The state Democratic convention met that year at Westhope, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in midtown Tulsa. And some kids took advantage of the extra traffic in their neighborhood to open a lemonade stand.
They made $26.27, which seemed like a fortune. And having earned it together, the kids had to decide together what to do with it.
Katie Eller, now Kat Eller Murray, was among the kids. Her father suggested making a donation and drove his children downtown to deliver the money personally to the Day Center for the Homeless. She was 11.
“I can still see, very clearly, a kid about my age on the floor under a table with his toys, just trying to play,” Eller Murray says. “I would never get over seeing him. And I told my siblings, ‘This isn’t right. It just isn’t right.’”
Her father didn’t try to comfort her.
“What are you going to do about it?” he said.
Parents don’t confront their children enough with that question, Eller Murray says now.
“It’s a great question,” she says. “That question changed my life.”
Katie decided to open another lemonade stand. She would ask her friends to open lemonade stands. And her friends would ask their friends.
Katie, a sixth-grader at the time, recruited about 150 kids to sell lemonade on street corners that Labor Day weekend and raised more than $6,000 for the Day Center.
The next year, Katie organized more than 200 “Lemon Aid” stands to raise more than $20,000. And the year after that, she counted more than 250 stands that raised more than $25,000.
By the time she turned 13 years old, she had become a Tulsa celebrity who was used to appearing on the front page of the Tulsa World and sitting down for interviews on local TV. And Lemon Aid stands with their ubiquitous yellow Lemon Aid T-shirts remained an annual Tulsa tradition for seven years until Katie left for college.
Then a journalist from Oklahoma called last fall to see whatever happened to Katie Eller. After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, she moved to California, where she got married and eventually started a public relations firm, ROAM Communications, in 2013. And now she has a 2-year-old and a newborn daughter.
“I owe so much to Lemon Aid,” Eller Murray says. “My life wouldn’t be the same without it. And I thought, ‘I can’t let the 25th anniversary go by without doing something.’ ”
She launched a new Lemon Aid cookbook Saturday at the Mother Road Market. And she’ll come back to Tulsa this Labor Day weekend, when, once again, Lemon Aid stands will pop up all across the city to raise money for Tulsa’s homeless people.
Some stands will be operated by Lemon Aid volunteers who used to do it every year as children. Others will be first-timers. But all of them will be counting on Tulsa to remember the old stands and want a sip of nostalgia. And people are already asking Eller Murray if she’s going to do it again next year.
“I’m not planning on it,” she says.
Then again, she wasn’t planning on it in 1994 either.
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