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Wendy Wayne's husband, Gene Tackett, hugs several hundred well wishers in the FOX Theater lobby during his wife's celebration of life ceremony.

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Wendy Wayne's son Larkin Tackett speaks highly of his mother and father, Gene Tackett, during his mother's celebration of life event at the FOX Theater on Saturday.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Wendy Wayne's sister, Diane Wayne, speaks about her sister during A Celebration of Wendy Wayn'e Life, Saturday afternoon downtown.

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Kim Smith-Van Metre and her son Xavier Castellanos enjoy the family photos in the foyer of the FOX Theater, Saturday, at Wendy Wayne's memorial service.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

There was a huge turnout Saturday at the FOX Theater for Wendy Wayne's Celebration of Life.

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Jarrod McNaughton talks about Wendy Wayne before singing "What a Wonderful World," during Saturday's celebration of life for Wayne.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Children from Toddler Tech Preschool sang "The World is a Rainbow" at Wendy Wayne's Celebration of Life, Saturday, at the FOX Theater.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

During Saturday's Celebration of Wendy Wayne's Life at the FOX Theater, children from Toddler Tech Preschool sang "The World is a Rainbow."

It's a measure of Wendy Wayne's stature in the community that the "celebration of life" for her Saturday filled the 1,500-seat Fox Theater to capacity with luminaries in media, politics and various social justice movements, as well as friends, relatives and some of the more humble members of the community that she dedicated much of her life to serving.

In the packed lobby and in the seats of the theater, the whole gamut of the region's political and socioeconomic spectrum literally rubbed elbows.

The service opened with a choral presentation of "The World is a Rainbow" by restless but enthusiastic singers from Toddler Tech Preschool.

It was an appropriate tribute, said KGET news anchor Jim Scott, who served as master of ceremonies along with his wife and former co-anchor Robin Mangarin.

"We all know how Wendy felt about children," he said. "They are our future, so it's very fitting to have them start this celebration of life."

Wayne, often dubbed the "Mother Teresa of Bakersfield," died of cancer last month at the age of 64.

She was a nurse, administrator and humanitarian who volunteered in Kenya, India and Nigeria, as well as in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Locally, she helped develop child health programs, day care and health education.

Her older sister, Diane Wayne, said Wendy's dedication to helping others was lifelong, starting in childhood and instilled in her by a mother whose passion for community service was deeply embedded.

Diane recalled losing a younger brother to cancer. He was just 5 years old at the time, and Wendy was 9. The experience helped shape who she would become.

"All of us became stronger, and I think more compassionate because of that," Diane said.

The elder Wayne also described pulling some strings to get her sister into the 1968 Democratic National Convention, not realizing at the time that it was to explode in violent political turbulence and civil unrest.

"Wendy was 20 years old," Diane said. "My mother was furious."

But as the convention deteriorated into chaos all around her, Wendy didn't retreat to the peace and safety of her hotel room. Instead, she set up a triage for the wounded.

It was classic Wendy Wayne, her sister said, smiling.

Former Kern County Superintendent of Schools Kelly Blanton, who worked with Wendy when she directed Community Connection for Child Care, called her "fearless" and "enormously talented."

"She operated from a value base that was unimpeachable," he said.

Jarrod McNaughton, a vice president at San Joaquin Community Hospital, announced that a library for patients and their loved ones at a new cancer center the hospital is building will be named the Wendy Wayne Resource Library in her honor. Then he sang "What a Wonderful World."

A slide show set to music of photos of Wendy from childhood, through her service in Third World countries and into the end of her life, when she had lost her hair from her cancer treatment, drew tears and sniffles from the audience.

But later presenters urged the audience to channel their love and grief into carrying on Wendy's work.

Every speaker mentioned the influence of her strong moral compass on her decisions big and small, as well as her ability to make friends with people from all walks of life everywhere she went.

Her younger sister, Cindy Chernow, noted that even as Wendy was fighting for her life in the hospital, "instead of resting, she would spend time getting to know the lives of the City of Hope cleaning crew, doctors and therapists."

Wayne never stopped giving, whether it was choosing the mosquito netting with the most holes in it in malaria-ravaged Africa or performing random acts of kindness such as paying the Golden Gate Bridge toll for strangers in the car in line behind hers, Chernow said.

"Just 24 hours before she passed away, she was giving me instructions on where to buy and wrap a birthday present for a friend who would be stopping by," Chernow said.

In Wendy's memory, admirers are asking the public to commit themselves to more random acts of kindness at an event 10 a.m. to noon Monday at Jastro Park, Truxtun Avenue and Elm Street. There, 300 "pay it forward" sheets will be distributed.

In keeping with that theme, in lieu of flowers the family has asked for donations to the Wendy Wayne Endowed Nursing Scholarship, 9001 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, Calif. 93311.

After the service, mourners said the program was a fine sendoff for a modest woman who in life wouldn't let anyone make a fuss over her many contributions.

Mac Magid, a friend who met Wendy through the Peace Corps and drove all the way from Los Osos to say goodbye, called the service "incredible."

"I had an idea she influenced a lot of people's lives, but this was amazing," he said.