Sonja Bykerk, 92, passed away peacefully the early morning of Monday, April 17, 2023, at Northhaven Place Assisted Living in Oklahoma City. She was born on April 24, 1930 to Poul and Esther Christophersen in Gettysburg, South Dakota. She lived most of the first eight years of her life in Brookings, South Dakota.
Sonja and her family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1938. There she graduated from Lincoln High School and attended the University of Nebraska. In November 1947, she met and married Richard Wakeham, a fellow University student and soon-to-be U.S. Army officer. Three daughters and a son were born to this union. She loved sewing beautiful dresses for her daughters.
On June 4, 1959, Sonja and Donald Bykerk married in Lincoln, Nebraska. They moved their family to Oklahoma City where she became the legal secretary to Edward Soule, of the firm Lytle, Soule & Emery. She worked there until she and Don moved to “Happy Hill” farm southwest of Prague, Oklahoma, in 1975. In 1969, Don’s children, a son and two daughters, from a first marriage joined the family and Sonja adopted them.
Sonja was a life-long learner, consummate seamstress/cross-stitcher/quilter, enthusiastic sports fan, appreciator of all things musical, fisherwoman, and delighter in her children and grandchildren. Sonja was a kind teacher and encouraging guide to many people. Life was an adventure to be explored, treasured, celebrated and, most importantly, shared. “Carpe Diem!” (“Seize the Day!”) was a favorite saying.
In Oklahoma, Sonja discovered fishing and camping, especially on the Mountain Fork River before it was dammed. Lake Eufaula was another favorite fishing spot once the cabin was built and furnished with Sonja’s help. These fishing trips and times at the farm made trained and amateur naturalists out of several of her children. That legacy of wonder and care for the natural world carries on to later generations.
Sonja discovered quilting on the farm. Her eye for color and design helped her create treasured quilts and wall-hangings for her home and her children’s homes. She designed and made lap quilts for each of her children, considering their unique personalities and tastes. She also learned how to grow fruits and vegetables, how to preserve and can and kept a full pantry to her delight. She passed her love of gardening, quilting and sewing onto her children and grandchildren.
Sonja continued her interest in lifelong learning by earning a degree at Seminole Junior College and becoming a registered nurse. She was “capped and pinned” in May, 1983. She worked as a nurse at Holdenville General Hospital.
In Prague, Sonja and Don attended United Methodist Church. She attended a “Walk to Emmaus” and then served as table leader, speaker and kitchen manager for several years. She found her spiritual home at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee. At Emmanuel, Sonja served on the vestry and the altar guild. She valued her time caring for the linens and vessels of the altar. While at Emmanuel she completed “Education for Ministry”, a four-year program of study from the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.
Sonja loved reading and learning about history, as evidenced by her home library. That library included Winston Churchill’s “The Second World War” series, Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” collection, works by Soren Kierkegaard, and “The Decameron” by Boccaccio to name just a few. Such writings were regular fare not only for Sonja but also her children. Sonja would have lively discussions of history and philosophy with her children as they read these books, and later as adults gathered around the kitchen table. Classical fiction such as the works of Sigrid Undset, Albert Payson Terhune and Herman Wouk also passed through her hands. When Age-Related Macular Generation (ARMD) made it impossible to read, she continued her love of literature by listening to audiobooks. Sonja said this “saved her life.”
Sonja appreciated music, be it classical, operatic, popular or country & western. She loved attending musical performances with family, many performed by her grandchildren. Sonja studied piano from ages 3-17. This and her vocal training gave her a deep appreciation of each performance.
When Sonja began RVing with Don in the late 1980’s, her interests just expanded. Beading became an interest of hers and she learned new needlework techniques from other RVers. She was intentional in learning the history and experiencing the geography of the places they traveled. Always, she found ways to stay connected to her children through letters, phone calls, visits, and stuffed reindeer named “Jingles.”
In 2008, Sonja and Don gave up RVing and moved to Oklahoma City to be near family. They resided at Copper Lake in Edmond, Southwest Mansions in Oklahoma City (both independent living facilities), and finally at Northhaven Place Assisted Living for the last two years.
During all these many years, Sonja was an enthusiastic, inveterate fan of OU Sooner football, women’s softball (having played softball in high school herself) and women’s basketball. Although a previous fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers while she lived in Nebraska, she firmly believe you supported the team where you lived – Sooners all the way! Even after she lost most of her sight due to ARMD (macular degeneration), she could still find the ball on the TV screen.
Once again being closer to children and grandchildren was the joy of Sonja’s life. There was much visiting, sharing of garden bounty and baking, wisdom, hugs and pats, and always these visits would end with the sharing of patterns, be they quilting, sewing, cross-stitching or knitting. Sonja was always interested in her family’s lives.
Sonja was preceded in death by her parents, her late husband of 63 years Donald N. Bykerk, her brother Carl Christophersen; and many, many friends and associates. Sonja is survived by her children Lynn Christophersen, William (Patsy) Wakeham, Jane (Alex) Resnick, Lee (Michelle) Bykerk, Nancy Wakeham, Renee (Joe) Bykerk and Kristie (Roger) Siegfried; grandchildren Barbara Miller, Amy Burgess, Jenny Sallee, Justin Resnick, Jason Helm, Dan Welch, Jessica Greenland, Anna Henson, Rosie Lewis, Patrice Bettag, Philip Resnick, Christopher O’Neal, Michael Siegfried, Matthew Lovelace, Neil Bykerk, Brett Bykerk, Chad Bykerk and Matthew Wakeham; many great-grandchildren and a handful of great-great grandchildren.
A celebratory memorial for both Sonja and Don is being planned for this summer in Oklahoma City. Interment will be in Prague Municipal Cemetery. To honor the life and memory of Sonja, please consider making a donation to the DMEI Foundation (Dean McGee Eye Institute), becoming a member of the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped or donating to a charity of your choice.