In Dave Decker’s mind, if a congregation is lucky enough to have three or four Opal Baughmans, there’s nothing that church couldn’t accomplish.
Mrs. Baughman was board chair when Rev. Decker became pastor at East Mesa (AZ) Christian Church in 2000. Her dry sense of humor and her ability to turn a stressful discussion into something positive quickly endeared her to him.
“Opal was the one who could hold everything together,” recalled Rev. Decker. Even when the congregation was challenged and its future unclear, “there wasn’t any question in her mind that they wouldn’t make it.”
“She had the gift of being able to calm people down, to see that there was a future. She would often say ‘well, it takes all kinds of people;’ but she believed it took all kinds, and she loved them all. She didn’t take nonsense from them, but did make them feel important.”
Mrs. Baughman died in September 2012 after returning to her native hometown in Illinois several years earlier. In addition to her legacy of leadership and friendship, she also created a permanent fund at the Foundation that will provide a stream of income to East Mesa Christian Church as long as the congregation exists.
Rev. Decker, who shared the bulletin and his sermon weekly – along with a personal note – to Mrs. Baughman after she left Arizona, praised her willingness to lead. Her planned gift to the church was one example: She urged the Foundation to develop a presence within the congregation and to encourage planned gifts. Unbeknownst to him, she decided to complete a charitable gift annuity contract after one such seminar led by the Foundation. The gift annuity provided her a stream of payment for life, and the charitable residual at her death creates the permanent fund that will continue distributing her gift to the congregation.
“She encouraged others to make planned gifts as a way of continuing their giving after they were gone,” Rev. Decker said. “This helped the congregation become more stable, and that was Opal’s vision. She was very successful in making that happen because she was willing to lead by example.”
A nurse by profession, Rev. Decker said one of the great joys in Mrs. Baughman’s life was the extended family she developed when working as a high school nurse. “She became an unofficial counselor because the principal would send troubled kids to the school nurse. She became a grandmother to them; they knew she wouldn’t put up with any of their nonsense. But she was proud she was able to help so many kids.”
She and her husband, Robert, who preceded her in death, had no children. In addition to a loving church family in Arizona, she was survived by two sisters and nieces and nephews.