Missionaries don’t usually talk to athletes and attend every possible sports event, but Bob and Cindy Wakefield aren’t the typical senior missionary couple.
The Wakefields are set apart indefinitely as volunteers for BYU Athletics to help athletes fulfill their service requirements. The couple schedules events and service projects for the athletes. They have served for 10 years so far.
“Our primary function is to set up service projects for all 605 athletes, about 150 service projects a year,” Bob Wakefield said. “I guess it’s a lot. I’d say BYU does about 10 times the service of any other university.”
The Wakefields arrange for athletes to speak at schools and teach Cougar Strong, a program teaching children to be mentally strong, physically strong and spiritually strong. The Wakefields schedule annual visits to 77 elementary schools in Utah Valley, and they run other various athletic-related programs. The couple also schedules away-game firesides for football players and runs the legacy tent before football, soccer and volleyball games. In the summer, the Wakefields set up athlete speakers at youth conferences, girls camps and father-son outings.
Because of the unique nature of the Wakefields’ role, they do not wear name tags or dress as senior missionaries. They typically wear BYU athletic gear, which the couple described as “a great deal.”
Bob Wakefield originally wanted to be an adjunct professor in the Marriott School but found there was a need in the athletic department. He and his wife volunteered service and were set apart by BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson a decade ago. Unlike most service couples, Samuelson said the couple is “set apart indefinitely.” Most missions are typically 18 months.
Though the Wakefields are often referred to as missionaries, they are not part of the LDS Church’s missionary program. Their official title is service representatives.
The Wakefields have been a working couple for 53 years, since Bob Wakefield proposed on their second date on Christmas Eve.
“They’re a great example of complementary strengths in marriage,” said Buddy Stanford Stoddard, BYU Athletics life skills coordinator and long-time friend of the Wakefields. “Bob is the typical Marine and CEO, and Cindy is all etiquette. She puts all the right touches on life.”
Stoddard said the Wakefields took the calling as absolute, not as a part-time job.
“They are absolutely irreplaceable,” Stoddard said. “They’ve created and embodied this position because they love it, and that’s the great thing about it.”
They have won national recognition for their service from the NAACP. They recently won National University Division Volunteer of the Year as a couple. They have also become honorary alumni, a unique honor given to those who have given their hearts to BYU.
Stoddard said the Wakefields have a unique understanding of how service shapes lives.
“They get it. They understand that as an athlete, you’re a person. You have to give back or you’ll miss the whole BYU experience,” Stoddard said.
McKenna Wakefield, granddaughter of the Wakefields, works daily right across the hall from her grandparents as a secretary for the athletic department. She said her grandparents are an example to her because they know what it means to truly serve.
“My grandparents, they never stop. They never stop working,” McKenna Wakefield said. “And they’re always giving their hearts to the program.”
Serving in the athletic program has blessed the lives of both the athletes and the couple, according to Cindy Wakefield.
“We were told when we were set apart that our family would be blessed, and we have been,” Cindy Wakefield said. “Now I have a granddaughter across the hall that I didn’t get to see much growing up and many grandchildren who want to come to BYU. I have three sons who graduated from BYU, and the blessings keep coming.”
The Wakefields say they want to work as long as their health stays well and their help is needed. They are eager to tell listeners about how much they love their jobs.
“I always say as long as we’re not shuffling or drooling, we’ll stay,” Cindy Wakefield said.
Though the Wakefields are humble about their service accomplishments, their close associates are more eager to sing their praises.
“They have made their volunteer position a life work,” Stoddard said. “They have impacted hundreds and hundreds of lives. They are tremendous people.”