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Keith Gogan: a man, a mission, a backpack

Intrigue sparked early in the mind of a sixth-grade boy growing up in New York’s Adirondack State Park. Vast forests and abundant nature surrounded him as he learned from his teacher about a new opportunity for adventure that would become a favorite pastime for years to come. He would carry this excitement for new adventure to Tulsa, and it would eventually lead him to take ninety-one trips to the Rockies, and around 170 expeditions overall.

Keith Gogan is an avid backpacker, and frequently leads trips of ORU students to allow them to experience the form of adventure he has come to love. Gogan is an assistant professor of English who began working here in 1987 as the new tutoring center’s supervisor. He lives near East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue, an area of Tulsa that has been home to frequent crime in past years. Gogan has specific reasons for his chosen place of residency, as well as his backpacking lifestyle. His multi-faceted motivation can teach a myriad of lessons to anyone willing to learn from him.

“When I was younger and seeking a place to live, I decided I wanted to have low rent and also to live near the Riverparks Trail because I run and bicycle quite a bit. I found an apartment for $150 a month at about 63rd and Peoria,” Gogan said. “Later, I moved to other apartments in the area, even when I had a chance to leave that area.”

Since childhood, his passion for various activities has only grown. Gogan’s interest in backpacking began early as he was raised in excellent territory for the activity.

“I grew up in New York’s Adirondack State Park, so we had millions of acres of forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes to explore,” Gogan said.

There are a number of advantages that can be gained from backpacking. Gogan says anyone who participates in the activity can benefit.

“First is the spiritual or aesthetic benefit from being in quiet and

beauty—a rare interlude amid the

business and tech-orientation of today’s life. Second is physical challenge, with the aerobic and strength workout, plus the almost inevitable fat or weight loss.” Gogan said. “Third is the emotional benefit; I’ve been reading much about how being in nature makes us less depressive and more happy. Fourth is the cognitive benefit; much new research suggests that being, or especially walking, in nature makes us smarter.”

Gogan has been leading students’ backpacking trips for about 24 years.

He has lived in the same area of Tulsa for quite some time. Once he was presented with the opportunity to choose a different place to call home, he discovered he was hesitant to leave.

“I found that the area had grown on me, even though it was, frankly, dangerous at times, with frequent shootings, drug deals, and meth lab busts, one bust right in the complex in which I lived. I remember hearing the gunshots, on two occasions, that ended people’s lives,” Gogan said.

His motivation for living in the area might seem like a mystery to some, but Gogan said he sees hope in the future of the region. He leads an “informal cleanup” in the area in order to make the neighborhood one that residents can be proud to call home.

“I have many stories of close calls with danger, but I also have many stories about the good people who live there, such as Jim, an ex-convict who turned to God and now simply tries to live in peace with his family,” Gogan said. “I am reluctant to leave the area as a whole because I see promise in it.”

The troubled area has become home to many Mexican immigrant families, which has helped to bring stability to the region. Gogan said the community had previously been inhabited mostly by non-permanent residents, “many of whom were not interested in peaceful living, I could say.” He now lives in a relatively safe, gated apartment complex on the southern edge of the community.

“While I acknowledge the need for overseas missions and aid efforts, this neighborhood, already getting good help from Dr. Endicott and his efforts, needs love and care, too,” Gogan said. “Four miles from campus is an area where dreams are dying, lives are cut short and, false happiness is for sale on every corner. There’s hope for it, though.”

Like living in this area isn’t just a financial decision, backpacking has been so much more than a recreational activity for Gogan. He hopes that students look for God in the nature and world around them, steering their vision and attention away from technology and video games.

“I have a pin-on button that reads, ‘It’s not a backpack. It’s my life.’ That about sums it up for me. Backpacking can become an orientation, not merely a hobby.” Gogan said. “Once oriented to it, you’ll find yourself more appreciative of nature, more appreciative of the many comforts of ‘civilized’ living when you return, more appreciative of solitude, a rarity these days, and more appreciative of God’s handiwork, both the glorious stuff and frightening stuff.”