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Family’s Tinker legacy stretches four generations

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When she lost her mother two months ago, Retha Lucas, and her sister had the task of clearing out their mother's possessions for her grief-stricken father. It was then that she stumbled upon a family surprise.

"We were going through her cedar chest and we found this," Ms. Lucas said, holding up a worn and tattered page from the Tinker Take Off. There, folded and seemingly forgotten on page 5 of the Oct. 10, 1957 issue, is a picture of her father, Fred Souders. He is handicapped.

Fred Souders was one of the first employees hired under Tinker's then-new Employ the Handicapped program. Originally hired as a machinist helper in 1949, Mr. Souders was seriously injured in a car accident that left him hospitalized for months. Eventually, Mr. Souders would lose his left hand and his job.

Fitted with a prosthesis -- an "artificial appliance" the Tinker Take Off then called it -- Mr. Souders reapplied for employment at Tinker in 1957. He was hired as a messenger under the Handicapped program. It was something his daughter never knew.

"I never knew he was part of the 'handicapped program,'" Ms. Lucas said. "I never knew any of this."

Mr. Souders was injured before Retha was born. Because of this, Ms. Lucas said she never consciously considered her father handicapped or knew that he was hired because of a disability. "I never saw him as a handicapped person," she said. "I've never know him any other way." And there was never anything he couldn't do.

As a messenger, Mr. Souders walked throughout the base, seven times a day, pushing a cart full of mail. He went on to become a parts expediter and a valuable employee, before finally retiring in 1982. Turning 82 later this year, Mr. Souders is still physically active, building fences, going for daily walks, and maintaining a large garden at his Shawnee home, and even going on horse back trail rides for a week at a time.

"He still does that garden with one hand," Ms. Lucas says. "Not a weed in it."

Tinker seems to be a family tradition. In addition to her father, her grandfather also worked here as did her mother, packing parachutes.

It seemed only natural that Ms. Lucas would wind up at Tinker, joining the team in 1985 as a stenographer. Earning a degree, Ms. Lucas is now a 107 Area Support Manager with the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Group, helping maintain the venerable B-52.

"When a B-52 breaks out in the field, I get money, parts and a team out to it and get it back to mission capable," she explained. "Tinker's been good to me."

Her son, Brian Kennedy, also works on base, the fourth generation to do so. Ms. Lucas said she still has nearly half-a-dozen cousins employed at Tinker. "People used to ask me, 'How many cousins do you have?' I still have plenty of family out here."

And one, history-making father.

"It would have made my mother proud to know the article from the Tinker Take Off she stuck in the cedar chest so long ago is now a family story" she said.