Nelma Montgomery Karns and her twin, Wilma, were born July 16, 1921, in Leon, OK to John C. and Gertrude (Binning) Montgomery. Upon graduation from Marietta High School, she and Wilma moved to Stillwater to attend Oklahoma A&M College (OSU). They resided at 304 S. Duck with their older sister, LaJuana. While attending college, she met W. T. “Theron” Karns. Despite the fact that she had never been farther than 200 miles from Marietta, in 1944 she took a train, alone, to Washington, D.C., where she knew no one, so that they could be married.
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After the War, they returned to Stillwater for Theron to finish his degree, then moved to Watonga where Theron began his career in banking and she began the job she loved and at which she excelled: making a home for her family. Later they lived for a short time in Midwest City before moving to Healdton, where they resided for 45 years. They returned to Stillwater in 1998.
Nelma lived a life of service. She made significant contributions to the community of Healdton. As a member of the Chamber of Commerce, she led the committee that established the 4th of July Celebration. In the United Methodist Church, she sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, led the establishment of a pre-school, and held many leadership positions within the church. She was a member of the Music Club, the Study Club, and the Ardmore Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which she served as Regent. (Her twin, Wilma, and sister Cecile were Regents of their chapters in Duncan Ok and Jacksonville Fla at the same time). She was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Healdton Chamber of Commerce.
She was a dedicated wife and mother, never flagging in her desire to provide a safe, comfortable and loving home for Theron and their children. She made most of her clothes and those of her daughters. She was a PTA mom, a band mom, an FHA mom, a classroom mom, and a youth group sponsor. She set standards for her children and pushed them to excel. She taught them to be accountable, to be kind, to think of others and to be faithful. She was a second mom to the children of her friends and to the friends of her children. Many came to Nelma and Theron for encouragement and advice when things in their own homes were not going well.
Her desire to make a home extended to the appearance of her house. She always saw an “opportunity for improvement” which resulted in the closing of doorways, the moving of windows, the removal of walls, gallons of paint and at least a mile of wallpaper over the years. She was first to offer her home and hospitality to any group. Her overnight guests ranged from a Bishop of the Methodist Church to a memorable slumber party attended by all the girls of HHS Class of 63. She and Theron were never happier than when the house was full of guests and laughter. She continued to entertain guests after she moved to Primrose. On Thursday, she entertained a former Healdton School superintendent for lunch and a former neighbor for a chat just hours before she went to the hospital.
Nelma provided support and encouragement to those outside her family. Many people have shared with the family this week that she shared her wisdom and insight with them at times when they could not find a way to turn in their personal or professional lives. Many former superintendents of the Healdton Public Schools say that she trained them to be better administrators during her 23 years as administrative assistant. She had a talent for bringing order to chaos, sometimes whether you liked it or not.
In retirement, she continued to serve in various activities in Stillwater, including as President of Research Club, a member of the Residents’ Council and an Ambassador at Primrose Retirement Community. She was a member of United Methodist Women for 75 years and was a faithful member and teacher in the Jim Richardson Class.
Nelma was well known for her sense of style and was described by one and all as true lady in her appearance and actions. She has been described as a loving, kind, compassionate, wise, determined, unselfish woman who knew to her core the power and peace of loving God and receiving God’s love of her.
She was preceded in death by Theron, her husband of 66 years; her parents; her twin, Wilma (Joe) Herndon; her sister Cecile (Jack) Purcell; her sister LaJuana (Joe) Harbour; her brother, Lawrence, who died in WW II; her daughter-in-law Vickie Karns; and her granddaughter Savannah Marie Wilcox.
She is survived by her daughters Mary Ann Karns, Edmond; Ruth (David) Atterberry, Stillwater; Monty Karns, Stillwater; Kelly (Mary) Karns, Edmond; 14 grandchildren; 32 great grandchildren; her brothers-in-law Don (Sharon) Karns, Enid, and Tommy Karns, Norman; numerous nieces, nephews, and their children and countless friends.