March 20, 2002
Former Oklahoma Baptist University First Lady Helen Thames Raley died Wednesday, March 20, in Ponca City. She was 92.
Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Monday, March 25, in Andrew Potter Auditorium of John Wesley Raley Chapel on the OBU campus.
Helen Thames Raley was born Dec. 24, 1909, in Smithville, Texas. She studied at Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Belton, Texas, from 1926-28. In 1931, she completed a bachelor of arts degree in sacred music from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa. She also studied piano and organ at Oklahoma Baptist University.
At the age of 19, she married John Wesley Raley in Smithville. After studying at Eastern Seminary, the Raleys moved to Oklahoma in 1931, when he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bartlesville. Oklahoma Baptists elected Dr. Raley to the Oklahoma Baptist University board of trustees, and he was selected as president of the University in 1934.
In June of 1934, at the age of 23, Mrs. Raley became First Lady of OBU. The Raleys would serve as president and first lady of the university for 27 years, from 1934-61. During that time, the Raleys led OBU through the Great Depression and World War II, and into a period of great growth in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Among the buildings constructed during the Raley Era were Brotherhood Dormitory, Mrs. W.S. Kerr Dormitory, Thurmond Hall, and Clark Craig Fieldhouse.
When the Raleys came to OBU, they lived in a house on University Street on the southern edge of the campus. In 1949, they moved into the President's Home, at 616 University Parkway, on the north side of the campus.
The Raleys sought to develop personal relationships with as many OBU students as possible.
"I knew and could call by name every student on campus until the enrollment reached 1,100," said Mrs. Raley. "There were always guests in our home and we averaged about three parties a week," she told a reporter in 1972.
The Raleys were members of the First Baptist Church of Shawnee, where Mrs. Raley taught a college women's Sunday School class. She sought to fulfill the role of "in loco parentis" by forming friendships with OBU students.
Mrs. Raley was active in numerous study and social clubs in the Shawnee community. She was listed in the first edition of Who's Who of American Women, published in 1958-59. She also was listed as one of the Mary Hardin-Baylor College Distinguished Women in 1945. In 1964 she received honorary membership in Zeta Chi (now Mortar Board) chapter at OBU.
A prolific author, Mrs. Raley wrote 15 books, including Twenty Years Around the Oval; An Uncommon Man (The Life of John W. Raley); The Golden Days and the Gallant Hours; and My Collegiate Career.
The Raleys had two children, John Wesley Raley Jr., '54, of Ponca City, and Helen Thames Raley Weathers, '58, of Waco, Texas.