To many of you, Baker Bill was the writer of “Stuff and Things” in The Beltsville News, but to me, he was just Bill. He was the only person in the world who would call me “Ricker.” I’ve known Bill for most of my life. He was a faithful member of Emmanuel United Methodist Church and a constant presence as I grew up in the congregation. When I heard of his passing on Thanksgiving, it made me think about all of the times I got to work with Bill and realize how much he taught me over the years.
I grew up in Emmanuel and will always remember Bill’s booming voice and his love of singing in the choir. While in college at the University of Maryland, I took over the leadership of the youth group at the church. Because I was the youth leader, I was now a member of the church administrative council. Bill was also on the council as the chair of the finance committee. Bill would often come to meetings to complain that we were spending too much money. We always knew that when Bill was there we were in for a lecture on cutting our spending. Bill would frequently come over to me after I would ask for money for an event and say to me “Ricker, I think you are doing wonderful things with those kids, but stop spending all our money. Try and do things a little cheaper. We do not want you to bankrupt the church now.” I knew he was kidding and that he was proud of all the things we were doing with the youth, but I also knew that he wanted to make sure that I was teaching the kids to be good stewards of the church.
During this time, there were a few other things we could count on at Emmanuel. One of them was that, during the summer, the pastor would take his vacation in June and August. As youth leader, I was always asked to deliver the message one week during August, and for some reason, Bill always delivered the message during one week in June. Somehow it always seemed that the week that Bill delivered the message I was the scripture reader for the morning and the week that I delivered the message Bill was the scripture reader. I always looked forward to working with Bill on those Sunday mornings; he always gave a good message. The other thing I could count on when Bill was reading scripture was you never knew what he would read and what he would condense. If Bill thought a passage was too long, he would do his own editing to condense it. I had to be quick because if my message revolved around something he had condensed I had to give a little more explanation before beginning to speak. I asked him about it once, and he told me that people want to hear the message, they want to get what’s important. They do not want to listen to the same Bible stories they have heard dozens of times, so I make it a little quicker for them. He always kept me on my toes on those Sundays.
One of the things Bill began at Emmanuel was the Men’s Breakfast. It was a monthly tradition for many years. He would come in and cook breakfast one Saturday of the month for all the men. It was a time for them to get together and enjoy breakfast and talk. Bill did all of the cooking by himself, coming in early in the morning to make sure it was ready by 8:30 am. He retired the breakfast after many years, and it was inactive. Around 2012, someone suggested bringing it back. I thought it was a good idea and I went to Bill to ask if he was ok with me restarting it. I’ll never forget his face lit up and he said: “Absolutely, I think that is a wonderful idea.” I asked him if there was any advice he had, and he said “I only have one thing to tell you, don’t try and do it as I did it. Make it your own because you and I are different. If you try it my way, everyone will compare you to me, and that’s not fair to you.” Those are words that I have never forgotten; I still use them to this day. My one regret is that I was never able to convince Bill to come. He would always tell me that he was afraid that if he came people would try to compare the two of us, and he wanted to give me a shot of making it my own.
I learned a lot from Bill over the years. I am sad that our only communications over the last few years have been through email. He would always email me and tell me how proud he was of me and what I was doing with The Beltsville News. He would also ask for more copies to be delivered to Riderwood because he was quite popular there and they were always running out. I will miss Bill, but I know he is up in heaven letting them know how to make the most wonderful baked goods.