NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) -- Nearly half a million people across the nation use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.
ASL is the primary language for many deaf and hard of hearing Oklahomans, but it is also used by many hearing people as a way to communicate.
Gary Davis is well-known in the deaf community. He is a hero to children, a professor to young adults and an advocate who continues to touch lives.
Davis was born deaf.
Every year for the past five years he has volunteered with the Northwest Oklahoma City Rotary Club's Santa Project.
"He has such an exuberant personality," said Jon Landis. "He talks with his hands and his body, and these young kids who are deaf can hardly wait to sit next to him."
For five years, the Rotary Club has tried to pay Davis for his time.
"You can't pay him," said Landis. "He won't take any money. We've tried to pay him. He says I love these kids. It comes from my heart. I don't want any money. But he's going to get some money!"
Jon Landis enlisted the help of News 4 and First Fidelity Bank.
"We were so touched to hear about Gary's story and his great work as a signing Santa to make sure deaf children of Oklahoma City get to experience the magic of Christmas," said First Fidelity Bank's Matt Bobison. "We're so thrilled Jon nominated him for this award."
Davis is a language professor at the University of Oklahoma.
He was hired two years ago to help launch the ASL program in the College of Education.
"There's some people who can exude the love and joy that they have from their hearts and express it in a powerful way. Even without being able to speak he's able to do that with his smiles and his sign language," said Davis' OU colleague, Rockey Robbins.
Gary Davis was shocked when News 4 and First Fidelity Bank surprised him as he was teaching an ASL class.
We brought a certified interpreter along to share Davis' reaction.
"Oh my goodness," Davis signed. "I thought. 'OMG. This is a dream.' -Thank you. Thank you so much. I just have a big heart for the deaf community and for the children. I really appreciate you thinking of me. So now we can give this back to the kids."
Davis tells News 4 he plans to use the $400 to continue to invest in the lives of deaf children.
Most of the department came out to celebrate their colleague. Everyone who knows Gary Davis knows his heart for the deaf community.
"No one is more worthy than Gary," said OU sophomore ASL student, Sarah Yandell. "I love Gary. He's the perfect person for this."
We think so too!
Pay It 4ward is sponsored by First Fidelity Bank.