This is the story of a man. He was only one man, but his long life left an indelible imprint on the lives of many. Although these short pages cannot tell the whole story, we hope they catch the essence of the man we all knew and loved as our brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, fellow church member, and friend. His smiles, wit, and laughter cannot be captured on paper and ink, but their memory is fresh in all of our hearts.
Wendell Loyd Baxter was born on January 7, 1928 in Okmulgee, OK to Loyd and Sylvia Baxter. Wendell was the eldest of seven children, including Jackie Lee, Bob, Shirley, Macky, Henry, and Ted. He always had a special, loving relationship with his mother, and was moved by her prayers for him at critical times in his life.
During the Depression years, both of his parents worked whatever jobs they could find, and Wendell’s aunts took care of him while his parents worked. As his parents followed employment from Okmulgee and Tulsa, Oklahoma to south Texas and back, Wendell attended various schools until he graduated from Okmulgee High School May 23, 1946. But much happened before that high school graduation, including the meeting of his youthful sweetheart and forever love, his “Jeanie.”
During his school years, Wendell won many awards for the athletic prowess that would characterize his life. He excelled in water polio and swim competitions in school and at the city level, winning many first place championships. His love for the water would never change.
One of his favorite songs was, “I’m in Love with Someone.” Wonder who that was?
When Jean was 14 and Wendell was 17 his family moved across the alley from Jean’s sister, Mary Edith. It was there Jean first spotted him out in the yard, but they didn’t officially meet until a Sunday school class party at the Okmulgee Church of the Nazarene. Jean was struck by his genuine niceness and good looks. Their first date was to a carnival, where Jean’s sister Francis went as a chaperone. Jean says she was genuinely smitten.
Wendell had several jobs during high school, including working as lifeguard during the summer. It was working at a men’s clothing store called Polley’s that sparked his flair for being be well-dressed and dapper, regardless of the setting. In fact, he had a gorgeous Polley’s suit that Jean “loved to see him in”.
He also went out to California for a year to stay with his Uncle Elmer and Aunt Claire, and to build many wonderful memories working in their orchard with his cousins, Jerry, Gene, and Ann. He told of playing football with huge grapefruits, sledding down grass hills, and the lovely smell of orange blossoms that filled the valley. Years later, on a trip with granddaughter Rebecca, he shared the love of that scent by placing a freshly cut branch of orange blossoms by her bed each night.
Wendell enlisted in the army before he graduated from high school. He went for his physical and signed induction papers in February, then graduated from high school and entered the service in May, 1946. He was stationed at Camp Polk, LA; Camp Chaffee, AR; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Fort Lewis in Washington. It was in Fort Lewis that he completed his non-commissioned officers’ training, and became a Corporal. He spent the majority of his one year and five months in service as a clerk. Back home in Okmulgee, his sweetheart fell gravely ill, nearly causing Wendell to go AWOL in order to be with her.
During this separation, the young lovers maintained a lively correspondence, one that evidently helped carry them through many years of their married lives, as those love letters remained stashed under their bed.
Wendell was discharged from Fort Knox, KY on November 6, 1947. While he wrote his own discharge papers, he couldn’t create the next major document in his life: his marriage license. On December 5th they were married, but the love struck couple had no honeymoon destination in mind. Their car broke down in “Podunkville”, OK, but they managed to make it to McAlester, where they stayed in Aldridge Inn.
The new couple made their first home in Tulsa in a bedroom-only apartment over a woman’s house. A year and a day after they were married, they welcomed their first brown-eyed joy: Linda, born on December 6, 1948. Wendell bought in to his parents’ restaurant, Lucky 7, and helped run it and another restaurant for a couple years, before selling out and moving back to Okmulgee where he attended night classes, worked at a glass factory, and was a meter reader with Oklahoma Natural Gas.
Perhaps a lesser known segment of his life, but one which was very dear to him, was Wendell’s call to preach while still a young man. He and Jean moved to Bethany, OK, where he attended Bethany Peniel College. While in college, Wendell continued working at ONG and saved enough money to buy their first home.
After graduation on June 1, 1954, they sold the house and went to El Campo, TX, where he started a church at his brother-in-law Bud’s urging. Undaunted by the challenge of opening up a new mission, he purchased a bar which he converted into a church, with services beginning in October, 1954. Wendell was the pastor and Jean was the pianist. Wendell would renew his ministerial license every year until 1961.
When they moved back to Bethany in the summer of 1955, Wendell began working at Wiley Post Airport supervising the construction of airplanes. They bought a house on 63rd Terrace, where their second brown-eyed darling, Sherrie, was born on April 21, 1957. It was at that home Wendell and Jean welcomed nephews into the family while they attended Bethany College.
In 1960, Wendell began work with Western Electric as a line supervisor. In 1964, he and Jean built a new home on Markwell Place. Many Hill family gatherings were hosted there, including Thanksgiving with 40+ people, walks to the lake, and homemade ice cream socials.
There are pivotal times in life, times when lives are forever changed. Such a time occurred in June, 1971, when Wendell was transferred to Vancouver, WA, to help start a new Western Electric plant. They made their new home in Brush Prairie, which became the center of years of family events – from grandchildren running through the woods, friends and family hanging out in the living room, birthday parties, and holiday events. This change to the abundant natural beauty of the Northwest was fertile soil for Wendell’s love of the outdoors and athletic abilities to take deep root and thrive.
When the Western Electric plant closed in 1975, Wendell chose to remain in Washington, rather than transfer again. The next years were filled with all the things Wendell loved: going to Bend to spend time with his grandchildren, frequent hikes around the Northwest, trips to San Francisco to see Hazel and Otha, and trips to Canada.
Although they lived in Brush Prairie for over 20 years, they hardly let the grass grow under their feet. They traveled frequently to be with family, and family traveled to be with them, sharing many adventures in and around Washington.
Wendell loved nature and was a walking encyclopedia when it came to plants, trees, and birds. He knew a tree by its bark and a bird by its chirp. He shared his love of the outdoors with his family, and others; climbing Mt. St. Helens twice before it erupted, attempting Mt. Hood two times before summiting the third, backpacking a 50 mile trip through the Olympic Peninsula twice, once with Jean. His family holds precious memories of hikes in the Gorge and all around the high lakes in Central Oregon.
Wendell excelled at bike riding. He biked to the Oregon Coast, and during a stint in Oklahoma for work, he biked back and forth to work. He invited a nephew for a 20 mile round-trip outing, from which the nephew turned back and Wendell completed alone.
While in Washington, Wendell welcomed each of his seven grandchildren into his life with equal joy, and introduced each one into the world of nature he loved so much. From picking berries for pies, to catching tadpoles in Todd Lake, Wendell filled his grandchildren’s lives with joy and delight for God’s creation. In return, his grandchildren became the delight of his life. His love for water was passed on as well, although it was the icy waters of the Northwest, rather than the warmer water he had grown up with. Together they combed the Oregon Coast for shells and plunged fearlessly into the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean and Central Oregon’s high lakes. Inner tube trips down the Washougal River were just another way he shared that love for water, one that would never change, even into the last years of his life, where he swam in Jack and Linda’s pool as long as he could.
The Pacific Northwest broadened this Oklahoma boy’s horizons to the wonders of mountains and snow, something he enjoyed just as enthusiastically with his daughters and grandchildren. From making snowmen, plummeting down mountainsides in sleds, to both downhill and cross-country skiing, Wendell’s sense of adventure and desire to be a part of his family’s lives kept his dare-devil adventurous spirit alive.
Wendell’s infectious love for people and joy in living made him well-loved by Jean’s family, whom he loved dearly in return. His brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law were among his dearest friends. Much time was spent sharing life and adventures in both Washington and Oklahoma.
When Wendell retired in 1994, he and Jean moved back to Oklahoma, tearfully bidding farewell to the home in Brush Prairie that had hosted so much joy. However, retirement did little to slow Wendell down. For many years he returned to Washington in the fall to help Sherrie in her business and to sneak in more hiking trips and visits to the Oregon coast.
For their 50th Anniversary, Wendell and Jean spent four weeks in England with missionaries David and Jean Foster who considered him their second father. Wendell also helped Linda’s family build their new home in Stratford, climbing on the roof to nail on siding, and keeping his hands busy. Worn out steamer trunks bearing histories of yesteryear were transformed under his deft fingers into beautiful masterpieces, giving him the affectionate title of “trunkie junkie.”
In 2007 a shadow of change swept across Wendell’s life: an official diagnosis of Parkinson’s. But, Wendell didn’t throw his hands up and give in. He continued to live life as fully as he could, squeezing in a third trip to Hawaii (his second was for their 40th wedding anniversary), trips around the northwest, and a raft trip down the Grand Ronde River in the Northwest.
Although Parkinson’s stole Wendell’s dexterity and his physical smile, it could not steal the most essential things about him: his love for God, his love for his family, his quick witted humor, and his determination to enjoy the life that God had given him. Even as the disease broke down his body, his infectious humor continued to light the lives of those around him.
Wendell remained active in the church as long as his body would allow him, and the men’s prayer group at Ada Church of the Nazarene was an important part of his life. It meant a lot to him that the group met at his home several times after his travelling became limited.
Even in his lowest point of life, Wendell continued to share his love, his humor, and his care with everyone he met. The nurses during his last month cherished him and his gentleness and were surprisingly delighted by his quick witted one liners.
Although this man, our husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, and friend, will always be missed, our hearts are filled with thankfulness to our heavenly Father for allowing us 85 years to enjoy and love him.
Funeral service will be held at Ada Church of the Nazarene on Saturday, July 6th, at 11:00 a.m. Visitation will be at Criswell Funeral Home on Friday evening and at the church immediately following the service. Graveside service will take place at 4 p.m. at the Beggs Cemetery in Beggs, Oklahoma. Rev. Jim Knight will be officiating. Criswell Funeral Home in Ada will be handling the arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, Jean requests donations be made in memory of Wendell to their granddaughter’s mission work in Belize. Crossroads Church of the Nazarene, 6150 Firestone Street, Ocean Springs, MS 39564 Attn: Church Treasurer Designate to Rebecca/ Belize
Obituaries may be viewed and online condolences sent to criswellfh.com or you can leave your memories and condolences on this website. You can comment by clicking the “Leave a reply” link below and entering your memory or condolence.