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Frank “Watermelon” Campbell speaks during an interview at the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma in March 2019. Campbell died unexpectedly on Jan. 6. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. —Frank Wayne “Water-melon” Campbell, founder, owner and director of Enid’s Railroad Museum of Oklahoma, died unexpectedly Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at 99 years old, nearly four months before his 100th birthday.

A legend in Enid and in Oklahoma, Watermelon was a local treasure who dedicated most of his life to the railroad, working on various railroads for 44 years of his life before he converted the old Santa Fe Freight Depot into the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma, 702 N. Washington, in 1989.

Described as “full of life and love” by Wade Burleson, lead pastor at Emmanuel Enid where Watermelon attended church, Watermelon contributed many railroad artifacts to the museum, which is one of the largest collections of railroad material in the United States, boasting one of the largest collections of railroad China dishes in the world.

“(Watermelon was) genuinely an Oklahoma hero,” said Burleson, who’s known Watermelon for around 30 years. “Watermelon is one of the most colorful men that I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I write biographies and history books, and Watermelon is definitely worthy of a book.”

Campbell’s daughter, Francis Kroll, said a funeral and celebration of life is being planned for sometime next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday.

Kroll received a phone call from Watermelon’s wife Edna Campbell Wednesday morning about his death. She said although it was unexpected, she’s glad her father died peacefully in his home without any suffering.

She finds comfort in knowing that her father, who was a Christian, is with God, and is grateful that he raised his kids in a church-going family.

Watermelon was born on May 27, 1921, in Eagle City. His father Fred Earl Campbell owned Campbell Brothers Circus, and his mother took care of Watermelon and his brother, Fred Earl Jr., while his father was away with the circus.

The family moved to Memphis when Watermelon was 3 years old, and in 1930, during the Great Depression, his mother and father divorced, and he and his brother stayed with their mom while their father moved to Cleo Springs.

Kroll described her father as a hardworking man, which rang true since he began working 12-hour shifts at a food manufacturing plant when he was only 9 years old to help sustain his family while also attending school.

He later went on to work for the city of Memphis reading water meters, and at 17, he went to Grand Central Station in Memphis to apply for work, getting the job at the station, beginning his career and love affair with the railroad.

Watermelon served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and after briefly arriving back home in 1945, he and his wife divorced, and he and his two daughters, Francis and Joyce, moved to Cleo Springs after he finished his military commitment and was honorably discharged in 1946.

He bought a farm and got a job with the Frisco Railroad. He grew watermelons, often bringing them to work. It was through this that he received the nickname “Watermelon” from his coworkers on the railroad, a name that has stuck since the 50s.

He married his second wife Wanda in 1948, and they had two sons together, Wayne and Terry, for a total of four kids, seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, Kroll said.

Kroll said growing up, he was strict but loving, and if he wasn’t working, he was always helping other people out with home projects, as that was just his character.

“He was always working, and he made a good living for his family, and he loved his family,” Kroll said.

Watermelon’s second wife passed away, as did his third wife Vivian. He was married to Edna when he died.

Kroll said she thinks she was named after her father. Joyce was the oldest sibling, and then came Kroll, who laughed as she said her father wanted a baby boy and “Francis” was the closest feminine name to Frank’s.

She remembers her father in various small memories — playing games, making popcorn and milkshakes together, Christmases growing up and helping him work outdoors. Even as an adult, Kroll said she and her husband would have coffee and doughnuts with him on Saturday mornings at the museum.

“There’s just too many great memories to just pick one,” Kroll said. “He spent time with us when he could, and those are just great memories that I’ll treasure from now on.”

She’s thankful she got the chance to spend one last Christmas and Thanksgiving with her father.

Kroll also finds happiness in a video she took about two months ago of her father dancing with Edna, remarking it was incredible he was living a full life and working as hard as he was at almost a century old.

She hopes his legacy will live on, and people who visited the museum and got the chance to speak with him and had him as a tour guide for the museum remember him and the museum.

“He loved showing people around (the museum),” Kroll said. “I think there will be hundreds of people who remember his tours, and he lived to do that, he loved to do that. He wanted everyone to remember the trains — he didn’t want the trains to be forgotten.”

Burleson said he hopes Watermelon’s legacy will continue on through generations now.

“I hope that young people today turn out like Watermelon,” he said. “In other words, he had the kind of character that needs to be imitated. … We need more Watermelon Campbells, and our world would be a better place.”

Kroll said her father was a Christian man who raised a Christian family, something she is thankful for now. Burleson said as Watermelon’s pastor, he would always greet Watermelon and say to him, “There’s one of my heroes.”

“He would just smile and beam and laugh, and when I would get up close to him, he would always, always have a tear in the corner of his eye, and the tear was joy,” Burleson said.

“He’s the only person I’ve ever met that regularly cried for joy, and that’s the impression that he will leave on me — he was always encouraging, always wanted to give me a hug. He was just a great guy.”

Burleson, Kroll and countless others admired, adored and loved Watermelon until the very end, and Burleson said his life, from beginning to end, was an inspiring one.

“He died the way I want to die — working till the very end, loving till the last day, peacefully going home to be with his Lord.”

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Kelci McKendrick is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. 
 
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Kelci? Send an email to kelcim@enidnews.com.

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