Henrietta Jean (Abbott) Bayles was born April 25, 1941 in the original Abbott farmhouse located on highway 60, about 15 miles west of Fairview, Oklahoma. Her mother, Helen, was a schoolteacher and church pianist, a working mom before it was common. Her father, Henry, a farmer, cared for the children and the farm. Farming a sandhill farm in northwest Oklahoma was back-breaking work. As a child, mom picked cotton, at age nine independently cooked meals for the harvesters, and learned about free enterprise selling cantaloupes and watermelons from their front yard. Mom’s childhood was full of simple joys: listening to the radio, box-suppers, revivals, 4-H, an enormous assortment of pets including cats, dogs, horses, cattle, pigs, and chicks. Wasser, the runt-pig who lived in their kitchen until he was big enough to survive outside was one of mom’s favorites.
In 1958, a few days after mom turned seventeen and graduated as valedictorian of her class, her fifteen-year-old brother Terry dove into a sand bar in a little lake in rural northwest Oklahoma breaking his neck. In that one ill-fated dive his life and the lives of his entire family were cruelly and permanently altered.
Immediately, Mom gave up her scholarship to Northwestern and her dream of being a history teacher. Instead, she enrolled in a nursing program in Enid so that she would be equipped to care for her brother. After a short time of freedom as a nurse in Tulsa and St. Louis, Mom went to OU to complete her RN training so that she could teach nursing. During this time, the doctors had told Grandma Helen to "take Terry home and make him comfortable; he'll be dead in a year." But, six years had rolled by and he was still alive. Mom invited Terry to come live with her in Norman, so that he could get an education. When Terry met the love of his life, Freda, Mom got the sister that she had always longed for.
Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mom fought discrimination against her brother. One time, Terry's Spanish class was on the second floor of Kaufman Hall. There were no elevators. Mom went to the professor and asked him if he could move the class to the first floor. Callously, he retorted that it was his class, he wasn't moving it, and it wasn't his problem. Mom made it his problem. She promptly marched into OU’s Vice-President’s office and presented her case. The class was moved to the first floor. Mom hated injustice. From earliest childhood, mom always fought for those who could not fight for themselves.
Mom loved the story of the Little Red Hen. Henrietta Hen saw what needed to be done and did it herself. For fifty years, Mom dreamed of building a totally handicap-accessible home and renting it to someone like Terry. In 2014 she finally did it, spearheading the job herself and receiving a “Clearing the Path” award from the Oklahoma City Mayor’s Committee on Disability Concerns.
In 1964, Jean met Jim while working as an RN in the psychiatric hospital where he worked as an aide. On the night they met, mom had to walk through the dark and fell in a ditch along the way. When she finally breezed in, annoyed and hair full of leaves, she complained that someone really needed to fix that light. Standing under another light, at ease in his starched white uniform, stood a handsome, muscular young man. For mom, it was love at first sight. Dad was less confident. The elderly nurse who worked with them finally asked dad “How many times does Miss Abbott have to come over here before you ask her out?” Two years later, over a dinner of his favorite meal of chicken fried steak, Dad commented that he could have Mom cook for him forever. She took it as a proposal and they were married on Christmas Eve, 1966.
Mom had an adorable bungalow she had purchased herself during college. But in 1968 mom and dad had their first house built on 656 Reed Avenue. With dad serving as her on-call handyman, mom started buying rent houses. In 1971, Shelly Renee arrived, and by 1974, they were expecting Alisa Jean and wanted to get out of the city. They found the farm, and in February 1974, during an ice storm, they moved into a new trailer house on their 30 acres. In October 1976, their bicentennial baby, Karen Alaine, was born. In 1977, mom and dad decided it was time to move back to town, but they kept the farm and cattle. In 1982, Todd Isaac was born. He was the light of their lives and the absolute best baby doll for his sisters!
Sunday mornings always started with church, followed by a feast of roast, mashed potatoes & gravy, and homemade chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. Most Sunday afternoons were spent at the farm: playing with the baby calves, working the land and planning their dream-home. Mom took a twenty-year sabbatical from nursing to be a full-time mom. She was an amazing cook, fabulous seamstress and life-long learner. Over the years, some of her hobbies included Hebrew, writing, and stained-glass classes. Her favorite hobby was genealogy. She also enjoyed teaching English as a Second Language, reading incessantly, and embroidery. She did all of the bills and managed the rent houses. Somehow, she still found time to car-pool the kids to school, sports, and music lessons. But above all these things, mom loved studying the Bible. She enjoyed sharing God’s Word with everyone she met.
In 1995, one week after Alisa was married, mom, dad, Karen and Todd moved into their new home on the farm. Mom and dad loved life on the farm for the next 24 years. The big house was overflowing during holiday gatherings and frequent family get-togethers.
Mom’s life was never the same after the sudden loss of Jim in June 2019 and the return of her cancer. While she grieved for Jim, she also prepared for her death by easing the transition for her children. Mom had a long to-do list that she was able to check off before she went to Heaven to see Jesus and dad.
Mom passed away at home on the farm on June 8, 2020, surrounded by her family. She was preceded in death by her parents Henry and Helen Abbott, brother Terry, and her beloved husband of 52 years, Jimmy Ray Bayles. She is survived by her four children, their spouses, and fourteen grandchildren: Shelly Renee & Tony Wahl of Golden, Colorado and their children Abby, Luke, Baylee & Brody; Alisa Jean & Bradley Smith of Norman, Oklahoma and their children Amber, Andrew, Leif & Lochlan; Karen Alaine & Jason Skoch of Zephyrhills, Florida and their children Jay, Kyle, Kade, & Emmie; and, Todd Isaac & Logan Bayles of Norman, Oklahoma and their children Gareth & Wells. Also, by her brother Gary Abbott and many nieces and nephews.
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Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF)