Jesse Marvin (J.M.) Gaskin, founding member of the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Society—an auxiliary of the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Commission—and Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) historical secretary for 45 years (1953-1998), passed away at the age of 101 Jan. 8 following a brief illness.
Born on Aug. 30, 1917, near Spiro, the native of Bokoshe was raised a Methodist, but during a Southern Baptist revival, felt the call to preach while still in his teens. After graduating from Crowder High School, where he met his future wife, Helen Isom, he attended Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), graduating in 1941.
His first full-time pastorate was in Coalgate. That preceded a nine-year stay at Tonkawa, First. He also was pastor of Heavener, First from 1953-1962 before coming to Durant. Gaskin served as pastor of Durant, First from 1962-1976. After retiring from the pastoral ministry in 1976, he began a second career with the BGCO, serving in various capacities, particularly in the area of historical preservation. He authored 30 books, including a memoir titled Route 1, Cartersville, History, Autobiography, Legend and Lore.
In the preface of his memoir, Gaskin explains why he finally wrote it after several others had urged him to do so.
“There were many facts of historical value in the churches, communities where I lived and the denomination which would have been lost forever if I did not put them down in the record,” he wrote. “History is simply a record and interpretation of the tracks people have made in the sands of time.”
Gaskin was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from OBU in 1959. For many years, he was editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Chronicle. Three scholarships at OBU were established in the names of Gaskin and his wife, Helen, who passed away in 2013. The Oklahoma Baptist history collection housed in the Mabee Learning Center at OBU is named the J.M. and Helen Gaskin Baptist Historical Library and Archives.
During his years in Durant, Gaskin was a member of the Ministerial Alliance and was active in many civic organizations, as was his wife, who was the first woman inducted into the local Kiwanis chapter. Among his fondest memories were summer youth camps at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly near Davis, which also was “born” in 1917.
Gaskin was known as “Mr. Oklahoma Baptist History,” a moniker given him in February 1954 by OBU librarian Lee Spencer, who spied Gaskin as he arrived at the library to do some research for a revised
Other books by Gaskin followed, including Baptist Milestones in Oklahoma, The Falls Creek Story, Black Baptists in Oklahoma, Baptist Women in Oklahoma, among others.
The autumn 2006 issue of the Oklahoma Baptist Chronicle was dedicated to Gaskin by then Historical Secretary Marlin Hawkins. That issue celebrated both the 100th anniversary of the BGCO and the 50th anniversary of the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Society. Hawkins wrote, “No listing of well-deserved accolades could adequately express appreciation to this great Christian, pastor and historian for his dedication to the recording and preservation of Oklahoma Baptist history.”
In 2017, a 100th birthday celebration was held for Gaskin at Featherstone Retirement Center in Durant, where he continued to reside until his passing. He is survived by one son, Ray Gaskin of Pottsboro, Texas, Ray’s wife, Suzanne, a brother, Arthur Choate of Springfield, Ore., three grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
A memorial service celebrating Gaskin’s life was held on Sat., Jan. 19 in the Youth Worship Center Durant, First.
Speakers included retiring OBU President David Whitlock, who had a lifelong friendship and association with Gaskin. Whitlock recounted, “The first meeting I ever had with ‘Mr. Oklahoma Baptist History’ was held just outside of Durant at the intersection of Washington Street and U.S. Hwy. 75. It was beside the pumps at a gas station as we both fueled our vehicles. Within minutes, this genteel and refined fellow was telling me the history of my grandfather and great-grandfather, both of whom served as pastors in Oklahoma Baptist churches. He told me of my great-grandfather A.F. Whitlock’s call to the ministry, and how he had served as an associational missionary in western Oklahoma. I thought I knew my great-granddaddy fairly well, and had even heard him preach when he was over 100 years old at Fletcher, First. But, Gaskin was telling me new things about my own family’s history.
“A few weeks later, I received in the mail a copy of a cassette recording. The tape was an interview Gaskin conducted with my grandfather. I listened as Gaskin had pastor Whitlock retell the story of how God called him into ministry, learning so many new things from the efforts of this man to preserve our history. To this day, that recording—now digitally saved—is one of my prized possessions. Thus began a lifelong friendship with and admiration for J. M. Gaskin. And thus began my own deep appreciation for our history as Baptists and in particular as Oklahoma Baptists.”
Also remembering his mentor at the memorial service, former BGCO Historical Secretary Eli Sheldon commented, “Gaskin’s books are like a treasure chest containing jewels of history. I think of him and how he had the ability to present these jewels of history for us to keep. He did that and, because of his life and legacy, he still does.”