Walter Oran Lee, owner of State Line Tavern in Caldwell: Feb. 11, 1935 – April 1, 2014

first_imgWalter Oran Lee, was born February 11, 1935 in Brunswick, MO.  He was the fifth of eight children born to Orville E. and Irene (Ellis) Lee.  Walter’s young life was spent in the small Northeastern Oklahoma towns of Vinita, Welsh, Blue Jacket, Timbered Hill, and the surrounding rural areas where his family called home.  At the age of 12, Walter’s mother suddenly passed away, and his life became a journey of moves with his father and his brothers and sisters.  The family settled in the north central Oklahoma area, and he attended grade school at several Grant County country schools, and for a short time, attended grade school in Manchester, OK.In 1949, he had the chance to live and work with Clarence and Connie Struble.  Clarence always treated Walter as a man, even at his young age, and told him he was welcome to stay and live as part of their family, but, if he stayed, he had to attend school.  The Struble’s took him in as one of their own, and Walter remained close to the Struble family all of his life.  While with the Struble family, Walter attended his freshman year at South Haven High School and moved with them to Caldwell where he attended and graduated from Caldwell High School with the class of 1954.  While in high school he participated in football, basketball, and track, was an outstanding, hard-working athlete, and in addition, he worked many part-time jobs around town.  While in high school he met his future wife, Betty Wykes.  Their first date was in 1951, a Sadie Hawkins Dance at the school, and Betty asked him to go as her date.  Betty’s family lived just across the street, and he loved to attend Sunday dinner at her house, as often it was the only hot meal he had all week.When the Strubles decided to move from Caldwell, Walter made the decision to stay and finish high school, but this time he would be on his own.   Not only did Walter excel as a high school athlete, he also worked before school, after practices, and sometimes even during school hours.  He stated many times that his coaches and the good people of Caldwell took care of him and watched out for him knowing that he was on his own.  People knew that if they needed something done they could count on him to help, and he appreciated the work they sent his way, as it often paid the rent and bought a few groceries.  He worked at Johnson’s Feed Store, several of the local gas stations, and Johnson’s Furniture Store.He rented a downtown apartment and lived with several friends over the next two years, including his lifelong friend Norman Metcalf, Harold Sturm (who would turn out to be his neighbor many years later), and his younger brother Larry.Following graduation, Walter and Betty were married on July 19, 1954.  They lived in many places including Westminister and Gardena, CA, Wichita, KS, Manhattan, KS, Kansas City, KS, and Boonville, MO, before finding their way back to Caldwell in the summer of 1968.  Daughter Gayla Marie was born in Caldwell in 1956, son Michael Wayne was born in Inglewood, CA in 1958, and daughter Brenda Ann was born in Kansas City, KS in 1963.Upon returning to Caldwell, Walter worked several places before securing a job with Winters Truck Line in 1971.  During the years that he drove the Winters truck, he met many people and made many friends in the southern Kansas area.  It never failed that if you were with Walt, you were bound to run into someone that knew him.  His kids teased him that you couldn’t take Dad anywhere within a six-county radius without running into someone who knew him, and then you had to wait on him to finish visiting.  He also enjoyed harvest and working for Wayne Wencel and his crew west of Caldwell.  He never failed to come home with a good story about harvest and the happenings at the Wencel farm.In 1976, Walter and Betty purchased the State Line Tavern from Betty’s Aunt and Uncle, Georgia and Ozzie Hines.  He would work for the truck line during the day and help Betty, when needed, at the bar in the evenings.  He was a natural in the bar business as he never met a stranger, and he could carry on a conversation with anyone.  Numerous folks have sat with Walt at the bar and talked and laughed their way through many a story.  Countless friends and acquaintances, both young and old, have lifted their glass and heard Walter toast “Mud In Your Eye”.In May 1991, Walter suffered a major heart attack and spent several days in the ICU at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, KS.  At that time, the Drs. told him that his only option was to be put on the heart transplant list.  If he chose not to proceed with a transplant he might live another five years.  He politely told them “no thanks” and left the hospital for home where Betty took very good care of him.  His family was blessed to have him another twenty-three years.Walter and Betty owned the State Line Tavern for 25 years, and in the summer of 2001 that chapter of their life came to a close when they sold the business and moved to a home on North Webb Street in Caldwell.  Walter enjoyed planting flowers in their backyard, reading anything he could get his hands on, listening to country music, and watching sports on television.  He celebrated Homecoming every year with his class of ’54 and looked forward to his 60th high school reunion this fall.  He considered Caldwell his “home town” and often stated that there’s no place he’d rather be.Walter, Betty, and his sister Gertrude started the Annual Lee Family Reunion” in the mid 1980’s, and it continues to this day.  He could hardly contain his excitement as reunion time got closer.  He loved and appreciated his many nieces and nephews and looked forward to seeing his “loved ones” whenever possible.Walter’s life journey came to an end in the early-morning hours of Tuesday, April 1, 2014 when he suffered heart failure, and as he spoke of so often, joined his beautiful wife, Betty, in eternal life.Walter is preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Betty, brother’s Wayne Lee, Elmer Lee, Dale Lee, and Larry Lee, and son-in-law Kip Oathout.Walter will be dearly missed by his brother Bob Lee (Judy), sisters Mary Burris Brooks and Gertrude Allison, brothers-in-law Don Wykes (Ann) and Bruce Wykes (Sannie), his three children, Gayla Oathout, Michael Lee (Dale), and Brenda Sparks (Michael);  his seven grandchildren Scott Lee (Krystal), Brett Oathout (Cara), Chance Sparks, JD Adams, Lacey Lee (Bruce), Jill Crumbliss (Richard), and Leah Sparks (Isaac); and his 11 great-grandchildren Dilyn Lee, Dakota Lee, Dru Lee, James Gonzalez, Xavier Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzales, Miguel Gonzalez, Payton Lee, Piper Crumbliss, Richie Crumbliss, and Marrin Crumbliss, as well as many nieces and nephews, and countless friends.A funeral service will be held 2:00 p.m. Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the Schaeffer Mortuary Chapel.  Dr. Dan Price will officiate.  Interment will be in the Caldwell City Cemetery, Caldwell, Kansas.Memorials may be given in Walter’s name to the Caldwell High School Alumni Association.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *