On Wednesday, March 10th, 2021, longtime Claremore resident, Willard Ray Teakell, passed away peacefully at a Tulsa hospital, following several months of failing health. He was surrounded by the love and prayers of multitudes of friends.
Ray was born on June 1st, 1954, in Walters, Oklahoma. He was the beloved, only child of Willard W. and Nelda Kathleen (Watson) Teakell. When Ray was just a small child, his father passed away, leaving he and his mother to navigate life as just the two. But Nelda was a strong, wise and faithful woman who dedicated herself to rearing her son. It is said that children learn what they live, so Ray grew to be a strong, wise, man of faith himself.
Nelda also encouraged a very gifted young Ray to develop his God given musical talents. Tutorials from Lavena Parrish along with hours of piano practice developed this young musician into an accomplished pianist and organist. Then Ray discovered he could accompany himself as a vocalist. Thus, music became a passion and a career that lasted a lifetime.
Always having a servant’s heart, Ray chose to seek employment through his teen years at the Walters’ local funeral home. Mr. Wyatt, the owner and funeral director at that time, took Willard Ray under his wing. Rich life lessons were learned through this experience. Following Ray’s graduation from Walters High School, he attended Cameron University in Lawton.
After his time at Cameron, Ray began his career of “making church music” – the passion of his life! His first job was at a Baptist church in Velma, Oklahoma. In 1976, he took the position of music and youth director at Memorial Heights Baptist Church, Claremore, Oklahoma. Though many, now adults, fondly recall Ray as their favorite youth leader, his love for senior adults prompted a transition. And Ray began the process of building the church senior adult ministry, still known as SAM & SAL’S.
Ray’s genuine interest in these seniors motivated him to continue his education to be even better equipped to serve. It was a very proud day when he completed his degree at Southern Nazarene University, with an emphasis on gerontology, equipping him with even greater abilities in his work.
Because of Ray’s heart of service, he not only gave to his church family; but, he also chose to continue his work in funeral service. Off days at his ‘real job’ as he referenced it, would find him at Rice Funeral Service. He was often called on as musician at the funeral home. It was not long before the entire community came to rely on Ray’s musical gift for weddings, funerals, and celebrations of all types.
Community was also important to Ray. He was an active member of the Claremore Lion’s Club and donated too many hours to count. He was an ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a regular performer in their yearly gridiron. He was well suited for his roles with his own wit and humor.
Ray’s career later transitioned into hotel operations in Tulsa and Catoosa. But he never left his first love of “making church music”. He shared his musical gift with St. Cecilia Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church and then found his home at First Christian Church. He sat at the ‘big, beautiful Roger’s organ’ each Sunday sharing his soul with his beloved church family. Even with his health failing in recent months, he made his way to play the organ and worship God when he was too weak for any other activities.
Though the Roger’s organ will be silent, a memorial service honoring and remembering the life of Ray Teakell will be at First Christian Church on Saturday, March 27th, 2021. His pastor and friend, Reverend Charles Ragland will share words of comfort.
Those who wish to honor Ray’s memory with a memorial gift may do so by giving to either: First Christian Church, 200 E. 5th Street, Claremore, OK 74017 or The Little Light House, 5120 E. 36th Street, Tulsa, OK 74135 (littlelighthouse.org).
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Ray Teakell, please visit our floral store.