Wanda Lee (Pruitt) Piper, 93, completed her earthly pilgrimage and passed away on September 24, 2020. Born on December 18, 1926 to Homer and Leola Pruitt in the oilfields near Marland, Oklahoma, she was one of twelve children. She moved to Joplin, Missouri, met and married Charles Bruce Piper (d. 5-17-94) on June 12, 1953. They were married for 41 years, had two daughters, and lived the rest of their lives in Joplin. Wanda was preceded in death by her husband, and is survived by her two loving daughters, Phyllis E. Battle (David), of Edmond, OK and Judy G. Belden (Scott), of Joplin, MO. Her grandchildren include Brian Battle (Carla), Brent Battle, Jeremy Battle (Kendra) and Parker Belden. Great-grandchildren are Joseph and Isabella Battle. She is also survived by two of her brothers, Carlin Pruitt (Mary Lou) and Glendon Pruitt. She grew up in Pearson, Oklahoma and in her primary years attended a one room schoolhouse. Her high school years were the same four years as World War II. During high school she enjoyed working part time at the neighborhood grocery store. Her parents started the local Baptist church where her father led the singing; consequently, many years later, no family reunion was complete without everyone harmonizing to their favorite Baptist hymns! As the middle child Wanda had a unique perspective on her large family. The oldest girls made the family breakfast, the rest had specific chores according to their ages, while her mother was nurturing or holding a baby in her arms. Family meals often ended with her father reading the Daily Oklahoman to them, their sole connection to the outside world. Wanda said sometimes she thought she was a boy, since she was always playing with her brothers, Kenneth, and Carlin, and wore overalls every day! As she grew up, she would eventually find her love of clothes and beautiful suits. Sometimes her brothers played ornery tricks on her after their parents left home to buy supplies in a neighboring town. For instance, a few times they even locked her in the family’s food cellar until they heard the car coming down the driveway! Her sister Reva (pronounced Reeva) would practice driving the family’s only car, a Model T, but she could only drive it backwards! Each summer she picked wild blackberries and sold them, so she could buy Fourth of July Fireworks. Every Easter her parents bought 100 baby chicks to raise and eat during the year. Even though her mother was a tiny woman, Wanda was amazed to watch how quickly her mother could ring that chicken’s neck. Her mother had a large garden and Wanda learned to can vegetables and fruit for their winter meals. Sunday supper was always Cornbread and milk. One of Wanda’s favorite memories was at the age of thirteen, going to church camp at Falls Creek. She had never been far from home, so this was a significant event in her life. Wanda committed her life to Christ during her youth, and this early faith, planted by her parents, was nurtured, and never wavered throughout her life. After high school graduation, Wanda’s youngest sister, Janet (pronounced Janette) had cancer, and asked for Wanda to return home. Reva and Wanda took care of Janette until her death at age 14. Wanda always said she was the sweetest person, had the most beautiful soprano voice, and she never understood why Janette would have to die so young. She missed her little sister throughout her life, but now they are together! As a young woman, Wanda moved to Joplin Missouri to live with her single siblings, Reva, Kenneth, and Carlin, and to be near her married sister, Winnie. These were some of her favorite memories. She worked in retail sales, and soon became the manager of The Janet Shop, a women’s clothing store, in downtown Joplin. She was so excited when she decided to buy her first car as a single, working woman! She asked her brother who sold cars if he would help her pick out a car. He replied, “Absolutely not!” He told her, “If you buy a car, you will never get married!”, thinking she would appear too self-sufficient to “attract” a husband. Well, she bought the car anyway. Wanda loved being “Aunt Wanda” to her young nieces and nephews in Joplin, often giving them rides in her new car! One day a friend brought a handsome young man named Bruce into her shop to introduce him to Wanda. She felt comfortable with him and thought she could trust him, but she told him that if he wanted to date her, he must attend church with her at Connor Avenue Baptist Church where she was a member. One Sunday Bruce made his commitment to Christ after hearing the fiery preaching. Wanda recounted that the conviction of Christ was so strong on Bruce that he simply could not stand up from the pew after church was over. So, Bruce settled his question of faith that Sunday. He married Wanda on June 12, 1953. They raised their two daughters at Connor Avenue making lifelong friendships there. She sang in the choir, and although she could not read music, she memorized the alto part for each song. While doing her chores at home she sang hymns, but it was always in the alto part. Wanda was a devoted wife and mother. She and Bruce made sure their daughters had a wonderful childhood and gave them opportunities she and Bruce never had. Wanda was an excellent seamstress dressing her daughters in matching outfits when they were young. When they were older, the three of them would plan their school wardrobes each year. One of Judy’s memories was going to the Missouri Mill store on Saturdays and picking out clothes patterns. While Judy and Phyllis were at school, Wanda was home sewing their new outfits. Phyllis was surprised when Wanda offered to make her wedding dress copying a dress they had picked out from a bridal magazine. On one occasion Wanda shared her sewing talents by making the bridesmaid’s dresses for a friend whose mother was dying of cancer. Wanda liked to travel. She and Bruce loved to take their family camping with church friends. They also took their daughters on vacation to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. During trips to California to visit relatives they visited Disneyland, Hollywood, and Knotts Berry Farm all of which were brand new attractions in the 60’s. As a widow, a friend invited her to take a tour bus trip. She enjoyed the organization, the companionship, and the convenience of the trips which enabled her to see much of the United States. Wanda took many such trips as well as several trips to Branson. Throughout her life, Wanda devoted herself to volunteering and bible study, faithfully serving in her church, home and community. She started the Brownie program and led the Girl Scouts at her daughters’ elementary school and was always volunteering at the school. She worked as Church Secretary for a few years at Connor Avenue. She completed so many bible study courses through the Baptist Association she was surprised when they told her that she qualified to be the church’s Director of Education. This love for the Word of God led her into leadership roles, such as Director of the Women’s Missionary Union and Director of the Junior Department (for grade school age children). She also served in many roles with youth and teens at church, such as Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, and Training Union, Girls Auxiliary (mission group for girls). She taught bible study for Young Adults, Singles, and Women groups. She served as Discussion Group Leader for Bible Study Fellowship for many years. Wanda had a unique teaching style that challenged her students to really think. She asked questions, rather than simply giving information. As her faith grew deeper, she wanted her students to grow in the Lord. She created charts and diagrams to illustrate each message, sometimes developing her own lessons from her bible studies. It was always exciting as well as unpredictable to be in one of her classes. One of her sayings about God’s power was, you must believe that HE IS, HE WILL, AND HE CAN! First you must believe that “God is”; that he exists and is there. Then you must believe that “God Will”; that He will do for you what he says. Finally, you must believe that “God can”; that He is able to do all things. She mentored many in their faith in everything she did. She worked full time for 18 years as a Sales Supervisor at JC Penney Department store, considering it her ministry to many of the sales staff, who were Ozark Bible College students. She helped start the Penney’s Retirement Group, who met together regularly, sharing fun, food, travel, and charity work. Wanda enjoyed lunch after church each Sunday with a group of longtime friends including Kay Adams, Sandy Gates, Dorothy Goad and Nadine Smith to name a few. She had the gift of hospitality and loved to cook and entertain guests and family. She loved Thanksgiving because the focus was on family, and her family loved her great cooking! She loved to plan family reunion picnics at local parks. A long table filled with food, family and lots of laughs was ideal to her. She was quick to laugh but slow to speak. She could be silly and bring some levity or entertainment to any situation. There were many deep discussions around her kitchen table, where she was always ready to listen, and offer her words of wisdom when asked. Wanda exuded a spirit of humility, love and acceptance that was sensed by all who knew her. Wanda’s last words of wisdom: On July 1 while in the hospital a nurse came into her room. Noticing her beautiful skin and peaceful manner, she asked, “What is your secret for a long healthy life?” Without hesitation, Wanda replied, “take what comes and believe God will give you what you need.” Classic Wanda. Wanda and her family would like to thank those who tenderly cared for her the last few years at Joplin Gardens Nursing Home and those Avalon Hospice angels who helped ease her passage into the loving arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ. “The best is yet to come!”
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