Bill Gilkerson was my father-in-law for close to 30 years before his passing on September 17, 2021. He was an amazing man, who spent time in his life as a rancher, electrician, beautician, tournament fisherman and pastor. He helped wire our home we had built 20 years ago. He became a second father to me.
First and foremost, he was a follower of Jesus. He put God first in his life and loved to tell of God’s grace and goodness. Those he pastored loved Bill for his words from the bible, but also for his compassion and caring heart.
Bill was born in Fall City, Nebraska. He grew up with one younger brother, Dick. The two lined up side by side on the line for the high school football team, and loved to knock opponents over. They loved living in a small town in Nebraska, where Dick still lives today. Bill, however, moved his family to different places, settling for many years in Cassville, Missouri, where my wife, Jodi, graduated.
Jodi shared her love and memories of her dad at his funeral, asking me to read her words. Here are some of her fondest memories of her dad growing up:
Walking hand in hand down the street with him (me running to keep up!).
Riding on his horse with him.
Dancing in the living room together.
Fishing with him.
Watching westerns together while eating lots of popcorn.
Family prayers around the table.
Camping and boating.
Cutting wood in the freezing cold.
Laughing until we cried.
Crying until we laughed.
Helping him with the cattle.
Monta Rae and I putting on fashion shows for him.
Dad taking care of me when I was sick.
Dad encouraging me in college.
Dad walking me down the aisle.
Dad holding my newborn babies.
Jodi went on to share that Bill loved her mom, Kay, in marriage for 60 years. He cared for her and was devoted to her through all those years.
I remember the first time I met Bill. At that time, they lived in Bolivar. Jodi and I came over to their house for them to meet me. I grew up in a family that didn’t hug much. My dad never hugged us. Love was there…just not spoken or overtly shown. Well, Jodi’s family was different. When Bill opened the door, he grabbed me and hugged me. I didn’t know what to do!
Bill taught me how to untangle a knot in a fishing line. He showed me how to prewire our house when it was built. He shared his love and frustration for his Nebraska Cornhuskers, and I shared my love and frustration over my Missouri Tigers. He loved our boys well, and he loved me. He became that second father to me, one who could tell me verbally that he loved me and was proud of me. It meant a lot.
Mostly, next to his love for his Lord, Bill loved his wife and daughters. When Monta Rae, Jodi’s elder sister, was tragically hit and killed by a car in February of 2019, it hit Bill very hard. Even though he laughed and loved well again, I could tell there was a sadness that still hung like a grey cloud over him.
Bill found out later that year he had cancer. He fought valiantly and courageously, showing his strength and grace through his journey. I remember shortly before his condition forced him into hospice care with a bed in the living room, I watched an exciting Kansas City Chiefs game with him. We both loved watching the Chiefs. Though he was weak and in pain, he cheered for the Chiefs with me in their come from behind victory.
On his last night before he graduated to be with his beloved Jesus, my son, Drew, and nephew Levi helped care for him, both with experience in health care. I know it meant a lot to Bill and Kay for two of his grandsons to be there with him. The next morning as the family was by Bill’s bedside, he passed. While they looked upon Bill right after his passing, a stream of light filtered in from the living room window and cast a glow right on the face of Monta Rae’s picture on the piano. All saw it with goosebumps, knowing Bill had just been reunited with his first daughter.
I’m thankful the Lord put Bill in my life. I’m the better man for knowing him.