Once you spend an hour talking to Cheri
Potter, you’ll spend the rest of the day with a smile on your
face and a song in your heart. You’ve probably seen Cheri
puttering about town with her husband, Mike. She’s the carrot
top sitting primly on a chair in the sidecar of the family
sedan, Mike’s motorcycle. She’s the one smiling and waving
to friends and strangers, and leaning over to talk to Mike.
He’s the one concentrating on the traffic, smiling and nodding
at Cheri’s comments. Married for 37 years, he’s the love of
her life and she makes no bones about it.
Cheri and Mike are both natives of Oklahoma,
and somehow have ended up as half-time residents of Chiang Mai.
Cheri remembers that she was always the family and class clown,
the one who, at least according to her dad, ruined every family
movie with her antics. Her grades were high but her teachers
deplored her “deportment” – too much talking, too much
laughter. She was in every speech, comedy, and drama club in her
school, and has done comedy and musicals all over Oklahoma. She
won a scholarship, but her dad stood by the wisdom of the day
and sent her to secretarial school.
She learned to be a secretary, but she also
was a member of a comedy troupe at Oklahoma State University
that traveled all over the state performing for the
Cattlemen’s Association as well as Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
The troupe members were paid $5 an hour, a phenomenal stipend in
those days. They loved the Cattlemen’s Association
performances, great people, great stipend, and steak for dinner!
Theater also called and Cheri was in Bye,
Bye Birdie twice, Grease three times, Little Shop
of Horrors, L’il Abner, Hello, Dolly and Oklahoma! It
was in Oklahoma! that she finally found her voice, the
beautiful soprano that is enjoyed so much in the performances of
the Chiang Mai Chorale Society. She won the 1995 Kennedy Center
Regional Theater Award for Set Design. She continues to sing and
perform; there are no limited horizons for Cheri Potter.
Her very first “car date” was with Mike
and she blew it. Decked out in a Doris Day chiffon dress with a
tight starched belt, she was doing great until the church
banquet was over and she exhaled. The belt made a resounding
“pop!” and their romance ended for a few years. Cheri moved
on to college and secretarial school; Mike moved on to the
United States Marines. They lost touch but their families
remained friends. Then Cheri’s fianc้ broke her heart,
and guess who helped pick up the pieces? He proposed in full
uniform in an elegant restaurant, arrangements made by her boss.
The woman across the table couldn’t take her eyes off of the
unfolding drama. “I love you” and “Will you marry me”
came out almost in one breath, and when Cheri said “Yes!”
the observer collapsed with a sigh of relief.
Vietnam hung over the young couple’s life,
but the Seven Day War changed all of that. Mike and his brother
toured Europe on motorcycles, spending $2 a day. Cheri went off
to see the museums of Rome, never mind the $2 stuff. They were
married the next spring, Mike went back to college and obtained
a teaching degree and the rest, as they say, is history. Almost.
They had two little ones, Andy and Christy. They renovated an
old house in Shawnee, Oklahoma, planning to raise their children
there. But Shawnee was growing, and they wanted a more rural
setting. They found it in Red Oak, Oklahoma, on the border of
Arkansas, and built a log house in which the children grew up.
This is their retreat when they return to the United States for
six months every year.
Mike worked as an elementary school teacher
and curriculum developer and Cheri found her niche at Eastern
Oklahoma State College. Her title for 17 years was College
Activities Director but wait until you find out what she really
did. Imagine being the creator of a plastic egg contest in which
the egg, filled with $100, was hidden in plain sight on the
college campus. Clues were given out each day, but students
feared that somebody who was not part of the fun would simply
fall over the egg. Then there was the Mud Bowl, a huge pit of
mud in which games were played and contestants were generally
hilariously packed with enough mud to put a spa out of business.
The Big Hair contest and the Mr. Eastern drag contest followed,
but the Great Chicken Fly-Off topped the list. Students got on
top of the football stands and lofted chickens off into the air.
Other students stationed on the ground were to catch the birds,
and the team whose chickens flew the farthest was to win. But
Cheri didn’t count on one thing. Chickens can run – fast.
The students chased the chickens all over the campus. One
triumphant rooster was never caught.
So life went on – hilariously – Cheri
even published an award-winning book (Good for a Laugh Lilly
Goes for Broke”, and wrote a humor column for the
largest newspaper in Oklahoma. The kids grew up; Mike and Cheri
retired to a quiet life in Tulsa. And were bored, bored, bored.
So they attended an international job fair and were hired in
Chiang Mai. Mike taught, Cheri again coached drama and writing
and made the campus a livelier place.
In Chiang Mai, Cheri sings with the choral
society, continuing a life of music that began with college
adaptations of Broadway shows. Both are completely retired, but
this, says Cheri, is payback time. “We’ve had a life that is
brimful and overflowing, we have been so blessed. Now it’s our
turn to give back.” Mike volunteers as an educator in refugee
camps and other distressed locations; Cheri works with AIDS/HIV
programs. They invest their resources in education for
underprivileged children. I can’t quit smiling as I end this