Supreme Court Judicial District 4
Justice Yvonne Kauger is a fourth generation Oklahoman from Colony, Oklahoma, who was born on August 3, 1937 to John and Alice Bottom Kauger. She grew up on a Centennial farm in Washita County, and graduated from Colony High School in 1955 as class Valedictorian. She also won the Betty Crocker award — and she still has the cook book to prove it.
She attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, where she was named to Who’s Who in American College and Universities and graduated magna cum laude in 1958. A year after graduation, she completed her internship at St. Anthonys Hospital as a certified Medical Technologist (MT.ASCP). She worked at Medical Arts Laboratory to put herself through Oklahoma City University School of Law night school. She graduated in 1969, first in her class, and received the Iota Tau Tau international award for scholarship. She also modeled for the Oklahoma Journal, and ultimately for an ad by an Oklahoma insurance company, which appeared in Time Magazine. She worked as an associate for Rogers, Travis and Jordon until 1972. Thereafter, she became the first woman staff lawyer at the Oklahoma Supreme Court for her mentor, Justice Ralph B. Hodges and she was appointed to the Capitol Preservation Commission by Chief Justice Pat Irwin. She organized the first Judicial Day at Girls State while she held that position. Governor George Nigh appointed her to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on March 14, 1984, two years after he had appointed the first woman to the Court, Justice Alma Bell Wilson.
After the death of Justice Wilson, on July 27, 1999, she was the only woman on the Supreme Court until she happily administered the oath of office to Justice Noma Diane Gurich on February 15, 2011. And, she welcomed Justice Dana Kuehn to the court on July 26, 2021. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma adopted her on Labor Day, 1984 on tribal ground in Colony, Oklahoma.
Justice Kauger, the Senior Justice of the Court, served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from January 1997 to January of 1999. The OSCN network was established during her tenure as Chief Justice with the help of Justice Jim Watt, and Grey Satterfield. Kevin King, and a group of interns began it in the Supreme Court copyroom. During that time she was responsible for initiating neutral and parallel citations to the OSCN network of Oklahoma cases 03 Law Library Journal 331 (2011). She also initiated the commission to evaluate judicial performance At the direction of then Chief Justice Marion Opala, Kauger and her staff developed and published the first Court brochure and continued to do so until 2017. She is the last Justice to address the Joint Session of the Legislature. The speech jump started the building of a separate Supreme Court building that she envisioned for decades to convert the Wiley Post building occupied by the Oklahoma Historical Society into the Court building. The vision was accomplished on June 14, 2011, when after 30 years, and 3 bond issues, she and her staff moved into the Oklahoma Judicial Center. The art of the judicial center is designed to reflect the history of the State of Oklahoma and the Judiciary of Oklahoma.
She is immensely proud of her staff. Trailblazer, Vanessa Hines Traylor, was the first African American administrative assistant at the Supreme Court, where she served for 28 years. Kyle Shifflett will celebrate 30 years with Justice Kauger in 2023. He also was a member of the Judicial Center Building and Arts committees. He also helped Kauger select and place all of the artwork in the building. Julie Rorie has coordinated The Sovereignty Symposium for 30 years, and has worked for the court for 42 years. Beth Lott joined Justice Kauger in 2020 as her administrative assistant.
Justice Kauger was a member of the Lyric Theatre Board where she ran the concession stand for 16 years and was president of the Board. She co-founded Red Earth with Ken Bonds in 1987, and is known as the “Mother of Red Earth.” She was named Red Earth Ambassador in 2011. She was named National Delta Zeta of the year in 1988-89 and appeared on the cover of the Delta Zeta magazine “The Lamp.” At the direction of Chief Justice John Doolin, she began The Sovereignty Symposium in 1988. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor became the patron saint of the Symposium, keynoting twice and was present for the unveiling of a painting in her honor by Thompson Williams. Her grandson Winston, having grown up with The Symposium suggested a panel on Sights, Sounds, and Symbols which has remained one of the most successful panels which he and his brother Jay have moderated. Winston and O’Connor were pen pals, after 5 request to visit his school, Justice O’Connor acquiesced. During her visit, she took her copy of the United States Constitution out of her purse and inscribed it for Winston. The inscription read “Keep this always, it has our most important rights”. Winston got to introduce his dear friend Sandra Day O’connor to the middle school at Heritage Hall where she visited his room. She then invited Winston to visit her at the United States Supreme Court.
Kyle Shifflett and Justice Kauger accompanied Winston to the Supreme Court where Kauger shot baskets at the highest court in the land.
She received the Oklahoma City Dean McGee Pioneer Award in 1989. She was the featured speaker at the twentieth William O. Douglas Lecture Series at Gonzaga University in November of 1990 27 Gonzaga Law Review 1. She received an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma City University in 1991. OCU and Southwestern Oklahoma State University have named her a distinguished alumnus. In 1999, The American Judicature Society awarded her the Herbert Harley Award for the effective administration of Justice by the American Judicature Society. She is one of only four Oklahomans to have received the award and the only sitting judge.
Her best friend for over 50 years, Bobbie Burbridge Lane honored her in 2013, by donating and dedicating a statue of “Ruth,” by R. Romanelli Fiernze, to their alma mater, Oklahoma City University. After Bobbie starred in the Dallas Senior Follies, Kauger suggested she bring the concept to Oklahoma City. After several meetings with Bobbie, Jon Finch, Mark Parker the Dean of the OCU Music School, Paula Stover and later Dr. Greg White. On June 11-12, 2011, the OKC Senior Follies, sponsored by Bobbie and the Burbridge Foundation became a reality. One of the highlights of the follies is the follies beauties. Justice Noma Gurich appeared as a beauty in 2013-2014.
Kauger has served as Presiding Judge for the Court on the Judiciary, and on the Law School and Bench and Bar Committees of the Oklahoma Bar Association as well as the American Bar Association Law School Accreditation committee. In November of 1999, the Oklahoma Bar Association recognized her with the Judicial Excellence Award. She and her daughter, Jonna Kauger Kirschner, became the only mother-daughter duo when the Bar Association recognized them with the Mona Salyer Lambird Spot Light Award in 1998 and 2018 respectively.
In 2001, Justice Kauger was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2004, the Oklahoma City Orchestra League recognized her one of the 10 most notable women in Oklahoma City, and the Oklahoma City University Alumni Association named her for distinguished community service and professionalism. The Paseo Arts Association acknowledged her with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Oklahoma City Chapter of the Association for Women in Communications awarded her the Byliner Award. She appears in the 4th grade history book by Geneva Hudson. Dixon Palmer Kiowa Warbonnet maker and member of the Black Leggings Society, which has appeared at The Sovereignty Symposium since inception, dawns the cover of the history book. Her home was named a centennial project in 2007.
Although it was built five years after “The Guardian” by internationally recognized sculptor and painter, Enoch Kelly Haney, was placed on the dome of the capitol, Haney insisted that it was placed to face her house. She was a featured speaker for Esther Woman, a contributing author to Jayne Jayroe’s book, Devote 40 Days, an editor of the book Art of the Oklahoma Judicial Center, which was written by Gayleen Rabakukk with photography by Neil Chapman, and wrote the introduction to Killing Albert Berch by Dr. Alan Hollingsworth. The cover artwork of the Art of the Oklahoma Judicial Center features pottery by her former basketball teammate, Jeri Redcorn, who single handled restored the art of making Caddo pottery. Her work has been displayed in collections around the world, including the Oval Office, the colony museum, the Smithsonian, and the First American museum
She founded the Gallery of the Plains Indian in Colony, and restored her home, the Graham Cottage. The gallery is now permanently hung with photographer Terry Zinn’s photos of the first Red Earth and the traditional Colony Cheyenne-Arapaho Pow Wow, which was first display at the Science Museum Oklahoma and dedicated to Kauger’s parents.
Kauger was the chairman of the Building and Arts committee for the Oklahoma Judicial Center which reflects the history of the state and the judiciary. She and her staff lawyer, Kyle Shifflett, curated the art of the Judicial Center. She has been given the Governors Arts award for Red Earth, and with the Arts Committee, for the art of the Judicial Center. She instigated Movie Night at the Court which was a free continuing education seminar for lawyers.
Since 1993, she has worked to revive her home town, Colony, by turning it into an artist colony, most recently with the assistance of Mayor Lonnie Yearwood. It now has five murals in the John Kauger Memorial Park. One by Patrick Riley and the children of Colony and four by Comanche artist and professor, Dr. Eric Tippeconnic. It is the mural capitol of the world – per capita. (Colony has a population of 125.) It also has a magnificent Eagle Sculpture by Patrick Riley, Glen Henry, and Ron Lowry. There are now two artists in residence; Patrick Riley and Jim VanDeman. The Colony Museum opened in 2021 with many of the exhibits loaned by her. The extensive Alice Bottom Kauger teapot collection is housed in the old bank vault of the Kauger building in the colony museum. She and her gandson, Jay Scambler, were instrumental in estalishing the Colony website colonyok.com
In 2021, she was introduced by former Chief Justice Steven Taylor for induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She also was inducted into the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Historian Hall of Fame, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Leadership Oklahoma. In 2022, Sister Cities International gave her the Global Achievement Humanitarian Award.
Justice Kauger is a member of the Episcopal Church. She is a quilter and a sculptor. Her staff lawyer, Kyle Shifflett, dubbed her sculptures “Kaugirls” and “Kauboys.” She has attended every gubernatorial inauguration since the first inauguration of David Boren in 1981. Her daughter, Jonna Kauger Kirschner, is a lawyer and British solicitor. Jonna is the Sr. Vice President of Economic Development of Chickasaw Nation Industries and President of Chickasaw Nation Industries Manufacturing. She has two practically perfect grandsons, Jay and Winston, and a grandaughter in-law, Bridget.
She was honored to deliver the commencement address for Winston’s graduation and to attend his white coat ceremony at TCU Medical School.