Members of Claremore First Baptist Church today are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sam and Linda Nichols’ ministry.

“Today is going to be a fun and exciting day for all of us as we honor Sam and Linda’s long faithful service here,” Pastor Ted Kersh announced.

As Minister of Education and Administration, Nichols directs the church’s discipleship ministry in addition to directing the budget and business matters. He also conducts or assists with weddings and funerals along with teaming with the other staff members during home and hospital visits.

Wife Linda plays the piano for the regular worship services and is music teacher at the church’s Legacy Christian School. She also gives individual piano lessons.

Today’s activities start with high attendance in Bible Study with a goal of 1,100.

“This is the best way we can honor Sam and Linda,” Dr. Kersh stressed.

Several presentations and a love offering will be made during the morning worship service.

A church wide fish fry will continue activities at 6 p.m. The city has granted permission to block off Chickasaw Street between Will Rogers and Patti Page Boulevards. Tables and chairs will be arranged for the picnic style setting.

More presentations from city and state groups are scheduled during the event. In addition, members and friends in recent weeks have been asked to express their love and appreciation on cards and letters. Gathered in a basket, these will be given to the couple at the same time.

“Because Sam enjoys his fishing, we felt the fish fry would be the most fun for him and the rest of us,” the pastor said. “Several of our men have been busy the past few weeks obtaining enough fish for the occasion and we should have plenty. Members have been asked to bring a covered dish.”

Longtime church member Kathryn Bodle doesn’t hesitate when talking about her friend and associate pastor.

“Sam is the catalyst that holds our church together. He is always the same. It doesn’t matter how busy he may be, how tired or stressed, Sam always has time for you.”

One of the men supplying the fish, deacon Larry Beaman, added, “I have been around a long time and have known Sam and Linda now for the past 12 years. He has become one of my best friends. We hunt and fish together and Sam is a great gentleman. He has never said anything bad about anybody. It is a pleasure to be around him.”

“When I arrived here four years ago Sam had already served our church 16 years,” Dr. Kersh added, “He was such a help. He knew the people and their concerns and knew the history of the members. Sam knew how to deal with the various members with a loving and caring attitude. He was so helpful in the beginning. He showed great response in helping his new pastor. Sam and Linda have become dear, dear friends.”

Married in July 1966, Sam and the former Linda Grusendorf were high school sweethearts. They grew up near Bula, Texas, located in the Midwestern section of the Panhandle.

After attending South Plains Junior College at Levelland, Texas, Sam graduated from Wayland Baptist College in Plainville. He later took his seminary studies at Southwestern Fort Worth.

His “first paying job” came when the couple moved to Tatum, New Mexico. He served as music director. Following a position in Colorado and a couple of stops back in Texas, Sam and Linda came to Oklahoma. They served at churches in Henryetta and Guymon before moving to Claremore in 1986.

The Nichols’ have three married children. Oldest daughter Tonya and son-in-law Paul Norwood live in Owasso. Son Brian and daughter-in-law Tiana Nichols and daughter Megan and son-in-law Shane Edwards have homes in Claremore.

In addition to playing with their five grandchildren, Sam enjoys his hobbies of fishing and hunting. According to wife Linda, he has recently started riding his bicycle once again.

“So far he has made it all the way to Foyil and back,” she said.