|Wanda Jo Evaige|
Wanda Evaige Loved Frederick
Some people are content to live quiet lives. Others live bold lives, continually looking for new challenges, new experiences, and new ways to shape the world around them. That’s how Wanda Evaige lived her life.
There was nothing quiet about Wanda. She was a force to be reckoned with!
When Wanda died last week at age 80, her passing marked the end of an era in Frederick. That’s because, throughout her life, she was active in many parts of the community. She was never idle, she was always involved, and she was always outspoken. There was nothing shy about Wanda.
Wanda had a huge number of friends. I’m pleased that, for almost 40 years, I was one of them.
I first knew Wanda when I came home to Frederick after college in the mid-1970s to work in the local school system. Wanda was teaching in the open classroom at Prather Brown Center in those days (open classrooms were a passing educational fad in the ‘70s), but she soon moved to Central Elementary where she taught music until her retirement. I think that’s where she was happiest.
Over the years she taught thousands of young Frederick students from her music classroom – the old Central Grade School Auditorium.
She loved that old school. When the old Central Grade building was torn down just a couple of years ago, I think Wanda took the building’s demise harder than anyone.
She had a passion for Frederick, for education, for history, and for her friends. She loved young people and gave piano lessons in her home for decades after her retirement from teaching. She loved to talk about her family, her growing up years in Frederick, the old Boyd High School, and her church – St. Paul AME Church.
She was civic minded, serving for decades on the Frederick City Council, and she was proud of the fact that she was one of the first female African-American mayors in our state.
Wanda was a Democrat – first, foremost and always! She and I shared that. Countless times Wanda called me on the phone to talk about politics. She lobbied at the state and federal levels for decades, she served numerous times as a Tillman County Democratic officer, and she attended the national Democratic Convention several times.
She was a great seamstress, and she took pride in her work. After retirement from education, she opened a small fabric shop in downtown Frederick and she tried to launch a company making men’s neckties. The business never quite took off, but she continued her sewing and embroidering projects throughout her life, often selling the items as fundraising projects for her church.
When the Tillman County Historical Society was looking for an old church building to move to the Pioneer Townsite Museum property, Wanda helped secure her church – the St. Paul A.M.E. Church, built in 1924. After the church was moved to the Townsite, she took pleasure in giving tours there, telling visitors about the unique history of the building and her church’s congregation.
She was an active member of the Frederick Chamber’s Board of Directors for decades, and no project brought her greater satisfaction than planning the Chamber’s annual Christmas Parade. She and Linda Haston were a team for years as parade planners. Wanda’s Christmas enthusiasm was contagious! Last Christmas, when Wanda was in physical decline, she could no longer help with planning the parade, but she did serve as parade marshal. She had a great time that day!
I will always think of Wanda’s big smile… and her laugh.
All of us who knew and cared for Wanda will certainly miss her, but her legacy of love for Frederick will live on.
Services for Wanda Jo Evaige will be held on Friday, May 24, 1:00 p.m., at the Frederick First Baptist Church, 11th and Grand, under direction of Jackson Funeral Home.
Wanda’s obituary is as follows:
Wanda Jo Evaige was born on July 9, 1933, in Frederick, Oklahoma, to the late Sam and Lenora (Oliver) Evaige.
Wanda was the seventh child born to this union.
She was the third generation of the Evaige Family to attend Boyd School. She graduated from Boyd High school in 1951. She played basketball, was a cheerleader, and member of the choir and band.
She attended Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas, which later became Huston-Tillotson College. In 1955, she graduated with a bachelor degree in music.
She taught first grade at O.E. Kennedy Elementary School, in the same classroom where she attended first grade. She later transferred to third grade at Prather Brown where she taught in Oklahoma’s second open-space classroom.
She applied and received the music position at Central Grade where she taught grades four, five and six. On the 75th birthday of the State of Oklahoma, her music students sang for the governor at the state capitol.
In 1981, she was named Teacher of the Year for Frederick and Tillman County and was the first black teacher to receive this award.
She served as president of Frederick and Tillman County Classroom Teachers and served on the Legislative Commission for the Oklahoma Education Association where she lobbied at the state and national capitols.
Ms. Evaige touched thousands of lives through the children she taught in the Frederick Public School system.
Wanda was elected to the Frederick City Council in 1982, as the representative for Frederick’s Ward III. She was named mayor in 1987, and continued to serve and be involved in city and state government until the time of her death.
In 1985, she and the city were successful in receiving a grant to restore the O.E. Kennedy Elementary School to preserve the rich history and heritage of black education in Frederick. Her leadership and personal credibility brought stability to a community in need.
Ms. Evaige continued her service as the first Chairperson of the Tillman County E911; her personal diligence and persistence led the transition for a county with no 911 services to county-wide E911 services of high standards in short order. In 1988, she was appointed to represent Tillman County to the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments (ASCOG) and in 2000-2002 was elected president of the governing board. The same year she attended the National Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Georgia and represented the Democratic mayors of Oklahoma at the convention and was featured in a related photo and article in USA Today.
She was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her local membership was at St. Paul AME in Frederick and served as a conference trustee of the church. She represented the church on the State Council of Churches, USA and the National Council of Churches, USA.
Wanda received two appointments from Oklahoma governors: the first from Governor Henry Bellmon to the Oklahoma Constitution and Revision Commission; the second by Governor David Walters to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. She was later appointed in 1997, to the National Judicial Commission by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
She had served as president of the Huston-Tillotson University International Alumni Association and was the first out-of-state alumnus to serve in that position.
One of Ms. Evaige’s greatest accomplishments was when she was inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame for Elected Officials. She had been the recipient of numerous awards throughout the years; Wanda once stated “I feel that I have fulfilled my mother’s dream. She lived to see me teach my first year, and I feel I am what she would had been, if she had been given the chance. When I received Oklahoma’s Human Rights Award, I knew that she would have been really proud of me. My membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has had a major impact on my life. I supported young girls in college in various ways, from transportation to and from college, to clothing and developing motivational skills. I am a 50-year member. In 1968, I took on the leadership in getting the first Southwest Oklahoma chapter established in Lawton, Oklahoma. I was on the first national committee of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Connection, a political action committee. I have learned so much by being involved in Service.”
She spent many hours advocating for municipal and humanitarian issues; she was well known at the Oklahoma Capitol and in Washington, D.C. for her passionate advocacy of rural issues such as housing and jobs creation. Her level of commitment and positive influence has done much good for the citizens of Frederick, southwest and all of Oklahoma.