A legend in many ways – Remembering Bill VanSkike
Barton County Extension Agent
I have been fortunate and blessed over the years to have known many fine people.
One of those is Bill VanSkike. I say “is” because I am sure he is still around, I just can’t see his physical form anymore.
Bill was a legend! I don’t mean he was made up; oh no, with Bill what you saw was what you got. No, Bill was a legend because he had such an impact on so many people over a lot of years. He made a mark in Barton County and over the earth.
I have known who Bill was for nearly 30 years, but only knew him well for just under 24 years. Bill was the 4-H agent in 1987 when I transferred to Barton County in February of that year as the agricultural agent. Bill had been agent since 1956 in Barton County. He retired in 1989, so I had the opportunity to work with him for two years before he retired.
One more interesting fact is that Bill grew up on a farm near Arkansas City back in the ’30s. I grew up on a farm near Winfield in the ’60s and ’70s. Both are in Cowley County, a strong 4-H county. The two towns used to be bitter sports rivals, I’m not sure about now. There was even keen competition in 4-H, so we both had stories we could swap about those days.
There are only a few people that I have written tributes to and although I did talk about him on my radio program soon after his recent passing on to the next life, I decided to wait until I gathered my thoughts. Several people have written about him already and there were several tremendous eulogies and stories given at the funeral by the likes of Wayne DeWerff, Don DeWerff, Tom Thole, Berny Unruh, Randy Fanshier and Frances Fanshier.
Even after his retirement, he stayed in touch. He would occasionally stop by the office. We had Christmas parties for several years with the current and retired Barton County Extension Office employees, either at someone’s home or we would go out to eat somewhere. He would come out to the Fair. I spoke several times to the local chapter of Federal Retired “Employees, which Bill was secretary for. When Bill discovered e-mail, he sent forwards to nearly everyone including me.
What were some of the things that made Bill special? Bill really made you feel welcome and had a “look forward to working with you attitude.” He never said anything bad about anybody. He always saw the good in people and tried to help them improve without having a critical spirit. This is difficult to find!
He was a mentor to few, Grandpa to others, even idol for some and hero to some like me. Why a hero even though a former co-worker? Ah, he was one of the “Greatest Generation.” Not only was he a member of that era, he actually saved our freedom and the world by fighting active combat in the Pacific during World War II. There aren’t many left and Bill was one of only a few of those guys that I really knew.
Bill cared about people. He remembered names like you wouldn’t believe and always asked about your family and how they were and what they were doing. He always made you feel good after you talked to him. He had a tremendous impact on the 4-H leaders and youth he worked with.
He was a man of many talents, one of which was photography. He always had his camera out and would get into crazy positions trying to get the best shot. He could judge about anything at a fair, including things I couldn’t like rabbits and poultry.
One of the really neat things about him was his sense of humor. He really loved to hear and tell a good joke. He never lost that.
I don’t think he would mind me telling one of the funniest. He told me this himself and it was referenced at the funeral, but it would only have the full effect if Bill told it. He was ticketed in a county car heading down to Hutchinson. It might have been on the old Fourth Street Road. The council had bought a new vehicle and Bill was out on the open road with very little traffic so he decided to “open her up and just see what she would do.” Unfortunately, an officer of the law was lurking and pulled him over. Bill confessed to his crime and went on in to pay his fine at the courthouse. The clerk was very sympathetic and said something to the affect that we all slip-up once in awhile and don’t realize how fast we are going. Then she looked down at the ticket and saw he had been traveling 100 miles per hour. She threw the ticket down, rolled her eyes and said, “Well, I never!” Just like the 4-H youth, Bill liked having fun.
I am a better person as a result of knowing Bill. I wish I could be half the man he was. However, he always said, you can’t be anybody but yourself. Even one of our former office professionals said how much she would miss Bill and she hoped that she had made him proud. I know she did.
As one of our former 4-H leaders and volunteers, Joyce Esfeld said, “Every child that Bill met always walked away feeling like the most important person in the world.
Bill remembered “everything” about the child and encouraged great things. He was one of a kind.” I couldn’t agree more.
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