Wildlife Commission seat passes from father to son

Okmulgee’s Mabrey family has a century of outdoor, business traditions

Mark and Bruce Mabrey share an Alaska hunting adventure. (Photo courtesy Mark Mabrey)

For the CCOF
For the first time, a position on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission was occupied Monday by a child of the previous commissioner.

Appointed during the past legislative session by Gov. Kevin Stitt, Mark Mabrey of Okmulgee succeeded Commissioner Bruce Mabrey, his father, who served 20 years. It’s an appointment that comes with more than a century of family history in Oklahoma outdoors and in the family business.

“I enjoyed every day of it and I’ve been proud to serve,” Bruce Mabrey said. “Hopefully I’ve made a difference in some of the things that have happened over those 20 years.”

The commission’s eight members each represent a region of the state and serve eight-year terms. Each commissioner is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Gov. Frank Keating first appointed Maybrey, now 75, to complete an unexpired term in 2002. The commission is the Wildlife Department’s advisory, administrative and policy-making body, and it appoints the department director.

Mark Mabrey, 39,  is representing District 2, which includes Okmulgee, McIntosh, Haskell, Muskogee, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, and Adair counties.

A long family history

The Mabrey family has more than 100 years of history in Oklahoma community banking and shares generations of experience in Oklahoma’s outdoors.

G.W. Mabrey served on the board of directors for Citizens National Bank of Okmulgee in 1906 and W. Carlisle Mabrey Jr. started out as a teller at the bank in 1909. After gaining a controlling interest in the bank and later acquiring Citizens Security Bank and Trust Company in Bixby the family joined the institutions to form Mabrey Bank in 2004.

Mark is Senior Vice President and Market President at Mabrey Bank in Okmulgee and serves on the board of directors for the Bixby branch. His father is executive vice president.

Bruce Maybrey said his passion for the outdoors and conservation ethic were handed down by his father and grandfather as well.

Bruce, along with sons Matt and Mark also owned Pat’s Archery in Okmulgee from 2013-2019.

Pat and Arlene Giulioli, neighbors to the Mabreys, opened their archery shop in 1968 with a loan obtained through Bruce’s father, who was then president of Citizens Security Bank. The Giuliolis sold bait and tackle and archery gear, and their neighborhood place was a regular hangout for the young Mabrey boys.

“They are both avid outdoorsmen who love to hunt and to fish, and their children are the same way,” Bruce Mabrey said.

Both boys accompanied their father on many hunts before they held a firearm, he said.

“I’m a strong advocate that you should wait until they’re old enough and mature enough to hunt, to understand what it means to take the life of an animal,” he said. “I wouldn’t let the boys in the woods with a rifle until they were 11 or 12.”

Like father, like son

Mark Mabrey’s introduction to the commission is, in a way, similar. He watched his father and talked with him about wildlife issues for the past 20 years. Now he is ready to step in.

Bruce Mabrey said he knew he would be stepping down and started thinking about his replacement a couple of years ago. “Certainly there could be others interested and qualified,” he said. “But of course, I raised Mark and understand his thinking. He has watched me on the commission and he understands what it takes.”

He approached his son with the idea and they both thought on it for quite some time before throwing Mark’s hat in the ring, he said. The recommendation from the outgoing commissioner surely didn’t hurt in the process through the governor’s office, with the Senate Wildlife Committee, and in the Senate vote, “but you never know,” Mabrey said.

Mark Mabrey said he expected some people would see nepotism and criticize the appointment. That entered his thoughts early on, but he said he was confident in the system and that he completed the same interview process and legislative tests as any other the governor might nominate.

“There may be some that say this or that about it,” he said. “I had to decide that what I’m doing is what I feel is best for my kids and for the people I talk to on a regular basis that enjoy the outdoors.”

Both men said they recognize an ongoing need to provide more outdoor opportunities for Oklahomans. As owners of land in southwest Oklahoma, they also are keenly aware of wild turkey and quail population issues, as well as the explosion of the feral hog population.

Wildlife priorities

Making public lands available to new hunters and anglers grew more important over his tenure, Bruce Mabrey said.

“When I first came on the commission I was somewhat opposed to the ODWC purchasing real estate,” he said. “But over the years I talked with more and more people who really had a difficult time finding a place to recreate, especially the newer and younger hunters out there. Hunting leases are more and more expensive and people are just worried about making a house payment or car payments and raising a family. If those public wildlife properties weren’t there they would be doing something else and not hunting.”

Mark Mabrey said he and his father often talk about those topics and it will guide his time on the commission. And, after watching his father do the job for so many years, taking over his responsibilities is an experience that compares to those early hunting trips.

“It’s a neat thing, to watch him do that for so many years, and now something I’m going to do myself,” he said. “It’s a memory that will rank up there pretty high.”

Kelly Bostian is an independent journalist writing for The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To learn more about what we do and to support Kelly’s work, see the About the CCOF page.

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