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Saturday, Sep 22 2012 10:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Burnishing Wendy's stout legacy

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    Robert Price

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Wendy Wayne had a heart for the entire world and she left a little bit of it in every African shanty town, every South American farming village she ever visited. Three months after her death last June 17 at age 64, she is still leaving a little of herself all over the world.

Her husband of 35 years, Gene Tackett, is seeing to that.

Her ashes have been scattered in some of the places she loved most: Montano de Oro State Park, just north of San Luis Obispo; along the Kern River, near a favorite spot of hers; a special beach in Monterey County; and the City of Hope, where she fought so valiantly against the cancer that finally took her.

But that won't suffice. Tackett intends to see that his wife returns to the soil of Gitugi, Kenya; Twyford, England; and Kafar Blum, Israel, among other places. "We're spreading her around the world," Tackett said Friday. "I may be needing some help, though. I've got to find somebody who's going to Antarctica. That'll be tough, because they're very protective of Antarctica, you know. I don't know if I should be talking about that."

Tackett's other near-term goal is to protect and further the legacy of his late wife, a nurse and teacher who, during her remarkable life, seemed to have had a hand in every project that ever benefited Kern County children: Community Connection for Child Care, the Kern County Network for Children, and First 5 Kern. Among her many awards: the 1994 John W. Doubenmeir Award from the American Society of Public Administration. Among her most passionate causes: women's health.

But you won't find many trophies or plaques in the family's 19th Street home: The walls are a gallery of eclectic art and family photos befitting a woman who taught school for the Peace Corps in Kenya, vaccinated children for polio in India, backpacked around the world, raised two exceptional sons and -- possibly Tackett's proudest achievement -- made love to her husband on every continent on the globe.

She moved to Bakersfield more than 35 years ago to help then-boyfriend Tackett in his grass-roots political campaign for Kern County supervisor. He won, she stayed and they started a family. But knitting and pie-baking didn't suit her, and soon enough she was at least as well known as her politician-turned-political consultant husband.

So, the legacy: How to keep it, burnish it, watch it grow? Turns out Wendy Wayne's legacy is pretty much self-sustaining.

Bakersfield artist Susan Reep, a longtime friend and fellow Peace Corps alumna, has launched "Wendy's Words Libraries," a free local book exchange program.

Tackett is determined to continue to raise money for Cal State Bakersfield's Wendy Wayne scholarship for nursing students; for San Joaquin Community Hospital's new cancer center, which is dedicating its new Wendy Wayne Library in December; and Rotary's polio eradication project.

She was working on those projects and more right up until her final hours -- literally. She emailed Kyle Northway, Jim Burke Ford's marketing manager, two days before she died to talk about Grain of Wheat Inc., a nonprofit interest of his that assists hospital patients. Northway has preserved the message. "For someone to care about such things at that stage, with all that pain and duress -- well, that's someone who knows her place in heaven."

Kevin Burton of the San Joaquin Community Hospital Foundation treasures something similar -- the last voice mail he got from her. "When I need some encouragement, just the distinct sound of her voice helps me."

All this legacy burnishing has a secondary benefit for Tackett. "It keeps me busy," he said. "We spent so much time together it's hard being on my own. But I have lots of friends and I try not to stop moving."

Three months later, he's still a man in motion. So much to do, so much to remember.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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