private woman to public legend in Tulsa
By Ralph Schaefer, 2017 Inductee
Montez Tjaden was the consummate public relations professional and leader that helped set a positive economic growth pattern in Oklahoma. She worked with and around everyone, from political leaders including President Richard M. Nixon and Senator Robert S. Kerr to top-level business leaders.
Despite her high public profile, Tjaden was a private person from Lindsborg, Kansas, who served in the U.S. Navy and was national president of American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT).
Tjaden worked with officials to bring President Nixon to Tulsa to dedicate the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System waterway. She worked with Oklahoma’s U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr as he purchased television stations throughout the country, and she is credited with helping put Tulsa’s KRMG Radio and Oklahoma City’s KWTV on the air.
Steve Turnbo, Schnake Turnbo Frank chairman emeritus, recalled his experiences with the PR legend, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
“Montez came to Tulsa to join Advertising Incorporated (Ad Inc.) from Oklahoma City’s Channel 9 where she served as promotions director,” Turnbo said. “I was The University of Tulsa Sports Information Director in 1970 and was hired to work with Tjaden to coordinate the waterway dedication, an event that would draw an estimated 30,000 people to the area. Montez and I worked on many exciting projects. She was known nationally and internationally.
“Tjaden was involved with the Navy League for Naval Officers or Commanders. She knew how to deal with the media, was a good writer and a wonderful lady,” he said. “But she was tough. If you were late for work, you were told about being tardy.” She was strict, disciplined, and had a high work ethic.
Tjaden saw Senator Kerr’s leadership first-hand. These are two of many stories she could tell.
Kerr was going to Peoria, Illinois to dedicate a television station he had recently purchased. Meeting Kerr at the airport, Tjaden told him about striking cameramen and asked if they should use the station’s back door. Kerr said he would use the front door.
Arriving, Kerr took off his hat, walked up to a picketer and said, “My name is Bob Kerr. What’s yours?”
The man answered. Kerr said, “We will talk about this strike,” then carried on a conversation with him.
An Associated Press photographer took the picture of the two men shaking hands that was carried in about 50 newspapers across the country.
Another story involved Tulsa-area community leaders debating the value of the proposed McClellan-Kerr waterway at a Claremore church when Kerr arrived. Kerr walked to the front and said, “Let’s start this meeting. Turn to page 346 and sing, ‘Shall We Gather at The River?’”
“Such was Kerr’s leadership,” Tjaden said.
“Montez Tjaden’s legacy might be the waterway or that she worked with Senator Bob Kerr,” Turnbo said. “It might be she was the national AWRT president. It’s hard to pick one over the other.
“Her real legacy is she was a leader in the 1970s, a bit ahead of her time for female leadership in this city [Tulsa]. I don’t know if leaders at that time recognized her leadership, but I know they listened to and respected her.”