Jess Phillip Gates © Grace Memorial Chapel Submitted by: Jo Aguirre
Jess Phillip Gates passed away Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009. Surrounded by close family, he left this world where he came into it. In the Big Bend. On the family farm. His favorite place on earth. He was 85. Jess was born on July 31, 1923, the fifth of 12 children born to Edmund Gates and Mamie Tripp Gates. He received his earliest education at the Big Bend Woodland School, later attending school at Burbank and Ralston. Before finishing high school, he signed up to serve his country and entered the United States Army Air Corps on December 3, 1942. During World War II, he was a glider mechanic and served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. A noted marksman, the military awarded him the Good Conduct Medal, EAME Theatre Ribbon with Silver Service Star, American Theater Ribbon and the WWII Victory Ribbon. He was honorably discharged from the Air Corps on November 24, 1945. During the war, he exchanged letters with Vesta Ilene Woodward. Soon after the war ended, the two eloped to Winfield, Kansas on March 23, 1946, and made their first home on a farm near Red Rock. They just celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. Vesta always referred to him as Jesse. As a young couple with young children, they bought a farm and moved to South Dakota. They also lived in Washington state, where Jess took a job in a Boeing airplane manufacturing plant. He and Vesta then bought a dairy farm near Evansville, Arkansas, and Jess began farming his parents place back in the Big Bend. Eventually, the couple returned to Oklahoma, settling in Marland in 1962, when Jess went to work in the oil refinery at Conoco in Ponca City. In the early 1970s, they bought the farm next to his parents farm and returned home to the Big Bend to stay. Jess retired from Conoco in 1985, after 23 years of service. But a farmer never really retires and he and Vesta continued harvesting wheat and raising cattle. PawPaw loved teaching the grandchildren about the farm and they were at his side in the tractor or combine and helping him feed the cows as soon as they could walk. Jess was a member of the V.F.W. and American Legion. An avid reader and historian, he was a self-taught expert on Civil War and World War II history. He also enjoyed politics, sports, hunting and the outdoors, and his reunions with the 62nd Troop Carrier Group. But his proudest moments were when he was spending time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And when they weren't around, PawPaw was bragging about them. He was known for his strong opinions, but also his sense of humor, devotion to family and a fundamental belief in living an honest life. He will be dearly missed and never forgotten. Jess is survived by his wife, Vesta, of the home; four children, Lynda Zebelman and husband, Max, St. Louis Missouri, Phillip Gates and wife, Marilyn, Red Rock, Oklahoma, Brenda Gates, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Debra Marty and husband, Paul, Pryor, Oklahoma; nine grandchildren, Rhett Waggoner, Lyndall Stout, Jessica Root, Aaron Gates, Tyler Hickman, Joseph Gates, Tanner Vore, Benjamin Gates and Camille Zebelman; two great-grandchildren, Victoria Root and Spencer Yannuzzi; three step-grandchildren Naomi Marty-Dekar, Seth Marty and Dominic Yannuzzi, IV; two brothers, Edmund Gates and Jim Gates; three sisters, Martha Johnston, Mamie Judkins and Judy Newland. Jess was preceded in death by his youngest daughter, Vickie Marie Gates, who died of leukemia at age 13; his parents; four brothers, Robert, Frederick, Johnny and Herb; and two sisters, Ella Bledsoe and Mary Roberts. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 16, 2009, at the First Christian Church in Fairfax, Oklahoma with Rev. George Weston presiding. Interment will be in the Pixley Cemetery in the Big Bend under the direction of Grace Memorial Chapel.
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