The old saying, “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life,” seemed to resonate with F.M. Oakley who just retired after 60 years as the deacon at Liberty Baptist Church in Pekin.
Wednesday evening he was honored at his church located at 2105 Sheridan Road surrounded by family and friends. Pastor Roger Lipe said he worked with Oakley for the last two years in the church.
“He’s very dedicated, very committed and very wise,” said Lipe. “We did a plaque presentation at church last Sunday for him. We told him he’s not retiring. We’ll just ease up on him.”
Wednesday evenings at Liberty Baptist Church are normally reserved for a dinner and Bible Study along with youth group activities. Lipe said he decided to celebrate Oakley the same evening so the youth group had a chance to hear how much Oakley meant to the church members.
Prior to being a deacon at Liberty Baptist, he was a deacon for three years at another church. He also enjoyed a long career as a science teacher at Pekin Community High School for 29 years.
After the meal, people were invited to speak at a microphone about Oakley whose nickname is “Red” for his red hair. There was not a shortage of stories. Oakley’s name was repeatedly synonymous with patience and kindness. One by one people came to talk about Oakley either as a teacher or deacon. He and his wife of 67 years, Aletha, sat back and enjoyed the stories.
Their daughter Sheera DeGroot said, “He’s always been the same person whether at home, school or church. He’s always been a very genuine, down-to-earth man. He has a very gentle nature. He’s got a great legacy. All the time my parents spent at church helped make everyone who they are. They are the best example of a marriage and parents.”
Even though her father has been retired from teaching for a long time, she still has people tell her what a great teacher he was and how much they enjoyed being in his class. One former student and fellow church member Rita Klundt recalled her time as a student in his class on Wednesday evening.
She said, “He treated all his students with such respect. I saw you (Oakley) were consistent at school and here at the church.”
Another former student and former son-in-law Todd DeGroot spoke to Oakley and the parishioners.
He said, “I’ve learned a lot from him. The example he has set. He’s kept me in a calm way when I would have flown off the handle. I don’t ever remember him saying anything harsh to me. I have the utmost respect for you (Oakley).”
Kevin Lisanby said Oakley was never afraid to share the gospel and that he will appreciate Oakley always.
Kathy Stanford is a fellow church member. She said, “In the fall of 1996 the Oakley family welcomed us to dinner. They extended the hand of fellowship. I think they played a part in helping us feel welcome. Aletha still mentors us. I’m going to echo what others have said about him being a good example for us through thick and thin.”
Others like Dean Bushue spoke about working with “Red” at the high school and all the nice things students had to say about him. Those who spoke thanked Oakley for being a good example of a good man and helping to shape lives around him.
Oakley said he was ready for retirement.
He said, “It’s meant a lot. Deacons have to work pretty hard. I’ve had a great time doing it. Thank you for honoring me. I love all of you.”