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PROFILE: Bishop William C. Wantland - Bishop ready for his next role in life

PROFILE: Bishop William C. Wantland - Bishop ready for his next role in life

By Bryan Painter
The Oklahoman
5/1/2006

SEMINOLE -- The black leather chair with curved wood armrests belonged to William C. Wantland's mother, Edna Wantland, and has been appraised at $5,000. William Wantland's home is a great place to preserve it. The chair wouldn't get any less use if it were in a glass case in one of the Smithsonian Museums.

The 72-year-old doesn't sit down much. He never has. He never, ever will.

As soon as background checks are completed, he's expected to begin serving as chief magistrate of the Court of Indian Offenses for the Seminole Nation. This is just the latest of the latest.

The man who speaks English, Seminole, Spanish, Latin and some French and Italian can't understand the word "no."

Wantland, who has a bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii, a juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University and a doctor of religion from Geneva Theological College, won't sit down.

A quick look at his past includes serving as an FBI employee, as a lawyer and writing two law textbooks and three theological books. He's the last living member of the Seminole Nation Constitution Committee.

The Rev. William C. Wantland retired in 1999 as the Episcopalian bishop of Eau Claire, Wis.

Retired. Yeah, right.

Today, the assisting Episcopalian bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, is the vice mayor of Seminole, chaplain for the local Elks Lodge and a member of the Seminole Nation Museum board of directors and the Oklahoma Oil Museum advisory board.

The black leather chair is safe. But "The Liturgical Desk Calendar, 2006 Episcopalian Edition" isn't.

A scan of April showed only five of 30 days without an appointment in Oklahoma or Texas.

Daughter Malia Bennett asked Wantland, "Dad, when are you going to truly R-E-T-I-R-E?"

He laughs.

"Probably when I die," he said. "I think we have an obligation to do what we can as long as we can . Hopefully it makes a difference.

"And there's a selfish side. Who wants to sit around on the front porch in a rocking chair? Not me."

Sure he'll do it The Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokees have tribal Supreme Courts. But the Seminoles do not. Instead they have a Court of Indian Offenses, established under the federal government.

Right now, Phil Lujan, chief magistrate of the Court of Federal Regulations, is the judge for six tribes. He holds court for the Seminoles one day a month at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Wewoka.

Wantland said despite a good staff, there's a serious backlog of cases criminal, civil, divorce, child custody, certain probate case and others. So, the BIA approached Wantland in December about serving as chief magistrate of the Court of Indian Offenses for the Seminole Nation, holding court in Wewoka.

The general council and principal chief approved the appointment and now the waiting is based on security checks.

Wantland has visited on a couple of court dates. On those days, they handled about 40 cases. But he hears there are many, many more.

So, he thinks in order to catch up, they may need to have court each week for a day or half-day.

And there was that time Wantland's life has gone this way and that, with one interesting twist after another.

J. Edgar Hoover sent him a letter of congratulations after Wantland graduated from the University of Hawaii. At the time, the Oklahoman was in Honolulu in the 1950s working in the FBI field office doing background checks of employees of contractors of the nuclear testing sites in the South Pacific.

Many years later, on the night of Sept. 10, 2001, he and wife Jan took a flight they had scheduled out of Baltimore after serving as guest preacher and instructor at Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore. They booked their own flight to save the church money, he said. But he said he believes if the church had booked the flight, they could have been flying out of Dulles International Airport Sept. 11 on American Airlines flight 77 the flight that crashed into the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

More recently, his name was in the news for not shying from controversy.

In 2004, Wantland was among the bishops who participated at a confirmation service at the Presentation of Our Lord Church in Fairlawn, Ohio. The service combined six defiant congregations that were part of a nationwide protest of Episcopalians who oppose homosexual activity.

This was part of an ongoing conflict in the Episcopal Church over the advancement of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Think he'll ever r-e-t-i-r-e? Does daughter Malia Bennett think he'll ever plant himself in the black leather chair with curved wood armrests?

No. She just thought she'd ask.

"He's your typical Renaissance man," said Bennett, the state Senate communications director. "He's an amazing person. Whatever he develops an interest in, he excels at and then very quickly develops an amazing expertise at."

So the chair's safe. But the calendar isn't.

END

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