Written by: Kedrick Nettleton
If you attended OKWU anytime in the last 45 years, chances are she’s served you food. But more than anything, Roylene Baxter’s life is defined by a love for students and a deep commitment to service.
A native of Clay Center, Kansas, Baxter’s journey at OKWU began in 1974, when she came to the campus of what was then Bartlesville Wesleyan College for her associate’s degree in secretarial work, on the recommendation of a friend from her church. She soon began helping in the kitchen as a work-study student. Her memories of that time are of a campus not as advanced as it is now, but still magnetic in its appeal.
“It was a pretty campus, even back then,” she said. “It didn’t have nearly the buildings that it does now, [but] it seemed big to me because it was my first time away from home. It was small compared to what we have now.”
After graduating, Baxter returned to Kansas to look for work in her field, not knowing exactly what it was she wanted to do. “I just wanted to find a job someplace,” she said.
She ended up working in the kitchen of a nursing home until she got a call from BWC offering her a full-time job in the kitchen. There was no hesitation on her part. “I thought – yes, I might like that,” she said.
“Follow Jesus. Read your Bible, pray. Stay close to Him. That’s the biggest thing I can think of.”
Baxter began as a baker, in charge of making all of the desserts – which, she points out, really helped her popularity with the students. “Except,” she said, “when they started gaining weight.”
All in all, she’s been working in the cafeteria on campus for over four decades, moving from baker to cooking to her current post: breakfast. She’s also quick to admit that, when she first took that position as a baker, she never would have expected to still be here, forty years later.
It’s the interaction with students that makes the job special, Baxter says – especially seeing former students come back to campus and greet her. Even now, alumni returning for Homecoming often stop by the cafeteria to say hi – and maybe to remind her of a cake or pie she made once that stuck out to them.
“I got to know some of the kids throughout the years,” she said. “The students, they just make it fun.”
She’s also very appreciative of OKWU itself, and for what the university has stood for over the years. “[It’s] the people and the basis of what they teach and believe in,” she said. “When they get together, there’s a harmonizing there.”
There are a lot of things Baxter wishes students knew about the love and care that goes into meal preparation by the whole cafeteria staff – daily early mornings in the kitchen, the joy they take in seeing the same students every day – but one fact in particular sticks out.
“The eggs!” she said, laughing. “They always think they’re fake eggs, but they’re real eggs.”
And, she points out, the preparation of those eggs is rather intense. “It takes a while.”
In her free time, Baxter loves to read, cross-stitch, and spend as much time as she can outdoors. She’s got two dogs, as well, and between her family at home, her family at OKWU, and her relationship with Christ, her life is full.
“Follow Jesus. Read your Bible, pray. Stay close to Him,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing I can think of.”
“I got to know some of the kids throughout the years. The students, they just make it fun.”