Gus Noble and Family at the OBE Award

Wayne’s Portrait in the Rethford Dinning Room at Caledonia Senior Living

Wayne Rethford, who has died aged 96, was a stalwart of the Scottish-American community, a visionary leader in the field of senior care, a talented writer and an extraordinarily compelling speaker.

Genuinely philanthropic and charismatic, and a thorough expert in his field, Wayne, as President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, the oldest 501c3 charity in Illinois, was the living embodiment of the Chicago Scots’ cultural and care based missions. In partnership with his close friend, Peter Georgeson, Wayne inspired an international campaign of support to expand the Chicago Scots’ principal charity, the Scottish Home in North Riverside.

For this work in particular, and for his services to senior care and the Scottish community in general, Wayne was awarded the Chicago Scots highest honor, the Distinguished Citizen Award.

Edward Wayne Rethford was born to father Newton Rethford and mother Ola Jack, at Fordland Missouri, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains on 5th May 1927.

Wayne and his brother Lawrence enjoyed a happy early childhood in their log-cabin home by Panther Creek. They attended New Hope School, the same one-room school where their parents had first met as children. Although the Great Depression began in 1929, the family were self-sufficient. They had a garden, chickens and a cow. Ola would churn milk for butter. Newton and his squirrel-dog would catch a squirrel each day for meat. Wayne was to recall “I don’t remember being poor, but I know we were.”

Jobs became fewer in Missouri, so Newton hitched a trailer to his 1929 Model A Ford, and on 1st March 1932, the same day the young son of aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped, he took the family to Oklahoma City. They moved into a shotgun house in the middle of the oil fields where there were explosions, fires and massive activity day and night. Newton took a job with the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, building and maintaining rigs, including the famous Wild Mary Sudik. Newton was a strong union man and once led a strike against the oil company.

Along with his older brother Lawrence and younger brothers, David and John who were both born after the family’s move to Oklahoma, Wayne attended school at Valley Brook and Northeast High, where he played football. “Right halfback in the old Notre Dame box- system. Fastest kid on the team,” as Wayne remembered.

The seeds of Wayne’s strong faith, which was to be a constant throughout his life, were sewn when the family found a home church in Capital Hill Tabernacle. It was here that Wayne first met the Church Pastor, James Benjamin McDonough’s daughter, Mary. And it was here that Wayne and Mary sang their first duet “I Dreamed I Searched Heaven for You.”

Whilst at High School, Wayne took a job with the Frisco Railroad as a “call boy,” with responsibility for gathering information about trains, and ensuring that everything and everyone required to work on the railroad crew was ready to go.

In 1944, when he turned 17, the US Navy called. Wayne served during World War II. He was stationed at Brooklyn Navy Base, transferring to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

When he came home from the War, Wayne Rethford married Mary McDonough in Oklahoma City on 31st October 1946. They would have two daughters, Suzanne and Elaine.

Soon after the wedding, Wayne heard another calling, this time from the Church. He was ordained to the Ministry by the Oklahoma District of the Assemblies of God and became District Secretary and Treasurer with a portfolio that included youth and Sunday school. In this capacity he was responsible for raising thousands of dollars for missions.

In 1956, when Wayne was the pastor of the first Assembly of God Church in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, he achieved a lifelong ambition – to fly an airplane. With two friends, he bought a Cessna 120, tail number N76068s, and Wayne Rethford learned to fly.

Over the next decade, Wayne travelled widely with Church assignments. During one trip he attended an all-night singing convention at which he met Elvis Presley.

In the late 1960’s Wayne left the Ministry and returned to “civilian life” in Oklahoma City. Mary took a job at the VA hospital (graphoanalysis of handwriting to assess the suitability of people for positions on research expeditions to the South Pole). Wayne received a full scholarship to finish work on his degree in History and Government and earn a Teachers Certificate at Oklahoma City University. Wayne drove a taxi at night to supplement his scholarship and veteran’s benefits.

After graduation, Wayne became a teacher at Jackson Junior High. Like his father before him, he joined the union, became union representative and led several large teacher protests to demand higher pay and more professional help.

In 1972, Wayne completed a program at Oklahoma University and was hired as a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator by the Four Seasons Corporation, who had built dozens of nursing homes across the country. Unfortunately the company went into bankruptcy and Wayne lost his job. To make ends meet, he drove a bus for the Oklahoma Transportation Company.

Wayne enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans and trained to be a Nursing Home Inspector. Wayne wasn’t suited to the role, recalling “I was interested to see if the nursing home was giving good care, serving nutritious food and the residents were happy…..not filling in ridiculous long forms.”

In 1974, an old church friend invited Wayne to become the Administrator of Parkway Terrace, a nursing home in Wheaton, Illinois. So Wayne, Mary and Suzanne moved to

Illinois (by this time, Elaine was living in California). He was at Parkway Terrace for 10 years.

In 1985, Wayne became the Administrator of the Scottish Home in North Riverside, Illinois. In 1997 following a reorganization of governance and operations, Wayne became the President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. He remained as President for the rest of his working life.

Although he retired in 2003, Wayne became the Society’s President Emeritus and remained very active with the Scottish community: as a mentor and advisor to his successor as President, Gus Noble; and as a member of and special counsel to the Society’s Board of Governors.

A passionate historian, Wayne established and was President of the Scottish American History Club and Curator of the Scottish American Museum in North Riverside. To mark the 150th anniversary of the 1845 founding of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, he co- authored The Scots of Chicago, a history of the Scottish community in Illinois with June Skinner-Sawyers (published by Kendall Hunt in 1997). And, with David Forlow, Wayne also co-authored The Scots of the North Shore (published by Arcadia in 2020).

Wayne served as President of Life Services Network (now LeadingAge), the association for nonprofit long-term-care communities (1983-85). He was appointed by Illinois Governor James Thompson to the State’s Long Term Care Advisory Board, a position he held for 10 years.

Wayne was a devoted member of Lombard Nazerne Church. Throughout all his days, he remained devout. His deep Christian faith was the foundation on which he built his life. As Wayne himself observed of his 96 years, “I have had an interesting life. Thanks be to God.”

Wayne Rethford was a thoroughly engaging, kind-hearted and humorous man, beloved by all who knew him.

Wayne is preceded in death by parents Newton and Ola; brothers, Lawrence and David; wife, Mary and daughter, Elaine. He is survived by brother, John; daughter, Suzanne; two sons-in-law, Jim and Larry; three grandchildren, Scott, J.R. and Katie; three great- grandchildren, Jeri, Becky and James; and dog, Sweet Pea.

August 2023


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