OBITUARY: Ivan Lee Church, Jr.

Bison Blinds

Ivan Lee Church, Jr.,  passed away peacefully at his home in Luther, Oklahoma, on March 12, 2021, surrounded by his loving family. He was born in Winfield, Kansas, on December 27, 1955, the youngest child of Ivan H. and Mary Marie (Pitner) Church. The family moved to Luther in 1970 where Ivan soon met his future bride, Gwenda (Snyder).

Early in life, Ivan developed a strong work ethic, loyalty and curiosity about the ways things worked; those traits, combined with humility, allowed him to build successful businesses, provide for his family and embrace his adventurous spirit. 

After his service in the U.S. Army and working with his father, Ivan established Church Roofing, Inc., and thought he wanted to retire at the age of 40 having built it successfully. But he quickly found out the leisurely life wasn’t for him, so he and Gwenda fired the business back up and he ran it until 2012 when health issues got in the way. During those early years, he was often out of town or out of state, working on big projects away from his family, so he was grateful when Gwenda and the girls would load up and come visit on the weekends. At least one time the girls remember hauling a cake and candles with them to celebrate his birthday.

As a boss, Ivan wanted his own employees to succeed so much that it wouldn’t be unusual for him to get up two hours early to pick up someone for work if they didn’t have a vehicle. He would use that windshield time to share his views on the merits of hard work, saving your hard-earned wages, and maybe plan out their next work vacation to the mountains for hunting, to the river to noodle, or to the lake to goof off. They probably also ran through the drive-thru at McDonald’s for breakfast. 

Ivan’s priorities were providing for family, and devoting his life to his wife of 48 years, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, his community and his friends. Ivan and Gwenda remodeled houses, gaining skills they passed on to their family. Their teamwork led to building their own homes debt free, and acquiring property around Luther to offer rental housing to many happy long-term tenants. 

He liked to say you had to work hard to play hard. Ivan was an avid hunter filling tags for deer, elk, duck or bear. He also loved those all- night raccoon hunts with the hounds, his buddies and the grandkids who begged to come along. He never said no. The family recalls the tale of a harrowing elk hunt in Colorado, 15 miles from camp across switchback roads. It was a beautiful day so he had no coat but stayed with the elk and waited for his buddies to return to help haul it from the woods. The rain and wet roads kept them from returning that night. He gutted the elk and slept inside the carcass to stay warm and kept guard until his ride came back the next morning. Ivan was able to recount the story one more time, on video, during those last precious days of this life.

He was also a farmer, and even got into horse pulling contests, winning trophies at local and state fairs with his Belgians. His dear friends Rocky and Peggy Dailing of Success, Missouri, share many laughs about those days together. It was later that Ivan got turned on to goats, admiring his grandkids’ enthusiasm for the sport, and traveling far to watch them show and win championships.

Speaking of the grandkids, he made it a priority to be there for them for their games, big events, phone calls seeking dating advice, and to “rescue” them from school to get lunch or ice cream.  

Ivan and Gwenda had a great time touring in their custom Harley, and almost finished their goal of visiting all the states. They had one more to go. A family trip to Minnesota is in the works.

Ivan was preceded in death by his parents, siblings, Nellie Overbey and James Ward (Sonny), a daughter, Kasandra Ann, and his dear mother-in-law, Oma Lou Snyder.

He is survived by his wife, Gwenda, and siblings, Nettie Knight of Luther, Emma Jean Williams of Luther, Gloria Seeley of Moore and Larry Church of Muskogee.

He is also survived by his daughter Brandy (JT) Langston, and grandchildren Bailey (Lance) Kirkland, Carson Wheeler and Harper Langston; daughter Melissa (Matt) McRay, and grandchildren DezaRae Nessman, Mason McRay and Jessica (Devin) Thornburg; and, daughter Julia Church and grandchildren, Jaelyn Jones, Sawyer Cousin and Reagan Cousin. 

He is also survived by great grandchildren, Hadley, Lawson and Weston Kirkland, PaizLee Paine and LoreLai Nessman, and BlakeLyn Thornburg, and a host of friends who were like family to him.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Luther First Baptist Church, where he was married and baptized. The service will be at 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at 104 N Cedar Road, Luther, OK. Arrangements are by Boydston-Bailey Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the charity of your choice or you can pay it forward and help someone in need just as Ivan did so many times.

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