Bill Perkins. For me that name is a complete sentence. Bill was my curmudgeon mentor, my friend and my encourager–all at once. He loved his family first and chose a career that focused on helping everyone have a decent home. He was a man of outstanding intelligence with genuine motives. His take on humanity was often painfully perceptive. Although he was usually my teacher, we did spar on a few points. And I am smiling as I remember some of those conversations. I will share a little toward the end of this blog.
I have written two blogs that featured Bill. One was written in April 2019 about Bill and his important role in getting Hope & A Future started. The other was written in November of 2022 after we celebrated our 10th anniversary at Hope & A Future. By then Bill was a resident in the accessible residence he had helped to create. There are 4 people in our history that were there when we needed help to move forward. Without them, I am not sure we would have. Bill is one of those people. If he had not taken our ideas seriously and offered guidance I do not believe we would be here today.
In the 2019 blog I wrote about Bill giving us generous amounts of office time to answer our many questions about the development process and finding funding. He would teach, we would listen and then he would end with, “But this will not work for your project because . . .” Shake his head and say, “Too bad your project is never going to work. It is a beautiful project.” Then he would stand up and we would leave. The next time I would call with another question he would set up office time, teach and then make the same sad statement at the end of our meeting. One day I finally asked, “Bill, I am wondering why you keep spending time on us and then end our meetings with the same sad statement–every time we come. If you really don’t think this will work, it seems we are a terrible waste of your time.” Bill replied with an almost grin, “I love impossible projects.” Years later, at Hope & A Future I told someone this story in front of Bill. The person asked if he said that because he thought it would ignite my efforts to prove him wrong. That same grin came across his face.
The truth is, that our intergenerational project consistently falls just outside of current funding opportunities. This is a new kind of project and it does not fit into any of the boxes for current funding opportunities. My thinking was that we would need a miracle of good will from philanthropic people to make this happen. Then, with documented success with helping people there might be a chance for creating future funding streams.(I still believe this) Bill said, “I have never seen anything like that happen. It will not work.” When we finally were able to get our current property, I was 9 years into this journey. In the end, a philanthropic person leveraged his family’s home to buy our property and sold our current property to us on a land contract. Bill worked hard at telling this helpful person that although we worked hard to figure out a budget, it was not a proven budget and “Karin cannot promise she will be able to pay you back.” The person told Bill that he understood that, but that he thought we had an idea that should be tried and he wanted to help. We moved forward and Bill was very clear about why he worried about this approach. Somewhere around this time I shared with Bill that I had told the person helping us that Bill was my curmudgeon mentor. Bill paused and then looked a little pleased. He finally said, “I always thought I might like to be known as a curmudgeon. I feel that you have elevated me to a desired status.” I laughed. Then Bill said, “And while we are coming clean about how we talk about each other, my family probably thinks the name of your business is Wing & A Prayer. I said, “Fair enough.” We used Hope & A Future and Wing & A Prayer interchangeably going forward.
While Bill and I shared a desire to help people live their best lives, transparency about Bill’s pessimism and my faith were always part of our friendship. After Bill retired, he spent even more time on our project–as a pro bono consultant and volunteer carpenter in the new wing. We made lunches for our volunteers and I had the opportunity to really get to know Bill during this time. He adored his family and nearly glowed when he talked about them. He often said that “Joyce is the real brains in our family. She might not know it, but she has helped me with every project I have ever worked on.” And he loved to brag about his children and grandchildren. He was a great storyteller. We shared many stories and eventually faith for this “impossible” project.
On our long road with this project, there was a meeting that Bill and I were preparing for. His pessimism and my faith caused a difference of opinion on how to approach the meeting. I thought we should share more about what we wanted to do in our expansion and he thought we should just talk about the building. He believed the people in the meeting would only care about the structure of the building. Our alderperson Barbara Mckinney said she wanted me to share my story. Bill said OK, but only because our alder wanted me to share it. I arrived a few minutes late after navigating a major traffic slow down and a train stop. I was breathless and it was time for me to talk. I shared my story and was almost done when I noticed a strange silence in the room. I started to think I had crossed some awkward line of what was expected and then I noticed almost everyone dabbing their eyes with kleenex. The person leading the meeting thanked me for sharing with a broken voice. Somehow hearts had been touched. Bill looked up with wet eyes and said, “If I can help build this project, I will feel that I have truly done something great.” He has helped. We are not done yet, but he is part of this project.
Bill moved in with us in October. It was our shared dream that he would be able to sit on our deck and watch the expansion get built. But that will not be. Bill’s health took a dive. He had an acute episode that took him to the hospital and then to Agrace inpatient with a plan to come back to Hope & A Future. On the evening of January 11th I told my husband I needed to go visit Bill at Agrace. I asked Joyce if that would be okay. She said he was sleeping but he might wake up later and I should feel free to visit. When I arrived at his darkened room his eyes were open. I said, “Bill, it’s Karin.” He replied, “I know,” I came in and told him I wanted to be sure he knew how much I valued his mentoring and our friendship. He said, “Me too.” I said I had hoped he could watch the expansion get built from the deck, but I was not so sure he was going to be around for that. And, even though we are still looking for a miracle of provision for the next phase, I was not going to give up on all of our work. He said, “I know.” Then I told him I loved him and he said, “Me too, you’re the best.” I had heard Bill refer to others as “The best” and knew he reserved this for people he believed to be genuine in their intentions. I felt very honored. I could hear staff coming to check on him so I asked, “Bill, you know God loves you, right?” He said, “Yes.” And I said, “Good, because in the end, that might be all we need to know.” And those were our last words. The next morning Joyce called to tell me he had passed about an hour after our visit.
Because I am a person of faith, I believe there are philanthropists out there that will help us build the final phase of our model and I believe Bill will watch it happen–but from an even better seat than our deck can offer. And I will make sure his name is honored in our expansion. He has done much that is truly great.