools, compiling a winning record across that span. He helped three of them to playoff appearances and was named Texas Coach of the Year on four occasions.
In 2007, Elizarde left Texas for McAlester, Oklahoma, to stay. He did some coaching there as well, but primarily he settled into a busy retirement with the greatest gift ECU gave him – his wife Karla, who also graduated as a Tiger in 1970. The couple has been married for 50 years and have two successful sons and several grandchildren.
In 2016, Elizarde received ECU’s Milam Award, which goes to a former Tiger football player who not only excelled in the classroom and on the gridiron, but also distinguished himself in his chosen career. The award is named in honor of Joe Milam, a former educator and coach in the states of Oklahoma and Texas. With that prestigious honor, Elizarde believed he had reached the pinnacle of achievement at ECU. Then the news came about his Distinguished Alumnus award.
“I was shocked, I was overwhelmed,” Elizarde said. “I am very proud but at the same time very humbled by it, because there’s been so many great people before me. I really appreciate all the people who were involved with me being selected for this award. It has made my career and the sacrifices that I have put in all worthwhile.”
Elizarde was so fond of his time and experience at ECU that he established the Ruben and Karla Elizarde Centennial Athletic Endowment. The scholarship is awarded to a student-athlete of Hispanic heritage, male or female, who has completed athletic eligibility but still needs additional hours to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree. He also actively donates to the ECU Alumni Association, the Excellence in Women’s Athletics Campaign, and the Varsity and Tiger clubs.
Ever the teacher, Elizarde offered a valuable piece of advice to future Tigers.
“Get to know the adults around you,” he said. “Be respectful and listen to them, because one of them is going to have that spark that’s going to light that fire inside of you and make you achieve. I was lucky enough to have that when I was at ECU.”
Dr. Ed Huckeby
“The flames of friendship, once kindled and nurtured, flicker in the winds of death, yet burn on undaunted by time and space, shining through the night as the light of a distant star.”
These inspirational words are from the poem “Of A Distant Star” written by Dr. Ed Huckeby, who also composed a moving piece of music with the same title. As described in the liner notes of a recording of this particular piece, Huckeby is “an eclectic composer with a broad creative streak ... noted for his exciting style of composition which features abundant use of mixed meters, dynamic scoring and memorable melodies.”
More succinctly, Huckeby is one of the most respected band composers living today – his sparkling career leading him to ECU’s highest honor.
“I am deeply honored to be recognized, especially since that recognition comes on the 50th anniversary of my graduation from East Central University,” Huckeby said. “It is incredibly humbling to be among those honorees from the past who have had such a meaningful impact on the University throughout their distinguished careers.”
Never one to rest, Huckeby is now an freelance composer, arranger, conductor and clinician. His career has included roles in higher education and arts administration, most recently serving as president of Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Oklahoma, until his retirement from administrative work in 2014.
Prior to his appointment at SCU, Huckeby was chief academic/operating officer and professor of Music for more than a decade at Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow. He also served as an arts administrator for Tulsa Ballet Theatre and holds the title of emeritus professor of Music at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where during his 22-year tenure he also served as department chair and graduate dean.
“I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the faculty who were at East Central during my formative years,” Huckeby said. “Especially professor Don Gant, who served as a model for perseverance in my composing and arranging career through his tireless efforts as a ‘one-man’ instrumental music department.”
Huckeby directed the Allen, Oklahoma, high school band while he earned his degree from ECU. His early music education career included eight years in Oklahoma public schools, where his marching, concert and jazz bands won state and regional acclaim. Significant success in public schools led him to the college ranks where he became internationally recognized as an outstanding music educator and composer of more than 200 published works for concert and marching band.
Huckeby, who went on to earn higher degrees at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, again pointed to his formative experiences at ECU.
“My concept of music appreciation was formed in Dr. Robert Kaebnick’s and Charles Tracy’s Music classes,” Huckeby said. “I came to realize the gift of music that I had been given, which was nurtured through outstanding instruction.”
Huckeby’s many outstanding contributions to concert and marching band literature have played an important role in the development of the contemporary band repertoire, and his recently released sight-reading and music literacy curriculum, published by the C.L. Barnhouse Co., is receiving world-wide acclaim. As passionate about writing as he is composing, Huckeby has written music education articles for The Instrumentalist, The American Music Teacher and The Journal of the International Horn Society.
Huckeby’s career is dotted with high notes, having been selected as an “Outstanding Young Man in America” and named to the “International Who’s Who in Music.” In 1996 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame. Huckeby has created more than 50 commissioned works and has served as a clinician, adjudicator and conductor for instrumental ensembles around the world, including Japan, Australia, Canada and across the United States.
Huckeby and his wife Latricia now live in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, near their daughters Angela and Amanda and their extended family. The couple is also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2020.
“Although my life’s ambition while at East Central was to become an assistant band director at a small college, I quickly learned that goal-setting, perseverance and adaptability are essential elements in building a career,” he said. “Upon reaching each new career level, I was able to re-assess, set new goals and adapt to new challenges. I attribute that attitude of flexibility and determination to the outstanding educational foundation I received at East Central University.”