Helen Gaskin, a longtime organist at two Durant churches, died July 31, 2013, after a brief illness. She was 93.
Born Helen Isom on May 15, 1920, in McAlester, she was the daughter of Roy and Carrie Isom, who owned a grocery store in nearby Crowder.
Introduced to music by her mother, who was a church organist at First Baptist in Crowder, Helen began playing piano at church on Sundays when she was 11 years old.
In 1938, shortly after a fondly remembered senior trip to Tulsa to see Bob Wills perform at the famous Cain’s Ballroom, she married her high school sweetheart, J.M. Gaskin.
She attended Oklahoma Baptist University for one year and then went to work full time to help her new husband with expenses as he earned a divinity degree from OBU.
The couple settled in Coalgate during World War II where her husband became pastor of the First Baptist Church and Helen served as church organist. Over the next several decades the couple also served First Baptist Churches as pastor and organist in Tonkawa, Heavener and Durant.
From 1962-1976 Helen was church organist at First Baptist in Durant. When her husband, Dr. J.M. Gaskin, retired, Helen left her position, thinking her future Sunday mornings would be less structured. But that didn’t last long.
In 1977 she began what she thought would be a brief stint as church organist at First Christian. It turned into a 33-year association, which ended with her retirement in 2011. The First Christian Church held a retirement reception for Helen, and it included a surprise visit by Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson, who read a proclamation citing her years of service at First Christian.
In addition to Sunday church services, Helen played at countless weddings, funerals, Durant Chamber of Commerce banquets and other special occasions. For many years she was pianist for the Durant Kiwanis Club, where her considerable keyboard skills led the way for spirited sing-a-longs. The Kiwanis Club honored Helen by welcoming her into the Durant organization as its first ever female member.
Among the many community organizations to which she contributed over the years she especially enjoyed her time with the Durant P.E.O. chapter.
Helen loved a wide variety of music, ranging from traditional church hymns to classical and pop music. She never missed an episode of the Lawrence Welk Show, and as recently as a few days ago, was humming along to one of her favorite tunes on a Lawrence Welk rerun on OETA. In 1992 Helen and Dr. Gaskin endowed a church music scholarship at OBU.
Her varied interests included collecting antiques, trying out new recipes and tending to her flowers. Her latest issue of “Home and Gardening” magazine arrived the day of her passing. Always a night owl, she stayed up late most evenings, working crossword puzzles and watching Johnny Carson and Johnny’s successor Jay Leno.
Helen was always punctual, whether it was for Wednesday night choir practice or a club meeting, but her on-time record for weekly hair appointments with Sue Bryant were legendary. Only the most severe ice storm could prevent her from making it to Sue’s on schedule. She was especially appreciative of Mary McCalib, who took care of driving and many other responsibilities during the past year.
When there was a knock at the door, Helen was always generous, whether the visitors were selling Girl Scout cookies, trick-or-treating, or Christmas caroling. No stray cat that ventured by her door ever went hungry.
Helen was loved, admired and appreciated by many, including her church and community friends, neighbors and family. She will be greatly missed.
She is survived by husband, J.M. Gaskin of Durant; son, Ray Gaskin and his wife Suzanne of Pottsboro, Texas; granddaughter, Kelly Salinas and husband Jesse and great grandson Alex, of McAllen, Texas; grandson, Kent and his wife Melissa, of Las Cruces, N.M.; granddaughter, Sarah Johnson and husband Jeremiah and great-granddaughter Lola of Gunter, Texas; sister, Bertha Littrell of Muskogee; nephews, Danny Littrell and Jimmy Littrell and their families; nephew, Tommy Isom and his family; niece, Connie Gibson and her family.
Brown’s Funeral Service in Durant is handling arrangements. At her request she will be cremated. A memorial service will be planned in the near future. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.brownsfuneralservice.com .
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