Vesta Ilene Woodward Gates, 86, longtime resident of the Big Bend, Ralston area, died April 2, 2014, in Tulsa, surrounded by close family.

Vesta was born on Sept. 30, 1927, in Deer, Ark., the fourth of 12 children born to John Woodward and Lillie Belle (Adams) Woodward. She moved with her family at an early age to the Big Bend community, west of Ralston, where she attended the Woodland Rural School.

During World War II, Vesta exchanged letters with Jess Phillip Gates, also of Big Bend, who was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Soon after the war ended, the couple eloped on March 23, 1946, in Winfield, Kan., and made their first home on a farm near Red Rock, Okla. The couple celebrated 63 years of marriage before Jesse died in 2009.

As a young couple with young children, they bought a farm and moved to South Dakota. They also lived in Washington state, where Jess worked for Boeing, and then bought a dairy farm near Evansville, Ark. Eventually, the couple returned to Oklahoma, settling in Marland in 1962, when Jess went to work for Conoco. In the early 1970s, they bought the farm next to the Gates’ homestead and returned home to Big Bend to stay. Vesta and Jess raised wheat and cattle for many years. She served her community as a precinct volunteer for the Osage County Election Board for decades, and as a member of the Pixley Cemetery Association.

Survivors include four children, Lynda Zebelman and husband Max, of St. Louis, Mo., Phillip Gates and wife Marilyn, of Granbury, Texas, Brenda Gates, of Tulsa, and Debbie Marty and husband Paul, of Pryor, Okla.; nine grandchildren, Rhett Waggoner, Lyndall Stout, Jessica Root, Aaron Gates, Tyler Hickman, Joseph Gates, Tanner Vore, Benjamin Gates and Camille Zebelman McCormack; two great-grandchildren, Victoria Root and Spencer Yannuzzi; two step-grandchildren, Naomi Marty and Seth Marty; two sisters, Ruby Williams of Arkansas and Ann Harrison of Missouri; four brothers, Doyle Woodward of Missouri, John Woodward of Skiatook, Chester Woodward of Coweta, and Wilbur "Sonny" Woodward of Missouri; and numerous other family and friends.

Vesta was preceded in death by her husband Jess on April 12, 2009; her youngest daughter, Vickie Marie Gates, who died of leukemia at age 13; her parents; two brothers, G.S. Woodward and Bill Woodward; and three sisters, Marie Richards, Eula Dill and Shirley Strutz.

Funeral services were held on April 5 at the First Christian Church in Fairfax with Chris Short presiding. Burial followed in the Big Bend Pixley Cemetery, west of Ralston. Arrangements were under the direction of Grace Memorial Chapel.

Casket bearers were grandsons Rhett Waggoner, Aaron Gates, Tyler Hickman, Joseph Gates, Tanner Vore, Benjamin Gates and Seth Marty.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Leukemia Society of America, Oklahoma Chapter, 500 North Broadway, Suite 250, Oklahoma City, OK 73102.

An online guestbook may be signed at