GFWC Heeko celebrates Black history at February luncheon

Kathryn SwanJC Correspondent

The Rev. Travis Finley, pastor of Pawhuska’s First Baptist Church, will deliver the keynote speech at GFWC Heeko’s Founder’s Day Luncheon on Monday. In addition to recognizing Pawhuska’s rich Blackhistory, GFWC Heeko will be celebrating its 105th anniversary. The 11:30 a.m. luncheon will be held atthe Methodist Family Life Center.

Finley has been pastor of First Baptist Church since 2002 when he and wife, Edna, returned to his hometown roots. The couple quickly became immersed in the community. “I was born and reared in Pawhuska – just east of my current home,” said Finley. “I am one of five children born to Mrs. Mattie (Waters)Finley.

Standing at slightly over 6 feet 2 inches, Finley took advantage of his height to help his fellow Huskies on the basketball court where he played forward. He said his proudest achievement was being selected in 1957 as one of three Black athletes to make All State from across Oklahoma. “Unfortunately, I never got to meet the other recipients,” Finley said. Finley also was recognized for his outstanding athletic contributions when he was inducted into the Pawhuska Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Following high school graduation in 1958, Finley attended Pratt Junior College. Two years later, he married Johnnie Mae. The couple lived in Pratt and the Great Bend, Kansas, area for 41 years before Johnnie Mae passed away. (Smiling) Finley said, “Johnnie Mae and I had four sons, two of whom also entered the ministry.” During his career, Finley worked in construction and in the engineering department for the State of Kansas.

He completed his career as a 14-year production foreman for Conoco in Kansas and Oklahoma.

“I grew up in a very devout family,” Finley said. “I’ve served as a church deacon for over 30 years and have spent the past eight years on the Pawhuska City Council.”

He and Edna also spearheaded their church’s 100th anniversary in 2013, drawing the congregation into a monthlong celebration. Finley said, “Alumnifamilies were invited to share their history through music, teaching, preaching, singing – whatever they felt best represented them. They could also join in with another family if they so choose.”

“Our greatest accomplishment so far was when Edna and I oversaw the Booker T. Washington Park where the old school once stood. In addition to a tremendous amount of work, we are most grateful to support from late Commissioner Clarence Brandley. We could not have accomplished what we did without the county’s help.”

A modest man, Finley was also instrumental in repairs to Pawhuska’s historic swinging bridge, located across the street from his church. “I recall the days when the bridge was how men, women and children would cross from Kihekah to the old school. It wasn’t as sturdy back then as it is now but come, rain, shine, snow or ice, folks crossed it.”

“Edna and I love being in this community. It’s close knit where folks truly look after one another. There is a lot of love in this community,” Finley said.