Jack Tucker, a retired principal with 40 years experience at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, has been appointed to the Commission for Rehabilitation Services, the governing board for the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

The School for the Deaf, headquartered in Sulphur, is a division of DRS.

Tucker was appointed by Brian Bingman (R-District 12), president pro tempore of the state Senate.

"I am excited to get back to work with a lot of my friends and colleagues, because working together is the key," Tucker said. "I'm grateful to Pro-Tempore Bingman and other people within state government who have faith that I can do the job that needs to be done."

Tucker, who is blind in one eye, was a client of DRS's vocational rehabilitation program, which assisted with college tuition and books.

"You could say I'm a DRS success story," Tucker explained.

He began his OSD career at age 22 as a science and driver education instructor, and advanced to positions of progressive responsibility, including secondary supervisor, assistant principal and assistant director of education. Tucker served as kindergarten through 12th grade principal from 1985 until his retirement in 2009.

Tucker designed and developed award-winning programs at OSD, including the Occupational Training Opportunities for the Deaf, an on-the-job training program that emphasizes work ethics and skills development. He expanded curriculum to include computer education, deaf heritage and advanced science and mathematics studies. He established and developed an in-school suspension program to help students who would otherwise be suspended, and developed an Alternative Learning Center in conjunction with the Sulphur School District for students who struggle in traditional classroom settings. Tucker also implemented a junior/senior banquet and prom, senior pictures and a yearbook.

He owned and operated J/J Enterprises, a small business that built academic lockout systems, which are used by the students throughout the U.S. to buzz in and answer questions while locking out other teams during academic bowl competitions.

He also taught courses as an adjunct professor at East Central State University in Ada.

Tucker earned an associate degree from Connors State College, a bachelor's degree in natural science and education from Southeastern State University, a masters in public school administration from East Central University, and a masters in special education from the University of Oklahoma.

After retirement, Tucker and his wife Julie moved to Oktaha to grow and cultivate wild grapes and plums, and make jellies at their 66-acre Possum Grape Farm.

Still an educator at heart, Tucker explained, "Those little possum grapes are native to Oklahoma, and higher in anti-oxidants than any other grapes. The flavor is better, too."

"Cultivating grapes," he said, "is a lot like helping students reach their full potential.

"Basically, you've got to nurture them a little bit, then turn them loose and let them grow on their own," Tucker said. "Like my grapes, they are organic, their own people, nothing artificial.

"Our goal is to make those kids self-sufficient. They are ultimately successful based on their ability to stand on their own two feet."

Tucker remains active in the deaf community, and was a regular visitor to OSD, even before his commission appointment. He is in contact with more than 275 former students through his Facebook page.

"They call me 'Papa,' 'Daddy' or 'Grandpa,' depending on how old I was when they met me," Tucker said.

The Tuckers have two adult children. Jennifer works in the English department at the University of Oklahoma. Jack Jr. is an auto body repairman in Muskogee.