CHICKASHA, OKLAHOMA — More than 4 decades into his retirement and the flower of Burrell Gambel’s many interests continues to bloom. Looking through his backyard greenhouse a visitor asks, “Is it hard to care for orchids in Oklahoma?” Gambel replies, “Oh no. It’s easy. I’ve probably got about a thousand of them in here.”
He’s getting several of his many varieties ready for a show soon. He built his greenhouse just after he built the house he lives in. The greenhouse is filled with all kinds of plants including orchids, and other tropical plants that most interested him when he earned his university degrees in agriculture. “Got my degree in Stillwater,” he says.
Step back a few years and you’ll find Burrell’s original career. He was a flight instructor during WWII. He flew B-36’s and B-52’s for the Air Force until he retired in 1971. He smiles and says, “I haven’t been bored for one hour in 41 years.”
He had to jog to stay in Air Force pilot shape but that was one thing he stuck with. At age 91, he walks now, but he still walks a lot. “Probably more than a thousand miles per year,” he guesses.
Neighbors see him walking at all hours shuffling the horse shoe streets of his south Chickasha subdivision. “Often, when I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and walk,” he says while taking a late morning stroll.
He walks to stay in shape, to keep his mind sharp. One foot in front of the other, if you do that over and over again you tend to build up a lot of momentum. “I’m the tortoise,” laughs Gambel.
The Indian Blanket wildflowers he planted came up again even after last summer’s record heat. The rhythms of a season, or the rhythms of Burrell’s quick shoes on black top, one will eventually outlast the other. But even this far into the 21st Century his neighbors still set their clocks to the one Gambel that’s always a sure bet around here.