Honoring 100 for the 100th: John Eckenberger

John Edward Eckenberger II was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and proudly held Oklahoma License number 128. He received a Bachelor’s degree with a double major of Speech and Social Studies from Southwestern Oklahoma State College in Weatherford in 1964, and went to work in Tulsa County DHS as a caseworker. He qualified for a scholarship program through DHS, relocated to Oklahoma County, and received his MSW from The University of Oklahoma’s School of Social Work in 1970.

John served as County Director for DHS in Grant County and Roger Mills County. He went to Lawton, Oklahoma as part of a program which combined social services into the Department of Institutions and Social and Rehabilitative Services. In Lawton, he separated from DHS employment and worked for the Department of Corrections at a Work Release Center.

John Eckenberger did not know how to work at only one job; instead, he worked in many capacities as a helping professional. During most of his life, he also worked as a lay pastor. It was in Lawton that he and a colleague started a private practice called Social Work Consultants. It was also in Lawton that he taught in the college classroom for the first time at Cameron State College.

From Comanche County, Oklahoma, John moved his family to the Methodist Boys Ranch at Gore, Oklahoma, where he served as a houseparent for the first year, and then instituted a Social Work program for the boys. John traveled on weekends to conduct parent group meetings in the hope of increasing the success of the boys being placed back with their families. He was at the Boys Ranch 13 years. John began teaching in the Social Work Department at Northeastern State University while at the Ranch on a part-time basis and then as a full time instructor. From his NSU connections, John traveled on educational exchange trips to Russia.

He worked with a drug court program, conducted independent evaluations for children being placed in institutions, supervised Social Work candidates, served as the Director of the Chemical Dependency Unit at Bill Willis CMHC, worked with sex offenders, and mentored many young hopeful Social Workers. He was fondly known as “ECK” to many of his students, colleagues, friends, and co-workers.

He was recognized as the 1994 Muskogee NASW Rural Social Worker of the Year, the 1998 Oklahoma Social Worker of the Year, the 2002 National Lifetime Achievement Award by the Field Practicum Supervisor Council on Social Work Education, and was designated ‘Defender of Social Welfare’ in Kaluga Region in Russia.

The State of Oklahoma and the field of Social Work lost John Eckenberger to a car wreck in 2013. In typical fashion, he was on his way to do group services in Pryor, Oklahoma. He would still be working and teaching if he were with us today, would still be down-to-earth, what-you see-is-what-you-get, and would be trying to pay it forward. John would have told you “It’s not the time, it’s the miles that count.” John worked as a Social Worker for 49 years, and in that time traveled countless miles. He truly was what Social Work is all about.

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