Lauren Wheeler still gets a personalized tour when she walks around campus with her parents, OC grads Heather and Carl Wheeler.
“Well, Mom always takes a few minutes to point out the first place she saw Dad, where they first talked, first kissed, and where he proposed. The proposal story is definitely my favorite,” said Lauren, a senior biology major from Topeka, Kansas.
Indeed, that proposal story is legendary to alumni, circa 1984. It was during Homecoming, and Heather was starring as Laurie in the musical “Oklahoma.” Carl took a line from Curly, pulled Heather outside the Hardeman stage before the curtain opened, and popped the question.
Heather’s real-life answer, of course, was less reluctant than Laurie’s “Why would I wanna marry you?”
Heather said “yes” and the rest is OC history still in the making. Lauren and her brother Lane are current OC students; LaVon just graduated from Oklahoma Christian as a biology major with a music minor. She also was a member of OC’s Honors Program.
“If I had 1,000 re-dos of where to go to college, I’d choose OC every time. I love it here,” Lauren said. “OC has a very high acceptance rate into med school, an excellent music program, and I love being on a Christian campus. It’s close to home and feels like a second home since my family has gone through here.”
Heather, a music teacher, and Carl, an attorney, have been very intentional about exposing their kids (and all of the other kids they know) to Oklahoma Christian through summer camps, visits and hosting OC groups at their home congregation.
“I didn’t grow up in a Christian household so I didn’t have that Christian family to rely on other than at church. Then, when I came to OC, and all of a sudden I had two or three thousand Christian folks that became my family,” said Carl, who specializes in child support enforcement for Young Williams Support Services. “Some of my closest friends that I met and made here at OC, I’m still very close with and still feel like family, and their kids feel like family.”
Heather has encouraged her children to get involved and make friends because that’s what she did.
“I’ve finally realized how wise my parents really are,” LaVon said. “They have always encouraged me to do my homework first, but to also go have fun with people in all my free time. Your college friends will be some of your best friends for the rest of your life.”
That’s true for Heather and her friend Laura Earp, who met their first week on campus about 30 years ago. They ended up becoming roommates, being unofficially adopted as another daughter in each other’s families, and were in each other’s weddings when Heather married Carl and Laura married Philip Autrey.
They have stayed in touch, and they visit each other’s homes in Topeka and in Arlington, Texas, where Laura and Philip live with their three kids, including Victoria, a current OC student.
Heather was there for Laura when she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. As Laura battled the aggressive cancer that had advanced to her bones, Heather sprang into action to tend to Laura’s spirit. She set up a Facebook page for updates and prayer requests.
“She can get action out of people, big time,” said Laura, who said she is very grateful for Heather’s energy and for the power of prayer.
Heather also gave Laura a gift. After asking Laura’s friends for their favorite scriptures, Heather painstakingly highlighted them in a Bible she gave her.
“She did this for me. And every time I open that Bible, I see something new and who sent it to me. It is the most precious gift,” Laura said.
Laura recently received good news about her health. Her tumor markers are lower than they’ve been, and although she remains on chemo, she is very optimistic and grateful.
“So many people prayed for me. That’s what did it,” she said. “That’s why I’m here today.”
That’s what friends are for.
By Dawn Shelton