Charles Milton Vandergriff joined members of his Eternal Family on August 2, 2023, at 5:15 am. Charles, or Van as some knew him, was the third child of William Palmer Vandergriff, Sr. and Helen Ramsey. His older siblings were William Palmer Vandergriff Jr and Arvilla Jean Barton (nee’ Vandergriff) who predeceased him.
Charles was born on June 20, 1925, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and except for a few years living in Scottsdale, Arizona was a resident of Oklahoma his whole life. His father was a hardworking man and an entrepreneur as such he taught young Charles much about life in the newly tamed state. His father showed Charles how to build an electric generating system, build rock houses and operate machinery including the skills of a machinist.
During the middle of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression Charles worked late sweeping delivery trucks for the John A Brown department store. He helped his father build a two-story stone home and/or apartment building for the family in northeast Oklahoma City.
Part of the endeavor involved Charles transporting rocks broken into one foot by one-foot blocks to the site in an old truck. He used the same truck to transport his father to the hospital when Grandpa Van cut his foot with an axe during the endeavor. That was how Charles learned to drive. The building itself ended up housing several members of the family in each of its six apartments at one time or another. It still stands today and is a residence.
When Charles was a young man of 16, he received special permission from the President of the United States to work as an underaged civil servant at Tinker Air Force Base during the War as a machinist in the tool and die department.
On May 30, 1942, Charles married his first wife Lori Henry nee’ Lois Goldean Lewis, the next to youngest of seven sisters of a shopkeeper in Ada, Oklahoma. He was quite enamored of her and made the two-hour trip from Oklahoma City to Ada, Oklahoma for several months.
When he learned that the family was scheduled to move away from Ada he proposed. They lived in a house near Charles’s parents at 1401 NE 26th St. The following summer, they had their only child, Charles Ronald Vandergriff.
Near this location was a building and workshop that the Oklahoma City Phone Directory of 1944 identifies as Emil Vandergriff’s Service & Garage. This location served as the base for a wrecker and ambulance service for Charles and his young family.
Several family members worked for the service in various roles such as driver, attendant, wreck recovery, etc. Some employees by association with the family became family members. Changes in state and city ordinances regarding certification, contracts etc. ended up closing the ambulance and wrecker services.
In the mid 1950’s Charles became estranged from his first wife and was divorced from her by 1960. It was during this time that his family including his father and mother became acquainted with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His lifelong commitment to the doctrines of the Church sustained him during many of his trials.
During this time, he became interested in HAM radio which became a lifelong passion. At the same time, he began a career as salesman. Charles loved interacting with people and had a natural charm. He very much enjoyed talking with people and sharing stories about their lives. HAM allowed him to reach out to the world.
In early 1961, he married Billie Mae Harris a single mother with two young children Buddy and Cookie and with whom Charles continued a relationship with them throughout his life. Within the year Billie gave birth to their first daughter Lisa Jan Williams (nee’ Vandergriff) in late October.
A couple of years later in April, Billie gave birth to their second daughter Billie Deanne Vandergriff. Also, Charles gained his first grandson in that same year.
It was during this time that Charles began selling Culligan water softener systems. He told the story that with a new baby and wife, and no money for gas or food, that he loaded up some salt in his car said a prayer and followed a lead. He visited with the woman interested in the system, explained it’s operation and benefits and made the sale. $50 might not seem like much today but in 1961 that was a weeks’ worth of groceries, gas and the means to make the next sale.
Charles continued in sales throughout his life in a variety of positions. However, during the early 70’s the economic downturn led to changes in his employment as well as some health concerns which resulted in the demise of Charles’s second marriage. It also resulted in his estrangement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints although he continued in his belief in the doctrines of the Church.
Charles’s interest in rescue, ham radio and aviation led him into the Civil Air Patrol. It also led him to his third and final wife, Norma Ailene Vandergriff, whom he married in 1974. Norma had three sons from a previous marriage, two of whom were still at home with her. Charles provided guidance to the young boys as they progressed into adulthood.
He also supported their mother in her hobbies and position with the International Organization of Women Pilots. He assisted her in her two transcontinental flights in the Powder Puff derby. Together they made many flights.
After Norma’s death Charles grieved for her and retired to The Spanish Cove, a senior adult living community. He also returned to full fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and engaged in temple worship as his health permitted.
He resided at the Spanish Cove until his peaceful step across the veil during the early morning hours of August 2, 2023. Charles is survived by his two daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren as well as other friends and extended family.