Oklahoma’s healthy living herald

For John Bobb-Semple, small-town living has been just his speed.
John Bobb-Semple gives a presentation for POGO.

John Bobb-Semple is a community leader, motivational speaker, volunteer, and husband who lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. John leads Pottawatomie Go (Pogo), the only Blue Zones Certified community in the state of Oklahoma. We caught up with John to talk about staying active, serving his community, and savoring his life in Oklahoma.

Thanks for joining us, John. Tell us a little about your life here in Oklahoma. 

My wife, Trisha, and I live in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a quick 45-minute drive east of Oklahoma City. I serve as executive director of Pottawatomie Go (Pogo), a nonprofit health and wellbeing initiative making healthy choices easier and helping our community live a little longer. I’m also a professional speaker with Hawks Agency, working to help neighbors, organizations, and communities build bridges. Community wise, I serve as a trustee for the University of Central Oklahoma Foundation, board member of the Shawnee Family YMCA, and a volunteer with the Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts. 

Week to week, you can find my wife and I walking our goldendoodle Ruby at KidSpace Park, enjoying smoothie bowls at Surf Bar, or growing veggies and flowers in our garden. I’m a proud member of the Whodat Nation and a big fantasy football guy, so Sundays are the Lord’s Day, and that includes NFL football.  

John and wife smiling for a photo while on an outdoor walk.

I moved to Oklahoma 20 years ago to start school. Growing up in south Louisiana, letting the good times roll is in my blood. Despite the joys of my hometown of New Orleans and Hammond, Louisiana, where I attended grade school through high school, Oklahoma has become my new home. The opportunity to thrive and open doors in the pursuit of my passion are real. 

What opportunities has living in Oklahoma given you and your wife?

Over the last two decades, I have had the opportunity to learn from heroes in my field and drive big change across the state. Oklahoma’s low cost of living gives me and my wife the opportunity to visit friends and family around the country and to live comfortably — all while not creating a sense of overwhelm that may come from living in a bigger market.

My wife is a nurse, and she has the opportunity to work for world class health systems alongside professionals at the top of their field. My professional speaking career has also greatly benefited from trusted brands and organizations in the state, which have opened doors to stages across the country.  

You grew up in Louisiana. How has life in Oklahoma been different? 

I’ve experienced an improved racial climate in Oklahoma, where I feel comfortable in my interracial marriage and navigating business. Have my wife and I experienced racism? For sure, but I’ve gotten a front row seat to positive change and progress in ways that many may not assume. Many of our friends of varied ethnic backgrounds would say the same. 

Oklahoma is diverse. In Shawnee, Native American culture is rich and has helped me understand the experience of indigenous people in the past and their amazing contributions in the present. From Native American friends that have shared their heritage and traditions to tribally owned businesses with major impacts on our economy, Native culture adds a unique layer to the Oklahoma experience. 

Lastly, severe weather and natural disasters happen everywhere, but my neighbors in Shawnee, and in the past, Oklahoma City, Edmond, and Tulsa, have demonstrated a level of care that is something to behold.  

You’re an ambitious community leader who could succeed anywhere. Why has it made sense to stay put in Oklahoma?

Great question. There are a lot of places to live, but finding a place where your purpose and meaning in life can be fulfilled is tough. The choice to put down roots in Oklahoma was a combination of providence, career opportunity, and deep relationships. The biggest driver was falling in love with an Oklahoma girl from Bethany, but working in the nonprofit sector and being a part of a national speaking agency, I’ve also found so much opportunity to thrive and connect to the community in Oklahoma. Despite challenges people face, Oklahoma has some of the friendliest people, as well as inspiring visionaries and innovative entrepreneurs, all of which make it exciting to live here.  

You traded city life for Shawnee. What has surprised you about living in a smaller town in Oklahoma?

I worked with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma for eight years and loved it. Some friends in Shawnee that I had worked with in the past told me about the job [at Pottawatomie Go] and introduced me to leaders at the Avedis Foundation. They recruited me to lead Blue Zones Project (later rebranded as Pogo), an internationally recognized health and wellbeing initiative. Shawnee had achieved the designation as a Blue Zones Certified Community in 2020, the first community in Oklahoma to achieve this. At first, I wasn’t interested, but the opportunity to measurably impact root-cause issues and social determinants of health alongside a proven and well-resourced organization was exciting.

The deal wasn’t sealed until Trisha bought in. She had great options for work, fell in love with a house, and on a brief girls trip, found a wonderful brunch spot. Add in a walkable neighborhood and a competitive wage and the deal was sealed. 

We are bigger city people so it was an adjustment for both of us, but we were surprised by how welcoming and intentional the community was toward us. From the church we joined to the neighbors we’ve met, we’ve made some quality relationships and connections in a short time. A favorite Mexican food spot, Cazadorez, and pizza spot, Giorgio’s Pizzeria, have become some of what we love close to home. Not to mention, we are only 45 minutes away from family and favorites in Oklahoma City.  

Speaking of favorites, what are some of your favorite ways to spend your free time? 

Parks and botanical gardens are our thing. When we aren’t enjoying Boy Scout Park and KidSpace Park here in Shawnee, we love traveling to greenspaces across the state. From Will Rogers Gardens and Scissortail Park in Oklahoma City to River Parks and Gathering Place in Tulsa, the state is filled with options. We also love to stay in boutique hotels when we travel. Some of our favorites are Bradford House and The Campbell. Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, Philbrook Museum of Art, and First Americans Museum are some of our favorite museums. Community events are also a part of our everyday lives. One of our favorites is FireFlight Balloon Festival here in Shawnee.

John and wife posing for a photo inside a cacti greenhouse.

What are some Pottawatomie County spots everyone should check out? 

Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, Golden Ticket Cinemas, Theopolis Social Club, comma, Don’s Plants, Boy Scout Park, KidSpace Park, Cuckoo Bird & Dashing T Boutique, and Wind Drift Orchards for peach picking in the summer. 

John posing for a photo while holding a box full of ripe peaches.

You spend your 9-5 helping people lead healthy lifestyles. What are some of your favorite ways to stay active in Oklahoma? 

I get to be surrounded by folks who enjoy 5Ks, hiking, and athletics. During the summer, Riversport in OKC has some of the best white water rafting, and Chicken N Pickle is constantly busy with pickleball teams and cold beverages. There are many walkable neighborhoods across the state, and the list is growing as people become aware that being active is a lifestyle. For the outdoors, hiking, and lake life, Broken Bow, the Arbuckle Mountains, and Green Country are just a few hours away. 

John and wife kissing their marathon medals.

What do you think people get wrong about Oklahoma? 

The political narrative about Oklahoma suggests that everyone has a broken worldview. There is plenty of evidence of this, in my opinion, but the truth is the state is also brimming with people who care for their neighbors and are pushing back on this narrative and creating opportunities to thrive every day.  

We have sunsets that will cost you less and space for you to launch your next big idea. Cultural diversity in unexpected places with room to build a life you always imagined, and opportunities for your purpose to be fulfilled and your life to leave a mark.  

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