About 2,000 people from across the country gathered to celebrate the birthday and retirement of Choctaw Chief Gregory Pyle.
A celebration at the Choctaw Event Center Thursday morning celebrated Pyle’s 65th birthday and allowed attendees to say farewell.
Pyle has served as chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma since 1997 and as assistant chief for 13 years prior, after working his way up from a ranch board member.
Pyle said he and his wife have decided to retire to spend time with his family while his grandchildren are young.
Pyle came from humble beginnings, growing up in a poverty stricken area in northern California. Pyle said his parents were from Oklahoma and moved to California for work.
He said it was always his parents’ intent to move back to Oklahoma, so when they were able, they did.
Pyle finished school in Oklahoma and then went to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where met his wife.
He said while he was very young in California, he frequently saw missionaries come to his area and help.
“That’s when I kind of decided I’d like to do that same type of thing,” said Pyle.
He said much of the work of the Choctaw Nation is missionary.
The tribe strives to create jobs and head-start programs, improve education and help in surrounding communities.
Assistant Chief Gary Batton will be filling the position of chief for the remainder of Pyle’s unexpired term ending in July 2015.
While Pyle spoke of how Batton has always gone beyond expectations and worked hard, how he trusted the tribe in Batton’s hands, Batton said he is humbled by the promotion.
“Chief Pyle has always been an awesome leader, not only for the tribal members but for the people of southeastern Oklahoma,” said Batton.
He said he has worked with Pyle for 27 years, and in that time, Pyle has become a friend and mentor while establishiing a great foundation from which the Choctaw Nation can propel.
“Today is just a mixture of emotions,” said Batton, explaining that he is excited to become chief, but he also saying goodbye to a friend and mentor.
Batton said Pyle played a large role in revitalizing the Choctaw culture by promoting the language and tribal activities such as stick ball and pottery.
“Chief is going to be chief to me as long as we are together, and we’re definitely going to keep that relationship,” said Batton.
He said he plans to establish a “council of wisdom” consisting of tribal elders to help him and hopes Pyle will be on that council.
Batton said he plans to continue the projects the tribe has in place and further the vision of Pyle. He also said he does plan to run for chief in next summer’s election.
Pyle was honored with tribal song and dance as well as a demonstration of the Choctaw language by Choctaw Head Start students.
The head-start students recited animal names in Choctaw and sang “Happy Birthday” to Pyle.
Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson was present to read a declaration naming Thursday “Chief Gregory Pyle Day” in Durant.
He said Pyle’s legacy has made a lifetime impact on the tribe and the community, and many of the tribe’s milestones have been met because of Pyle’s vision.
Pyle also was presented with birthday and retirement gifts from tribal employees as they celebrated the day.