New York City Cop To God´s Man
Bill Wilmerton – Bruised But Not Beaten

Bill Wilmerton Every week, many of you watch your favorite TV channels. Before you realize what´s happening, you are commencing the process of becoming a couch potato in order to watch an exciting police drama or perhaps the programs that show real policemen in everyday work in cities around the United States. The shows depict both routine and not so routine events – some with happy endings and some tragic. And let´s face it, fact or fiction, some are very realistic and intriguing!

But I want to tell you about a real cop who had retired from a career as a real New York City policeman and then went on to become a minister for God and not New York City. He was neither the pastor of a huge church nor had a lot written about his life. In fact, if you would have met him, you possibly would have formed the opinion that he was an unassuming “OK Joe” whose name just happened to be “Bill.” But guess what? He was a lot more than that. I am still learning things about this tough yet sweet guy; the ordeals that he withstood that might have caused others to fall by the way, and the trials that bruised him mentally and physically.

It is true though that the same character traits that made Bill a good policeman probably created problems that helped make his path a rough road. He was someone that was usually out of the limelight, yet someone to whom I wanted to give some recognition. I believe you can relate to him and perhaps profit from time spent learning a little about Bill – a man who has occupied an important segment in my life.

In Romans 16:23, the Apostle Paul brought to remembrance and recognition the names of people that had played a memorable or important part in his life and work. One of those people was simply Quartus, a brother. Who was Quartus? Was he rich or poor? Had he written a book? Was he a military hero? Did he have a wife? Was there a Quartus, Jr.? Paul doesn´t reveal any startling details except Quartus was a brother, which was indicative of a person beloved and trusted.

How many people do we think we know yet really know only the few things we have seen and heard? Yet like Quartus – perhaps they are a brother.

It is my privilege to know or have known quite a few people. However, I do not have an intimate knowledge of everyone as to what and who they are; where they´ve been and how far they´ve gone; or what they have accomplished. Yet I know them and feel a kinship of respect, love, and trust. One of those individuals was Bill - yet to me, he was Brother Wilmerton. In the church that I attended and with which I was affiliated, “brother” was a common salutation for a brother in Christ. Because of my respect for him, it was difficult to call him Bill, yet others had known him for so many years as just plain ”Bill.” Formally, he was the Reverend William W. Wilmerton.

Bill was a man who had been dramatically changed by the power of God. He still carried himself with the stature and demeanor of the New York policeman that he had been for most of his working career. His voice was strong and authoritative. If you would close your eyes and listen to his heavily laced ”thoity thoid” (33rd) Street (Queen´s vernacular), you could almost visualize him walking his beat, swinging his nightstick, and bantering with the local people. You just knew by talking with and watching him that he knew how to handle his responsibilities. He was not to be taken lightly.

Quite often he would say surprising things that would sort of shake a person who was expecting perfect gentleness and wisdom from a minister. He seemed to enjoy doing and saying things that seemed confrontational at times, yet he possessed that quality of gentleness, meekness, and concern. Since he was not always one to sugarcoat things, what you saw was what you got, and that was “Bill” Wilmerton.

Dad The physical appearance of his face portrayed a gaunt look with prominent chin and cheekbones. His expression could be steely-eyed one minute and then break into a quick grin that was almost ear-to-ear.

His salvation came late in life and I´m sure Christian maturity was an ongoing process that took many years even though God had called him into full-time ministry. Knowing him convinced you of the blood-washed life that he now followed. Bill was really a sweet person who loved God and souls and reminded me of an “Apostle Paul” type who could be very direct and cutting at times. I was privileged to have known him through some difficult phases of his life and to have seen some of the shaping and polishing of this precious stone.

Bill had not always been the “brother” that I knew. Part of the life of which I was unaware of at the time was that of a rough-talking and hard-drinking policeman in New York City. He had that quick smile, was well liked, and was usually there with a hand to help those in need of assistance.

Bill, Claire, Jean, Barbara He wooed, won, and married a wonderful lady, Helen (nee Petry) who gave him four fine children, a son and three daughters – Bill, Jr., Claire, Jean, and Barbara. Life soon became difficult for Helen when she became a devout Christian and led her children in that same path.

Bill exercised his control over his family with a tenacious and stubborn spirit that put fear into them all. Could it have been possible, that he inherited his behavior from his father?

It is interesting to note that Bill was six years old and living on a farm in Illinois with his family, when his father deserted them. His mother moved back to New York City with her two sons where they lived with her mother. Bill´s mother went to work as a nurse and often had to live in other people´s homes. Bill and his brother were raised by their maternal grandmother and had no male authority figure. Perhaps we have to assume that Bill did the best he knew how under the circumstances.

Later in life, he would learn that there are family cycles that we frequently have to endeavor to break – sometimes inherited qualities, sometimes learned, and sometimes to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7, Deuteronomy 5:9). Although hurting his family intentionally was probably the last thing that Bill would have done, he never gave much thought to the possible present and future damage that could arise from such behavior.

Miracles do happen though, and the Bill that was oft times raucous, stubborn, controlling, and a heavy drinker agreed to attend church with his family. Bill felt God speaking to his heart. God has a way of reaching even the tough guys. (1 Peter 5:10 – “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”) Isn´t it fantastic the way God permits us to suffer a while?

I´m sure Bill let people know that he was in control and happy with his life, but once God spoke to him and began to make him into an improved model, things began to change. The scripture states that God will establish and settle you. Don´t you think that Bill was kind of overwhelmed when he responded to that call and God changed his life?

That same year, after having felt that “call” upon his life, he began attending Bible school and working nights at the police station. Bill was a Christian during the last two years on the police force. Wouldn´t that have been something to have been able to hear the police locker-room chatter about Bill´s transformation? Can´t you just hear them say, “That won´t last too long! He likes his bottle too well.“ Or if Bill was present, they might say, “Just one more drink with your old friend, and, by the way, you have to give me a chance to win back my money from the last poker game!” What a change and also challenge for a guy like Bill!

Obstacles sometime mark the path of a person making a determined effort to follow a new course. Without doubt, some rough sailing was encountered at times.

One experience that is real to me was during the early years of my relationship with Bill. At that time he was pastor of a pioneer church in Sandusky, Ohio where he continued from 1966 into 1970. This church had been birthed through the vision of Broadway Assembly of Lorain, Ohio, the church that I attended and at which I served in various capacities over many years.

How did Bill get from Queens in New York to Sandusky, Ohio, right on the banks of Lake Erie? Simple. After leaving Queens and moving to Maine and then back to New York, he was available, and his daughter Claire and later daughter Barbara just happened to serve as secretaries at Broadway Assembly.

sunsetThere came a time during his tenure as pastor of the Sandusky church that Bill began to withdraw from his usual demeanor. When asked if there was a problem, he would answer with a “no” and then perhaps ask, “Why do you ask, Doc?” For some reason, he would occasionally address me defensively as “Doc.” In questioning his family out of concern for him, they would just shrug or smile, say nothing, or perhaps suggest, “You had better ask him yourself.”

He would sit and stare without talking. Later it was discovered that he had begun to doubt God and his own salvation. His immediate family was fearful of his reactions because of his apparent problems, which could bring silence and stares on occasion, and explosiveness at other times. They just didn´t know how to handle the situation when he was in that condition. It was better to just permit him to be left alone. On occasion his daughter Barbara noticed him studying a medical dictionary, which raised the suspicion that he knew something was physically wrong. Subsequently, while taking a walk with her dad, she was shocked to hear him questioning the purpose of living a Christian life.

Because of his erratic behavior during these “crisis” periods, Bill´s wife could never be sure as to whether or not he would conduct the scheduled services. Because of her concern for Bill and the uncertainty of his actions, Helen would quietly and cautiously prepare to conduct the church services in the event it became necessary - and occasionally it did.

Rev. Wilmerton´s condition was confusing and thereby weighed heavily on my mind and spirit. I prayed much and felt impressed to visit him. I immediately made plans to go to Sandusky from Lorain (about 40 miles) on a certain day, in an effort to meet with him. Amazingly, on the scheduled day, my memory became completely void of intention to go. After talking to Rev. Wilmerton´s family members, I found that had I gone at my planned time, he probably would have absolutely refused to have seen me. In all probability, if he had seen me, the results would have been disastrous. It had been a very bad day for him. God made sure that I was in His time frame and not mine. It is quite sobering to experience that word of knowledge or happening that leaves no doubt that God is in control. There is also an awesome feeling of smallness and humbleness to know that we can be His Hand extended to assist in working God´s Will.

I´m not sure whether it was a few days later or a week, but I drove to Sandusky and found myself climbing the stairs and knocking on the door of Bill´s second floor apartment. Helen answered and when I asked to see him, she quietly replied, “I´m not sure he will talk to you or see you, but wait and I will see.” She was very quiet and subdued.

Shortly, he came to the door and said curtly, “What do you want, Doc?”

“We need to talk," I replied.

sailboat Rev. Wilmerton stared at me intensely with that non-smiling, gaunt face and then said, “Okay. Let´s go. Wait until I put on a shirt.” He left with me and we drove to Battery Park, a city park right on the waterfront facing the Sandusky Bay and beautiful Lake Erie.

After parking and walking to a bench facing the water, we sat down and talked. He opened his heart, and, in a deliberate and non-agitated manner, poured out his feelings of frustration, depression, and pain that was gnawing at him without his knowing the reason. Late in life, he had gone to Bible school under God´s calling and now he could not even reach God. He knew something was wrong, but he didn´t know what.

I listened that day and didn´t judge. I encouraged him to pray and seek medical help because I felt that physical problems could sometimes cause a feeling of discouragement and torment. Although there was little fear in his life, he had an intense fear of medical doctors or dentists. This no doubt played a part in not seeking medical advice. We spent probably one and one-half to two hours talking and praying. He agreed to seek medical help.

A short time after that, Bill discovered that he was suffering from a diabetic condition that was causing his erratic behavior. Untreated, diabetes can put you in a coma or condition that can make you feel as if you are losing your mind. He had been speaking at a church in Mentor, Ohio when he almost passed out. The pastor´s wife was a nurse and was familiar with the symptoms. At the time he sought medical attention, his blood sugar level was so high that the family was informed that he was on the brink of a diabetic coma.

After a two-week hospital stay, where he received much needed medical attention to stabilize his blood sugar, Rev. Wilmerton was soon back to his normal self. His frustration and depression became things of the past. From there on, he was headed toward a higher maturity level and new direction in the ministry.

Broadway Assembly Bill left the Sandusky church and moved to Lorain where he served as Assistant Pastor at Broadway Assembly church. He also became caretaker and director of the church camp facility where he and his wife Helen lived in the “camp house.” Camp Blessing serves children, teens, and adults. It is on 27 acres and the campers are able to experience old-fashioned meetings at night and recreation, crafts, Bible teaching, and meals during the day. Campfire sessions sometimes were at the end of the day before retiring to “lights out” in the camp houses.

Bill was right in the thick of things from dawn to dusk – directing, serving, teaching, laughing, doing guard duty and still being the policeman at times. He took great pride in mowing and landscaping the campground. It pleased him when he heard deserved compliments, such as, “It has never looked so good!” With his brisk movements and wide grin, he was a pleasure to behold and you could tell he had pleasure in what he was doing. He remained in Lorain during 1971.

Later, Rev. Wilmerton became associated with Ozark Bible Institute in Neosho, Missouri. He became a teacher among other responsibilities, and, in my opinion, probably assumed his most effective ministry – that of becoming a mentor to many, young ministerial students. We will never know the outreach of Bill´s ministry, because there are so many results of which only God is aware.

Rev. Wilmerton (1908–1982) was in Neosho when he went to be with the Lord in 1982. His wife, Helen (1910–1998) followed 16 years later. Is that the end of the story? Absolutely not. Paul Harvey endeavors to advise you on the details of the “rest of the story.” We aren´t able to do that. However we do know that for Bill and his precious wife Helen, the best has come!

Now I will tell you about a few things I do know:

I do know that daughter Claire (Beam) is active in the administration, direction, and teaching at Free Gospel Bible Institute in Export, Pennsylvania, where her deceased husband David was founder and president. I´m not sure but I suspect that Claire shared some of her father's “determined” qualities.

I know that daughter Barbara is active in the Missing Link ministry with her husband, Rev Kurt Haas (Chaplain Mario), in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

Helen Wilmerton I also know that Bill and Helen Wilmerton are now rejoicing together since she followed him to heaven 1998. Now you and I know that there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30), but if you will indulge me, allow me the literary freedom to feel that they do rejoice together in heaven. With that literary freedom, I will take off my dark glasses and know that they will know each other (1 Corinthians 13:12) – and although I would never consider gambling, I´d almost bet a dollar against a donut that they are singing hymns and praising God together in that same Queen´s vernacular.

Oh, yes. I´m quite confident that son Bill is a lot like his Dad. You know, quick to help, easy smile, good looking, square-jawed, great guy but stubborn to the core and insistent on doing things his way. When a father and his son and daughters are similar in character and personality, sometimes rifts develop that are quite often never closed.

You understand, don´t you, that we can´t always repair all the hurts and pick up the broken pieces that will sometimes last a lifetime? We can be like Bill Senior though and spend a lifetime trying to correct our errant mistakes, finish our life in style being mentored by the Master, and trying to pick up the pieces.

Bill was just a brother and now a sweet memory. Like all of us, he wasn´t perfect, but he seized the time, grabbed the brass ring, and ran a great race. His race wasn´t flawless, but he finished in style with his beautiful wife Helen at his side. She can be credited with having her children call her blessed and her husband giving her praise (Proverbs 31:28).

I feel it is worthy to quote from a poignant letter dated June 1, 1973 in which Bill wrote many previously unspoken words to Helen. It almost feels like an intrusion of their privacy, but in many ways, I feel that if he could, Bill would say, “It´s okay, Doc.” Having said that, I feel that it will give you a better look at Bill, a brother:

A moving letter from Dad to Mom

After you are gone, what will people say about you?
What will be indelibly etched in the memories of those people?
How will your children remember you and will they be just like you?

We sometimes want our children to be just like a “chip off the old block,” but Billl, late in life, acknowledged that Helen played an important part in the formation of their character as was attested in his letter to her dated June 1, 1973, in which he wrote: “They are good children because each of them has a part of you in their character that gave them a strength to keep them in all of life´s troubles.” Since the chip doesn´t fall far from the tree, and, as you know, we are known by our actions (Matthew 7:20 – “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”).

Would YOU like to change anything in your character?
Could this be your Story?

Seize This Time

We must seize this moment
While it is yet today
Neither will it pass us by
Nor come again this way.

We must seize this hour
A message it doth send
Once that hand stops for us
Our time allowed will end.

We must seize this day
For it may be our last
For ´ere the next one comes
This day will then be past

We must seize this time
Little is left to spare
For only now can be claimed
And must be used with care.


- Written by Ron Hayes, in respect and memory of Bill Wilmerton.

A surprise story about a hard-hearted New York City cop

Radio Drama

Unshackled! has prepared a radio drama, featuring my dad's story. The radio production took place on Saturday, February 9, 2002. We were told the radio drama would be aired on local radio stations May 19th through May 25, 2002 and were instructed to call our local Christian radio station to see if and when they would feature Unshackled! and when the story of William W. Wilmerton would be aired.

Unfortunately, our local Christian radio station told us it would be aired on Saturday, May 25, here in the Cleveland, Ohio, listening area. To our great disappointment, they aired it the week before and caused us to totally miss it.

I am adding a link here so you can listen to the drama online.

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